Where have all the good movies gone?
September 23, 2014 10:59 AM   Subscribe

Between the limited amount of titles on streaming services and the fact that Netflix seems to be shifting away from DVDs altogether, are you just out of luck if you want to watch a non-blockbuster like "Sweet Sweetbacks' Baadasssss Song" or "Raising Arizona"? KQED investigates.
posted by Clustercuss (112 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
That should be "Sweetback's" not "Sweetbacks'" sorry.
posted by Clustercuss at 11:00 AM on September 23, 2014


But I already own Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Thread OVER
posted by shakespeherian at 11:03 AM on September 23, 2014 [9 favorites]


I have come to the conclusion that if I want to watch an awesome film (or a film that interests me) I am going to have to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray. Luckily my neighbourhood has one of the last-surviving video rental stores in my city (we're also a couple of blocks from the last surviving independent music store), and it has an incredible offering of movies. But sometimes it can be very hard to find what one is looking for.
posted by Nevin at 11:04 AM on September 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


What Nevin said. Thank goodness for Amazon's used products and eBay.
posted by Melismata at 11:05 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I didn't switch to Netflix until I moved from SF to Staten Island. Film Yard Video was my go-to joint for whatever I needed. Now it is a mish-mosh of Vudu, Amazon Instant and - if I want to watch a Sharknado rip-off, Netflix.

Hopefully someone somewhere is illegally duplicating and archiving all of the films which will eventually go out of print permanently.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Long Tail meets The Long Goodbye.
posted by gauche at 11:09 AM on September 23, 2014 [21 favorites]


I can almost picture your neighborhood, Nevin. But the prints won't be ready for an hour.
posted by hal9k at 11:10 AM on September 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm trying to watch every movie on Ebert's Great Movies list and keep running into stuff that I can't get from anywhere. Oddly, the foreign art movies are generally easier to stream, usually via Hulu, than the more mainstream American films.
posted by octothorpe at 11:14 AM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


My question would be: Is it time for cinephiles to embrace bittorrent, illegal though it may be? As for low image quality, that's generally a thing of the past in private communities.

Hopefully someone somewhere is illegally duplicating and archiving all of the films which will eventually go out of print permanently.

As best they can, yes, considering it's a volunteer effort.
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, so we have the last remaining cinephile video store, a selection of independent coffee roasteries and coffee shops that would make Portland envious, a pub with 50 varieties of local craft brews (and about a dozen local craft breweries), that record shop I mentioned, a gigantic plastic model shop, Canada's largest used-bookstore (always expanding), a city block seemingly devoted to yoga studios (eye candy aplenty no matter what your sexual orientation is)... Pretty nice place, despite the rain.
posted by Nevin at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


(And digital archiving itself is questionable, as digital formats also expire and become obsolete).
posted by muddgirl at 11:16 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


You all laughed at me when I decided to dedicate an entire chest of drawers to DVD storage but I knew this would happen eventually and LOOK WHO'S LAUGHING NOW
posted by The Whelk at 11:17 AM on September 23, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm not sure it's blockbusterhood* that's at issue, so much as negotiated rights. Barton Fink and Fargo are available for streaming on Netflix, for example, and I'm pretty sure the former at least did less box office than Raising Arizona. And I've watched an awful lot of very obscure films, including the ancient, the imported and the never-heard-of-it, on Netflix.

The Case of the Missing Midlist will be solved somehow, I think. There are other services such as Mubi and Vudu and Amazon. Don't underestimate the power of our appetite for content.

* A funny choice of term given the biggest casualty of the media rental market
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:18 AM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


There is probably the most extensive redundant archival effort occurring in the world today. Not easily indexed or searched for retrieval, but a whole lot of copies of coming of age vampire films.
posted by sammyo at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


But I already own Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Thread OVER

Yeah if you want to watch Raising Arizona come to my house. The DVD is never more than about 12 inches away from the DVD drive cause I watch it so much, and I will helpfully look at you and nod encouragingly every time there's a thing you're supposed to laugh at. I AM THE BEST MOVIE FRIEND.
posted by phunniemee at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2014 [28 favorites]


...and I'm pretty sure the former at least did less box office than...

I expect availability on Netflix has vastly less to do with popularity or box office than the convoluted contractual obligations of any particular film or film library.

(as George_Spiggott said)
posted by sammyo at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2014


I will helpfully look at you and nod encouragingly every time there's a thing you're supposed to laugh at.

I'm picturing Truman doing the same thing simultaneously and it is DELIGHTFUL.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:22 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is actually stressing me out a little bit because there is a certain football game from 1993 I like to watch sometimes, it's $100+ for a dvd but for whatever reason Netflix has it.
posted by troika at 11:25 AM on September 23, 2014


But I already own Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Thread OVER

I do not but I was once hit on by Mario Van Peebles.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:26 AM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


I expect availability on Netflix has vastly less to do with popularity or box office than the convoluted contractual obligations of any particular film or film library.

This.

Netflix's marginal cost of adding a title to its library is effectively zero. And since Netflix monetizes its stream by definition (i.e. subscriptions), therefore, Netflix has no pressure not to add titles that show a non-zero level of user interest.

In fact, I'm sure there are entire buildings full of lawyers at Netflix doing nothing but trying to add to the library. I imagine one of them pounding his fist on the table screaming, "Feed the beast! Feed the beast!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


It sucks but at some point you just need to get over your fear of torrenting old movies if you ever want to see them.
posted by dilaudid at 11:27 AM on September 23, 2014 [13 favorites]


Perhaps the long-wait titles have nothing at all to do with the movie itself, but is just a Netflix strategy to slow down power users who rapidly turn over their DVD queue. Similar to an ISP throttling your bandwidth once you've gone over your monthly allocation.

Someone should do an experiment where they put the same stuff in their queues, see if the "Very long wait" thing is consistently applied across subscribers.
posted by superelastic at 11:28 AM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Perhaps the long-wait titles have nothing at all to do with the movie itself, but is just a Netflix strategy to slow down power users who rapidly turn over their DVD queue.

Interesting concept, but I imagine that the power-users are also the ones that have kept their subscriptions the longest and are therefore the most valuable users.

If Netflix were smart (read: evil), they'd have a "hidden tier" of additional services for these power-users. Like a high-end casino catering to its whales.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:33 AM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


The thing about Netflix streaming is that all of its users have exactly $0 invested in maintaining their subscription. It's not like DVD rentals (where you need to actually own a DVD player) or Amazon Kindle (where you need to actually own a Kindle).

The instant that something better and deeper comes along, which has access to the Great Midlist of Movies, there will be millions of people leaving Netflix as soon as they get the news.
posted by math at 11:34 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I recently yelled at Comcast for overcharging us for internet & our measly cable channel offerings and now have premium cable for the first time ever, for $60 less.

And what do I have available?

Bajillion showings of "Mister Hobbit & Cumberbatch the Dragon" and "Thor Lumbers Through London" -- feh. A bunch a channels I have no use for (QVC and the like) but not the Japanese channel so I can watch "Somewhere Street."

I am an Old. I buy DVDs and CDs and books because I like to have hard copies of my media. Yeah, it takes space, but it's mine. I don't have to worry about Netflix deciding it's not going to show it next month. I don't have to worry of being a hard drive crash away from losing all my music. I don't want a publisher to change the edition that I read.

That subscription service for indie/art films sounds interesting, though.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:35 AM on September 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


You guys know your public library has DVDs, right? You can likely order movies through their online catalog and collect them when they're in. Not only that, if the title isn't in their network they can get it for you via interlibrary loan. Sure, it can take a little time to acquire a rarity, but it's FREE! Save money and support your local library.
posted by Lighthammer at 11:36 AM on September 23, 2014 [30 favorites]


Muddgirl: My question would be: Is it time for cinephiles to embrace bittorrent, illegal though it may be? As for low image quality, that's generally a thing of the past in private communities.

dilaudid:It sucks but at some point you just need to get over your fear of torrenting old movies if you ever want to see them.

I think this graph does a pretty good job explaining why most people shouldn't feel bad torrenting old movies, particularly those whose creators, actors, and crews have long since passed, or for titles that aren't available through legal means. That said, I do think that high-quality restorations should be rewarded through purchases, such as those done by Janus Films/Criterion collection, Kino Lorber, and Tartan.

I try to use legal means as much as possible, which in my case is a cocktail of purchases, TCM recorded on my DVR, Netflix/Amazon/HBOGo, and attending revival houses and new releases at the cinema. It adds up, though.
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:40 AM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I do find it dumb that it's entirely possible to have a huge digital collection of great out of print obscure/cult films (there are a few great private BitTorrent trackers dedicated to archiving them) and yet Netflix and other streaming services can't even put together a library on the level of Spotify for the film world. But the fact that most of these films are available on DVD at all is way better than things were even a relatively short time ago. It's not like in the 90s you could just walk into Blockbuster and rent Eraserhead.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:41 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you lived in a decent city, there were rental places that had weirdo movies, though.
posted by thelonius at 11:49 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have come to the conclusion that if I want to watch an awesome film (or a film that interests me) I am going to have to buy the DVD or Blu-Ray.

Isn't this the rub? I remember trying to acquire Dogs in Space all thru the late 80s and 90s, and you would occasionally see a VHS tape for some ridiculous price ($80-200).

Now it's $29 on Amazon. I think it's easier than ever to acquire difficult-to-find movie titles.

Netflix and other streaming services can't even put together a library on the level of Spotify for the film world.

I think the DVD library is comparable to Spotify. Spotify has a LOT of holes. I find myself coming up empty more on Spotify than I do on Netflix. SHRUG.

You guys know your public library has DVDs, right?

Only problem here is that I will occasionally get halfway thru something to have it barf due to worn-out-ed-ness (especially with the Looney Tunes discs). Great for kids movies in general tho.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:49 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was once hit on by Mario Van Peebles

It only counts if it was Melvin.
posted by Billiken at 11:50 AM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


You guys know your public library has DVDs, right?

Yeah, but that's not really quite what we're talking about here. I have the absolute joy of having access to the second best library system in the United States, I get 2-3 DVD's every single week. I'm smitten with my library. I just punched it out, and it accounts for about half our regular TV viewing (and it accounted for a little bit more before Amazon brought on all the old HBO stuff).

I love my library. Its great.

However, 'obscure' 'foreign' or anything else non-mainstream is really fucking difficult to find, if it is available at all. Libraries are great for just about all manner of DVD viewing, but niche interests don't register for them. Unfortunately, I'm still left to torrent a few TV shows and movies here and there.
posted by furnace.heart at 11:50 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Raising Arizona is widely available for streaming. I would guess that more of the backlist will be available over time.
posted by shothotbot at 11:52 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


furnace.heart, is there a college near you? Many of them will offer privileges to neighbors, and then you have a whole new world of inter-library loans to tap!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:53 AM on September 23, 2014


The indie/art DVD-rental-by-mail service already exists, y'all -- it's Facets Multimedia, based in Chicago. (Wikipedia).
posted by orthicon halo at 11:57 AM on September 23, 2014 [15 favorites]


Raising Arizona isn't available via streaming? Good lord. I have no further use for this world.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:59 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


This list of the top rentals at Facets may find you a sense of the range of films they offer: arthouse fare like SATANTANGO, LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD, STALKER, sure; but THE CANYONS, too. And FROZEN, because FROZEN is everywhere.
posted by orthicon halo at 12:02 PM on September 23, 2014


You guys know your public library has DVDs, right? You can likely order movies through their online catalog and collect them when they're in. Not only that, if the title isn't in their network they can get it for you via interlibrary loan. Sure, it can take a little time to acquire a rarity, but it's FREE! Save money and support your local library.

That doesn't help me when it's 1 am and I have a need to see 1940's The Invisible Woman right now.
posted by emjaybee at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Netflix and other streaming services can't even put together a library on the level of Spotify for the film world.

I think the DVD library is comparable to Spotify. Spotify has a LOT of holes. I find myself coming up empty more on Spotify than I do on Netflix. SHRUG.


Yeah I was talking specifically about Netfilx's streaming library, I would agree that the DVD library is comparable. The fact that it's cheaper for Netflix to run a subscription service for sending physical digital copies of that library than it is to license the same content for streaming online is annoying.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:10 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can’t get most of the esoteric stuff online whereas a place like San Francisco’s Le Video, run by certified film nuts, is packed with obscure titles you’ve never even heard of.

Brought to mind Ian Svenonius' recent rant "All Power to the Pack Rats".
posted by ryanshepard at 12:11 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or It Came From Hollywood, which was terrible but which I have a burning need to watch again. Last time I saw it was via a worn-out Blockbuster tape some time in the early 90s. It was a proto-MST3K experience for me.
posted by emjaybee at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2014


I've been waiting for years, probably 5 or 6, for the Netflix DVD of "They Might be Giants" which hasn't seen a general release since the Laser Disc days.

For some Noir classics try the Warner Classics collection. Although you can buy DVDs, There's an app for that too.
posted by Gungho at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2014


Browsing Netflix's streaming library is like panning for gold.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:15 PM on September 23, 2014 [14 favorites]


Netflix is not the only streaming service in town. VUDU and Hulu Plus both have excellent selections of older/obscure titles.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 12:15 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


A lot of these kinds of movies are showing up on YouTube, albeit not always in high resolution.
posted by neat graffitist at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Perhaps the long-wait titles have nothing at all to do with the movie itself, but is just a Netflix strategy to slow down power users who rapidly turn over their DVD queue. Similar to an ISP throttling your bandwidth once you've gone over your monthly allocation.

Netflix used to be notorious for this (though I don't know if they ever admitted it), and there were entire websites dedicated to tracking and circumventing it.

People would get the 3-at-a-time DVD plan, receive DVDs, rip them and then send them back out the same day.
A few months of this, and they'd find Netflix's turn-around time became 1 day longer, then 2, then you started getting DVDs from shipping centers more remote from your house.

It became much less of a thing after streaming took off, but I imagine Netflix still keeps an eye on unusual patterns.
posted by madajb at 12:22 PM on September 23, 2014


Yeah if you want to watch Raising Arizona come to my house. The DVD is never more than about 12 inches away from the DVD drive

That DVD is shaped funny, too.
posted by jbickers at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


That said, I do think that high-quality restorations should be rewarded through purchases, such as those done by Janus Films/Criterion collection, Kino Lorber, and Tartan.

Didn't Tartan go bankrupt a few years ago? They did in the UK.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2014


Is it time for cinephiles to embrace bittorrent,

That.... kinda already happened.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


You guys know your public library has DVDs, right?

But then I'd have to leave the house.
posted by octothorpe at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2014


I had (European) Netflix for about 6 months. Just cancelled it. I'd watched all 15 of the films that weren't utter dreck, I don't have time for the box-set TV series and its parental controls are laughable. I mean, surely it's a conscious decision on their part to offer such crap parental controls. Anyway, if there's an old film I want to see I'll just torrent it.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:28 PM on September 23, 2014


It's not always Netflix's at fault. Some stuff just isn't in print. For example the closure of New Yorker Film put a lot of titles out of print. With Criterion, titles go in and out of print regularly. I have found the IMDB forums to be useful to tracking down out of print films. It doesn't hurt to have a multi-region player either.
posted by borges at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Wow, Facets has Olivier, Olivier. They get my vote!
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing about Netflix streaming is that all of its users have exactly $0 invested in maintaining their subscription. It's not like DVD rentals (where you need to actually own a DVD player) or Amazon Kindle (where you need to actually own a Kindle).

I'm not sure this is true.
I have 3 devices in my house with Netflix built into them.
They are my primary way of watching streaming media.

Even if a service comes along that offers twice the content for half the price, it would be sometime before I switched over, simply because my devices have Netflix, not AwesomeNewService.

Also, from a personal point of view, I think Netflix is a pretty good company.
They know people share logins, but they don't crack down on it too badly.
They have a pretty good tolerance for people who are clearly copying movies.
Their net neutrality fights are well-known.
Netflix has a lot of goodwill from me (despite their becoming annual price increases (but even that, they grandfather existing customers).

posted by madajb at 12:32 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


Browsing Netflix's streaming library is like panning for gold.

I have something like PTSD when it comes to browsing Netflix for either DVD or streaming. It is so routine that what I want is not available at all, that it becomes a painful chore to check Netflix. It feels like a waste of time and a giant 'fuck you' every time I put a title in the search bar.

Bittorrent is increasingly the only option, but sadly incomplete for exactly the kind of stuff I'm interested in: foreign and obscure titles; instead there are 3 trillion instances of Transformer #57 and other widely available rubbish.

Just the other night I was talking to a friend who watched Tampopo on netflix. I mentioned A Taxing Woman to him, which he had not seen. I immediately checked Netflix... and of course they didn't have it. No problem, it looks to be on bittorrent, and later that night he downloaded it and watched it (I recommend it, btw.). Meanwhile I remembered that there was a follow up called A Taxing Woman's Return, which I in turn had not seen. I immediately checked bittorent, but all I could find were dead torrents, so out of luck (Netflix of course, was predictably useless). The sad thing here is that A Taxing Woman is hardly even an obscure movie.

So bittorrent is essential, but hardly a panacea, especially for titles that most need it: the obscure, the disputed, the unusual.
posted by VikingSword at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm not asking for anyone to go into self-incriminating detail, but how practically does the torrenting of older/artsy films even work? I know about sites like The Pirate Bay where there's a thousand sketchy links to things like "1080p.CERTIEFIED_FULL.MOVIE.HIGH.QUALITY.Iron.Man-3.DVDrip-by-AGENT-BLAZA420.torrent".

Then I hear through the ether about people resorting to paid VPN services, Usenet groups, private invitation-only trackers and all kinds of cloak-and-dagger type things... That seems a bit much and sort of a lot to have to get involved with. But is that widespread?

Would anyone mind giving a naive person an outline of what Someone-Who-Isn't-You is doing to illegally download a copy of some obscure film?
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:34 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Sadly, this is exactly why I canceled my Netflix DVD subscription and have been buying more and more films on DVD/BR ever since (as well as streaming TCM day and night). While I’m lucky enough to have one video store with a decent selection within walking distance (shoutout to Specialty Video!) it’s clear that the promised age of ‘streaming all of the movies at any time’ will never materialize.
posted by gturner at 12:39 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


> It's not always Netflix's at fault. Some stuff just isn't in print.

But why are DVDs that used to be available now "very long wait"? I wish Netflix had answered the author's query about that. Looks like I'll be dropping Netflix DVD in favor of Facets which had all of my "wait" discs (9 of 60 in my queue) save one.
posted by morganw at 12:40 PM on September 23, 2014


But why are DVDs that used to be available now "very long wait"?

Possibly because copies get damaged and it's hard to find replacement copies.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 12:42 PM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


But why are DVDs that used to be available now "very long wait"?

Because people like... oh.. um... someone I know who sometimes forget they have a Netflix DVD sitting around waiting to be watched so it just sits there for ... um... (too embarrassed to say).
posted by dnash at 12:49 PM on September 23, 2014 [8 favorites]


All I can say is thank heaven for private torrent sites. And thanks for the article, I had never heard of The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean but I'm going to check it out tonight! It looks awesome!

I really cannot imagine what life would be like without torrents as my city only has one video store left and it is far away from me.
posted by wyndham at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would anyone mind giving a naive person an outline of what Someone-Who-Isn't-You is doing to illegally download a copy of some obscure film?

Obscure films are found on private torrent trackers. Some specialize in television shows, others in movies, some are more general, etc. etc. To get an invitation to a private torrent tracker, one generally needs to have a contact and be able to show that they are a responsible bittorrent user. It's not particularly cloak and dagger - the names of the website databases are widely available on google and there are many discussions as to how to get an invitation to one of those sites outside of knowing someone who is already a member (generally though some sort of application process).

The reason they are invitation-only is to keep out bad actors: regulatory bots who want to collect IPs to send cease and desist letters to, people who download but don't upload, etc.
posted by muddgirl at 1:06 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


And to follow up on what muddgirl said, sometimes the ratios required to maintain a membership can be pretty intense which does involve a bit of work for the first little while (IE downloading featured films even with no intention to watch them, or ripping and uploading films yourself). Once you get established though you never have to want for a movie again (as long as you sometimes don't mind spending ratio requesting reseeds).
posted by wyndham at 1:10 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


Is Greencine still pretty good? We had a membership years ago, but moved over to Netflix for faster turnaround and better selection in some niches (GC was bad for Bollywood, some others).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:21 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I watch 90+% of my stuff through the library. I watched Upstream Color last night and Kill List the night before, so they obviously have a pretty huge selection. Of course there are holes but I've looked stuff up on torrent trackers and couldn't find things I ended up getting from the library.

P.S. Do not watch Kill List.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sometimes, a physical copy in your possession is not the worst thing to have. Often, my very nice ILL department will fail to locate what I want, Netflix will certainly not have it, and so forth. "Why?" can be an interesting question but often it doesn't address the fact that I do not have the goddamned movie I would like to watch.

Netflix has the Firehose of Mediocrity. If you want to watch something/anything and are mildly indifferent to its quality, Netflix will always have something for you on streaming. Outside of that, you really are taking your chances.

If it is something you are absolutely going to watch a few times, have a DVD or a ripped file in your hot little hands.
posted by adipocere at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will second the public library - since video stores went the way of the Dodo, our library has been slammed with requests for movies. I am fortunate enough to work for a large system that has over 25,000 films available for checkout, and we also offer a free Interlibrary Loan service from all over the nation, as well as another new service that borrows in a matter of days from neighboring states. Also - my library has streaming movies that you can watch instantly from our website.
posted by bradth27 at 2:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


My uni library has 23000 DVDs and a pretty good arty selection (hurray for having a film studies dept). Today I was so lazy I popped in to check their reservation shelf and reserved another that the machine said was in was I could not be bothered to walk up one flight of stairs to get it and I knew I would be in the foyer again later. I will probably die before DVDs. On the bright side, I am also in charge of the department library budget.
posted by biffa at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Netflix has the Firehose of Mediocrity. If you want to watch something/anything and are mildly indifferent to its quality, Netflix will always have something for you on streaming. Outside of that, you really are taking your chances.

So they're reinventing the broadcast network? Fivety-seven streams and nothin' on.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:46 PM on September 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


The lost of Saturday shipping really through my rhythm all off. I'll never get my queue down to a manageable size at this rate.
posted by ckape at 2:55 PM on September 23, 2014


There's a lot of Netflix blame going on in this thread which should really be directed at the movie studios. They want to keep their costs down as much as possible (i.e. not carrying physical inventory) and use DRMed streams can't be resold like a physical disc. They're also playing games deciding which services get which content to avoid a single company like Netflix getting enough market share to be able to negotiate better terms.

Fixing this will require copyright reform – e.g. I'd like either an intellectual property tax or an outright requirement that material must be available for purchase to maintain copyright status to avoid the dark back catalogue problem – and, until that happens, spending your money supporting your local public library or companies which aren't trying to screw you.
posted by adamsc at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I mentioned A Taxing Woman to him, which he had not seen. I immediately checked Netflix... and of course they didn't have it.

Yes, but it's not Netflix that is at fault. The fact that the Fox Lorber US DVD release is $80 used on Amazon indicates it is out of print in the US. Who has the rights, who knows? I'm sure Itami's untimely death didn't help matters.
posted by borges at 3:18 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Netflix has had plenty of opportunity to pick up copies of Manborg but it's still sitting in my saved queue.
posted by ckape at 3:29 PM on September 23, 2014


I don't care whose fault it is, my observation/complaint is that I'm subscribed to Netflix for both DVD and streaming, and my needs are not being met, and there is no central place anywhere with a larger selection: not Amazon, not Redbox, not Hulu, not anything. So I'm stuck. Stuck with something that's increasingly failing. At some point, I'll have to pull the plug. Oddly enough, I don't enjoy torrenting (movies), I'd rather pay and get my stuff conveniently, but the system is broken. I wish someone would take ownership of this mess and devise a system that is functional. That long tail I've been hearing about for the past 20 years, I'd like that.
posted by VikingSword at 3:33 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I agree the legit-streaming options are limited and don't have the selection they could (and should).

But aren't we at a point in time where there are more movies available on-demand for instant streaming/download than ever before? And isn't that number growing continually?

And while some people used to have the cool indie video rental store that carried obscure stuff, hasn't this semi-mythical hip-rental place only been available to a tiny tiny fraction of Americans?

Isn't there more art movies/indie video available via streaming now than there ever was local availability for the vast majority of Americans?

I'm reminded of CK Louis bit about the person bitching about how their wifi is down in their magical flying air machine when that wifi service didn't exist 1 year ago...

Sure the situation could be improved from the incredible science-fiction scenario we are currently living in - but don't we all assume that it *will* be improved? That in five years we'll have even more options of streaming media available to us?
posted by el io at 3:40 PM on September 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


One of my clients is a distributor who licenses cult and forgotten films and makes a 3,000 Blu-ray run before shutting down forever. Their catalog is interesting enough to where there's at least one title a month I want to see/remember fondly.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:49 PM on September 23, 2014


I've never thought of streaming media as an improvement, like DVDs are better than VHS. It's more of a sidetrack in technological progress that has become popular due to factors like convenience. (Both the convenience of being able to easily choose what one watches, and the convenience of having someone else manage a huge library of titles.) But that convenience isn't sustainable over the long term as the total number of movies and TV shows continues to grow. Netflix (and maybe the other streaming services) will slowly morph into something like a broadcast network on the Internet as it gets cheaper for them to show their own content rather than license an ever-growing library of everybody else's content.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:57 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just hope Vudu never gets exclusive rights to something I might want to watch. I'm pretty set against ever doing any business with Walmart.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:08 PM on September 23, 2014


Netflix is outstanding for kids. Other than that....they have, like, 5 seasons of Law & Order. And that's enough.
posted by jpe at 4:13 PM on September 23, 2014


Facets is fantastic but I have no idea what their turnaround time is if you aren't in Chicago.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2014


Infinitewindow, they wouldn't happen to be the folks who put out Fright Night (the original) on Blu-Ray, would they?
posted by adipocere at 4:26 PM on September 23, 2014


Much better article than I expected. The media industry is going to protect itself right out of existence. The "illicit" options that are becoming easier to access and it is almost trivial to create new channels. Non-paid media will become so pervasive and easy to use that at some point the market for the establishment media will just not be there. Poof, just no one shows up.
posted by sammyo at 4:27 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


"I've never thought of streaming media as an improvement, like DVDs are better than VHS. "

It often is - high res versions of movies are often available for streaming. My concern is film preservation and restoration - it's not enough that we 'archive' DVD's or crappy rips of DVDs/BlueRays... Re-digitizing original media as resolution/quality gets better and better - this is important. And restoration efforts of both video and audio is important as original media degrades.

Maybe 'information wants to be free', but I want the media to be high quality and preserved properly, which isn't free.
posted by el io at 5:19 PM on September 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


In addition to shrink and damage eviscerating the stock of out-of-print movies, the studios have become very aggressive with Netflix on the subject of DVDs. For new releases they want to protect the various a la carte windows in the first six months after release, and keep some demand in the system for those who won't pay a la carte to wait for the HBO / Showtime / Starz. For classics they want to drive Netflix into streaming deals. Given how fast inventory shrinks due to damaged and lost discs, a lot of movies that stay in print simply aren't profitable to keep in stock at a level that fully serves demand.
posted by MattD at 5:31 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I still own a video store. Increasingly, we find that when we try to replace DVDs that break or are lost, the studios have let them go out of print (or sometimes, the studio's gone out of business). Sometimes it's surprising -- the theatrical version of Apocalypse Now, for instance, is out of print (but cheap used copies abound).

Where I -- and any other indie store owner -- might search and scour to find a used copy of something that's been out of print for years (today, for instance, I am mulling my options for a replacement copy of Perfect Blue), Netflix just isn't going to bother for most titles.

(Our copy of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is holding up fine, though.)

(As far as adapting to the times -- we're currently working on becoming a non-profit, so we'll see how that goes.)
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:39 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


PeterMcDermott: Didn't Tartan go bankrupt a few years ago? They did in the UK.

They were bought out by Palisades Media Group and have continued releases under Palisades Tartan.

posted by JauntyFedora at 5:40 PM on September 23, 2014


I don't care whose fault it is, my observation/complaint is that I'm subscribed to Netflix for both DVD and streaming, and my needs are not being met, and there is no central place anywhere with a larger selection: not Amazon, not Redbox, not Hulu, not anything.

Look around a bit.

Maybe 'information wants to be free', but I want the media to be high quality and preserved properly, which isn't free.

If only there was a way to tap the torrent in that firehose.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:41 PM on September 23, 2014


I'm not asking for anyone to go into self-incriminating detail, but how practically does the torrenting of older/artsy films even work? I know about sites like The Pirate Bay where there's a thousand sketchy links to things like "1080p.CERTIEFIED_FULL.MOVIE.HIGH.QUALITY.Iron.Man-3.DVDrip-by-AGENT-BLAZA420.torrent".

You are overcomplicating this. Download a bittorrent client (I use Transmission for a Mac). Type an old/foreign movie into the Pirate Bay search bar. Virtually all movies are there (I just typed in 'Angels With Dirty Faces', there are 9 different torrents.). The one with the most seeders will download the fastest. Click 'Get this torrent'.

Every movie ever made can be obtained through the public library and Pirate Bay. If you are a high volume movie watcher and you are buying or renting DVDs, you are flushing your money down the toilet.
posted by dgaicun at 6:43 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've never thought of streaming media as an improvement, like DVDs are better than VHS. It's more of a sidetrack in technological progress that has become popular due to factors like convenience.

Convenience is pretty much the only "improvement" that ever gets traction in the media marketplace. You can have worse quality (tapes vs. LPs; streaming vs. downloads) or be more expensive (CDs vs. LPs/tapes) and still win if you're more convenient; and better quality will lose if it's less convenient (LaserDisc vs. VHS).
posted by Lazlo Nibble at 7:37 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Type an old/foreign movie into the Pirate Bay search bar.

Someone pass the popcorn.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:39 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would anyone mind giving a naive person an outline of what Someone-Who-Isn't-You is doing to illegally download a copy of some obscure film?


How to Join the Private Tracker Community

All of this info is public. You can find most of it in /r/trackers. I recommend reading that subreddit regularly if you're trying to break in to the community. You'll learn most of what you need there.

This guide assumes you already understand how bittorrent works. As a smart person on the internet, you should be able to figure that out for yourself. Go spend a few days learning about it (not just reading the Wikipedia page).

Once you learn how bittorrent works, here's how you get yourself into the mildly secretive, usually invitation-only world of private bittorrent trackers.


1) Join What.CD. They are dedicated to music (mostly), but they're also your gateway into the private tracker world since you can get in with an interview, not just through a personal invitation. Pretty much all the other top-level private trackers require an invite, so you have to start on What. Your goal is to join What and build up decent stats that show you are a valuable, contributing member of the community. Once you've done that, you'll unlock certain forums on What where other trackers recruit users. Even if you're not interested in downloading music, you still need to prove yourself on What so you can be recruited elsewhere.

The What recruiting forum is not unique. All the good top-level private trackers should have a recruiting forum for members that have achieved a certain level in the community (if they don't, then they are not a good tracker, heh). You could start on another top tracker, like PTP or BTN. But those sites don't admit new members via interview. So unless you have a friend there, you'll have to start out on What.

As you poke around the internet learning this stuff, you will no doubt encounter sites offering to sell or trade tracker invites. Stay away. All good private trackers ban the sale and trade of invites. If you buy your invite, you will likely get caught and blacklisted. These blacklists are permanent and all the top sites trade notes. Do not try to buy your way in.

To prep for the interview, study at www.whatinterviewprep.com. It's not a hard test, but you need to actually put in a day studying or you will fail. If you treat it like serious business and make an effort, you should pass. It's sort of like the written part of a driving test in that regard.


2) Get a seedbox or VPN to cloak your home connection so you don't get hassled by the copyright lawyers. This is sort of optional for private trackers like What since the copyright trolls haven't bothered private sites much (to date). Using private trackers isn't like downloading from public sites like The Pirate Bay where copyright notices are commonplace. But I like having the extra security. Expect to pay $15-30/month for a seedbox, or maybe $5/month for a VPN.

Many hosting providers are seriously anti-bittorrent (because of legal reasons but mostly because torrents eat up buttloads of bandwidth and screw up their oversubscription metrics). You will know which services are torrent-friendly because they will straight up tell you (for seedboxes), or they will make a big deal about not keeping logs (VPNs).

The seedbox or VPN provider should not look like a sketchy, scammy site. It should be professionally designed, take paypal, etc. The popular sites operate in not-a-scam Western countries like the US, Canada, France, the Netherlands, etc. Not Russia, eastern Europe, Asia. You can find reviews and discussion in /r/seedboxes and /r/vpn. Again, you're looking for professional operations, not fly-by-night sleazy sites.


3) Become a valuable, contributing member on What. This means keeping a good upload/download GB ratio and also uploading new content to the tracker. Note the two different meaning of 'upload'.

To uploaded data and keep a good ratio, you will need to download music and then leave it seeding in your bittorrent client. You don't leave it seeding for a few days or weeks. You seed forever. There are tons of guides on What that tell you how to increase your ratio, so I won't go into that here. Just know that if you download a bunch of songs right off the bat, your ratio will plummet and you will be banned from the site. I strongly recommend doing a lot of reading on the internal What forums before you download your first song.

Uploading new content. This is the other stat you will want to work on. You will need to upload a certain number of CDs that aren't already on What before you can get invited to other trackers. I recommend trawling through your local library's world music selection. Again, there are many guides on What about how to do this. Expect to spend several hours learning their upload rules before you upload your first album. You probably already know the basics from studying for the interview. Try not to screw up.

It will probably take you six months or longer to complete this step.


4) Congrats, you have attained Power User and successfully unlocked the What invite forum. You have proved that you know how bittorrent works and that you are a valuable contributor of bandwidth and new content. There are over a hundred other private trackers waiting to invite you to join their sites.


And that's pretty much all there is to it. If you are knowledgable about computers, good at reading directions, good at following rules, and are patient, you should be able to join pretty much any private tracker you want. But it'll take six months or a year if you're starting from zero. Really, the hardest part is the learning and the waiting. Plenty of people try to take shortcuts like buying an invite or just skimming the rules. Those people get banned for life. Good luck!
posted by ryanrs at 7:48 PM on September 23, 2014 [16 favorites]


Was speaking to some USC film students not long ago and was shocked that they didn't know much about Hitchcock. I wanted to show 'em something and turned on the TV/Netflix combo and found...

THE LADY VANISHES.

That's it.

This is nuts.

No PSYCHO.

No VERTIGO.

No 39 STEPS.

No REAR WINDOW.

No BLACKMAIL.

No NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

No THE BIRDS.

No etc etc etc.

he made over 60 movies.

So yeah.
posted by jettloe at 8:02 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


" How to Join the Private Tracker Community"

I watch tons of obscure films, and I know people that use these sites, but honestly Pirate Bay has almost always been sufficient, and doesn't require any complicated membership rituals or tit for tat.

For example, I wanted to watch several 1970s arthouse films by Shuji Terayama earlier this year. All of them had fewer than 500 user ratings on IMDb (very low), yet PB had torrents for every one.
posted by dgaicun at 8:13 PM on September 23, 2014


The Pirate Bay has shitty selection, no organization, no community, no quality control, no retention, and is swarming with copyright lawyers.

The top private trackers, on the other hand, are beautiful sites created by truly talented programmers, designers, and movie lovers. It's a joy to just click around their catalog.

Seriously, you have no idea how good the top private trackers are. They are phenomenal. Absolutely the best of the web in every way.
posted by ryanrs at 8:20 PM on September 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


Robin Williams' "live at the Met" was only available via VHS a few years back. That sucked.
posted by Chuffy at 8:21 PM on September 23, 2014


I just did a searched for Shuji Terayama on TPB and only found seven hits (one of which was unseeded). Compare that to 30 films on PTP, a top private movie tracker. And PTP doesn't even specialize in Japanese film or obscure content. It's just a general movie tracker.
posted by ryanrs at 8:38 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


he made over 60 movies.

Well, fifty-three, if you include The Mountain Eagle, which doesn't exist anymore.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:18 PM on September 23, 2014


A statutory license rate for streaming would fix this.
posted by bigbigdog at 9:29 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]



Seriously, you have no idea how good the top private trackers are. They are phenomenal. Absolutely the best of the web in every way.


I mean, sure, okay, but still at the end of the day what you described involves, to me, a level of commitment that I would find hard to give to a fully paid and benefited 9-5 job.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:09 PM on September 23, 2014 [6 favorites]


Gotta keep out the riffraff.
posted by ryanrs at 10:17 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sadly, Portland's great Multnomah County Library specifically excludes any and all audio/video materials from their InterLibrary loan service. Now I'll never be able to see those Uncle Smiley movies from 3rd grade ever again!

Edit: it seems they do "borrow books, audio books and microfilm.", so not all audio/video stuff...
posted by blueberry at 10:20 PM on September 23, 2014


That "level of commitment" isn't necessary if one just asks around. In this day and age I'd be very surprised if most people don't know a nerd or cinephile who is on a private tracker or two. They just don't walk around bragging about it.

Gotta keep out the riffraff.

Gotta keep out the MPAA.
posted by muddgirl at 3:18 AM on September 24, 2014


The MPAA et al must have accounts on the big private trackers. I mean, why wouldn't they? They can get in as easily as you or I. But it's not useful for them to go after people there since the private sites are so much smaller than the public ones (tens of thousands vs. millions). I've heard they have accounts mostly to keep tabs on what's out there, especially pre-release leaks and such.

If the copyright lawyers actually started cracking down on private sites, they would burn their accounts quite quickly. It would be pretty simple to discover who was sampling the swarms, probably even before any lawyer letters were sent.

Basically private trackers aren't worth hassling right now.
posted by ryanrs at 4:13 AM on September 24, 2014


To put it in perspective, the latest Transformers movie has been downloaded off one of the biggest private movie trackers about 2,000 times.

Private trackers are but a tiny blip on the global piracy landscape. If you're a lawyer being paid per letter, there are far richer waters to trawl.
posted by ryanrs at 4:36 AM on September 24, 2014


Was speaking to some USC film students not long ago and was shocked that they didn't know much about Hitchcock. I wanted to show 'em something and turned on the TV/Netflix combo and found...

THE LADY VANISHES.

That's it.


That's almost certainly due to copyright law, not technical limitations. The Lady Vanishes is public domain in the US, because as a film before Hitchcock came to Hollywood, it's copyright in the US was allowed to lapse before those massive copyright extensions in the 1990s.
posted by jonp72 at 6:57 AM on September 24, 2014


Netflix has had Hitchcock movies for streaming, but they come and go. My guess is that they pay the rightsholder enough to stream a certain number of movies from their catalogue, and they change which ones from time to time.

If you've ever watched one, chances are it will detect that you're interested (its inference engine can handle something at least that obvious) and offer you any others that come up -- so if you watched North By Northwest when they had it it will probably offer you Vertigo when that's available.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:53 AM on September 24, 2014


NetFlix will not kill their DVD business. There seems to be an assumption that everyone will stream their media eventually, but that's impossible. ISPs have decided that huge swaths of rural America aren't worth the infrastructure investment, so streaming isn't an option. I think that so long as that's the state of things, there's money to be made.

I've been disc-only with NetFlix for about a decade, and have dabbled with their streaming service occasionally. I agree with the thrust of the article, but in my experience, they deserve a little more credit. I find that Very Long Wait discs come to me quite often--in fact, since Netflix sends an extra disc every time the shipping of one of those is delayed, I have an extra disc a couple of times a month. That's nice. I have also seen a handful of titles go from Saved into my queue. I was with Greencine before that and it was the worst. Two weeks turnaround.

I don't torrent either, we just buy everything. I find an incredible amount of good old stuff is for sale on Amazon Marketplace all the time. Between that and a few other sites, I have a very short list of films I want to buy and can't.
posted by heatvision at 8:41 AM on September 24, 2014 [2 favorites]


Plenty of people try to take shortcuts like buying an invite or just skimming the rules.

You can recover from the latter, but not from the former. The only thing worse is selling invites.

The MPAA et al must have accounts on the big private trackers.

I suspect they've learned from the shut down of Oink, which resulted in two trackers that are now bigger than it ever was.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:40 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder if this is a by-product of the massive consolidation in the movie and entertainment industry. When you're Sony and you are negotiating with Netflix for rights for your catalogue, you're trying to maximize profit on your Spider Man franchise and you're not really worried about your "indie" films. Would a company that was truly independent make its titles more available?
posted by Monochrome at 7:46 PM on September 24, 2014


It will probably take you six months or longer to complete this step.

When I could not find some not too obscure music at the libraries or amazon or generic google searches I poked around looking at some of the 'private' options (another one is DC++ ) and while it seemed like a not entirely lawless evil community; it does seem like it is more the hobby/avocation of collectors/hoarders, more into having perfect complete collections than actually listening to music.

Hmm, what percentage of the entire worlds recording of music can be stored (with quality compression) on a single 4TB portable disk?
posted by sammyo at 7:26 AM on September 25, 2014


According to one estimate, there were 97 million songs available as of 2011. Assuming an average of four minutes per song, and 5MB/minute with FLAC compression, that's about 1970 Terabytes.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 10:13 AM on September 25, 2014


it does seem like it is more the hobby/avocation of collectors/hoarders

Those people are exactly the type you want acting as gatekeepers and curators. They are basically pirate librarians.
posted by ryanrs at 9:44 PM on September 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


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