The Future Of Movies Can Be Found At Your Library
by Zach H.
When Netflix emerged in 1997 and began distributing movies by mail, it felt like a gift for movie lovers. For a modest monthly fee, subscribers essentially gained access to an expansive library of film. And you didn’t even have to leave the house. If you heard of a great movie to watch, odds are it could be waiting in your mailbox within a few days. This seemingly limitless library of access quickly proved to be a lie. Netflix anticipated that the money would be streaming, and while their DVD program still exists, it’s not what it used to be. And it’s only a matter of time before Netflix views that segment of its consumer base as too niche to bother serving. Many people are surprised to hear it still exists at all.
With the domination of streaming, movie lovers fell for the same false promises of easy, affordable access. But as the marketplace has caught up with Netflix’s innovation, movie studios have begun decreasing the licensing of their property in favor of developing their own direct-to-consumer services. The streaming landscape is populated with more silos of content than ever before, and it’s only getting worse. We have already reached the point where it takes multiple $10/month subscriptions (and of course, a high speed internet connection) to access fewer movies than the Netflix DVD plan of the mid-2000s offered. Gone is consumer choice, or the human curation and chance of discovery offered by brick and mortar video stores. We live in the age of the algorithm, which in my experience, understands little of its consumer, or of the content it so gleefully recommends. When Netflix thinks Clint Eastwood’s meditative elegy to the West Unforgiven is an Action & Adventure movie, then there’s little on which we can rely.
It feels like we have access to more movies than ever before, but in reality that access requires the cobbling together of various pieces, and there will always be some missing. There will be no Spotify for movies, so we are left piecing together what we can. And the public library is one of the most integral pieces of that puzzle.
TRL owns over 6,000 feature films on DVD, from foreign and independent films, to classics and Hollywood blockbusters. Much like any resource, the library’s collection has its limitations. While the library purchases blu ray/DVD combo packs, we are not yet acquiring blu ray-only discs, which is the only available format for some releases. And we are limited in our purchasing power to what is published on a physical format. This is becoming increasingly frustrating for library patrons and staff alike, as companies like Netflix and Amazon are releasing fewer and fewer of their original programming on DVD in an effort to compel consumers to subscribe to their service. And like every item in the library, nothing is permanent. But when a movie disappears from our collection, one can take comfort in the knowledge that its absence is due to being well-loved and worn out, rather than chopped in a bottom-line adjustment. And we can often still find it for you, if you ask.
The public library is not equipped to function as an archive—unfortunately there’s no way for us to own everything, and make it accessible. However, with a little patience, we can come close. While it may feel sometimes that every movie ever made is available, even for a price this is simply not true. There are movies that were never published on DVD, and even more that have yet to hit any streaming service. And there are thousands of movies that are currently out of print, having been published in the early days of DVD, but are now only available for exorbitant prices via secondary markets. However, with InterLibrary Loan, your library can find many of these lost titles for you. I was able to discover the greatness of several hard-to-find early 90s crime movies with my library card, when all other streaming services and Amazon let me down.
One area in particular where your library cannot be beat is classic and foreign cinema. Lovers of old movies find short shrift on the myriad streaming services, which prioritize original content, Hollywood blockbusters, or B-movie filler to round out their collections. The greatest streaming resource of classic film was FilmStruck, a partnership between Turner Classic Movies and Criterion Collection, which was just axed by Warner Media for having too niche an audience. But fortunately, the library is all about niche audiences. Our selectors strive to purchase a wide variety of movies on DVD, and our collection currently holds many titles currently unavailable on any streaming service. And TRL is very excited to offer Kanopy (which began in December 2018), the best streaming service around for classic, indie, and foreign film, as well documentaries and educational programs. If you’re fortunate enough to have internet at home, Kanopy acts as a perfect complement to the populist programming on services like Netflix, Hulu, and Prime.
Stay tuned for later blog posts, where I will dig into some of the gems within Kanopy’s offerings, including those that you won’t easily find anywhere else.
But for now, here are three suggestions for any mournful FilmStruck fans out there. You can’t stream them anywhere else but through your library for now, and DVD copies currently elude our collection.
The beguiling masterpiece by Krzysztof Kieslowski about two women who share an enigmatic bond. As Roger Ebert opens his Great Movies essay, The Double Life of Veronique “is a film about a feeling. Like all feelings, it is one that can hardly be described in words, although it can be evoked in art. It is the feeling we are not alone, because there is more than one of us. We are connected at a level far, far beneath thought. We have no understanding of this. It is simply a feeling that we have.”
All of Jacque Tati’s films featuring Mr. Hulot, a man hilariously ill-equipped for modern times, are utterly delightful. You can watch several on Kanopy, but this one is a particular favorite of Olympia staffer Chris Sabatini, so it sneaks into this suggestion over its more famous siblings.
David Cronenberg’s practical effects marvel plays like a low budget, grimy, and intelligent X-Men story. It features the great Michael Ironside as well as one of cinema’s five best exploding heads of all time.
So as your movie tastes evolve and you seek a variety of cinematic delights, don’t forget to Ask A Librarian, for the public library excels at the delicate dance of being keepers of the past while marching excitedly towards the future.