History forgets a dying king, or why was it so hard to find old movies?
August 2, 2018 1:58 PM   Subscribe

"Why was it so difficult to stream or rent a thirty-year old movie with four major stars?" In Search of the Last Great Video Store -- what started as Kate Hagen's search for a favorite film from the late 1980s turned into an investigation into what streaming platforms don't offer and why, then finding that the few remaining video rental businesses are more often curators and libraries for rare materials, and how the last stores standing are surviving in the age of instant-access streaming content, such as the Vidiot Foundation's Harry Dean Stanton Award, with the first award being given (by David Lynch, naturally) to its namesake. Also, Hagen started a Google Map collection of video stores around the world. (via I'm always feeling, Blue)
posted by filthy light thief (65 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
One of the things that I keep trying to not take for granted is living literally a block away from Scarecrow Video. Which is on that map list. It is very rare for me to hear about a strange movie, wonder if they have it, and be disappointed. Though sometimes the deposit on a truly rare movie gives me pause...
posted by egypturnash at 2:16 PM on August 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


You know what else has a library of DVDs? The public library does. And the Los Angeles Public Library has two copies of Fresh Horses on DVD.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 2:17 PM on August 2, 2018 [36 favorites]


It's this problem that makes me not feel bad using, ahem, other means, for getting old movies. Means which, from a quick look, would have located FRESH HORSES.

Years ago, my dream was that Netflix (or something like it) would reach the point where an average person could pay a reasonable fee and get access to basically everything (minus new releases). I have subscribed for years, and every year that idea seems less likely. Rights holders torpedoed it when they all decided they'd rather start their own competing walled gardens (with fees that only go them), or that they'd prefer a film be unavailable for a decade in hopes of one day selling off the rights for a big payday over actually licensing it to anyone to stream.

Basically: fuck rent seeking. IMHO if a film isn't widely available for X years (where X is somewhere between 5 and 10), it should irrevocably be moved to the public domain.
posted by tocts at 2:20 PM on August 2, 2018 [34 favorites]


egypturnash, after reading this article, I am really jealous of you.

ALeaflikeStructure, this was also my thought - the biggest (legal) gap in this article were libraries, and their network of shared collections. Individually, there are probably some great single sources, like LAPL, and when they don't have something, there's inter-library loans. Not as fast as instant streaming or 2 Day Amazon Prime Delivery, but zero dollars generally.

It's this problem that makes me not feel bad using, ahem, other means, for getting old movies. Means which, from a quick look, would have located FRESH HORSES.

That was my 2nd thought. There's a lot out there ... in places. But per the article, the rent seeking issues don't come from video rights holders as much as music rights holders, which is why some movies and TV shows are only available on VHS.

Another interesting reason is each iteration of formats re-focuses what's available. From Marc Edward Heuck, best known as the Movie Geek on BEAT THE GEEKS,
There will never be as many titles on DVD as there were on VHS, there will never be as many titles on Blu as there were on DVD, and so forth…newer generations with shallower memories determine what gets out, the cost of upgrading and remastering old stuff versus the projected size of the audience and likely sales rarely ratio well — history forgets a dying king.
There are new films that get added to each tier, like lost films discovered in the era of Blu-Ray that get remastered in high definition but were never on VHS, but those are outliers and not anything near the norm.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:26 PM on August 2, 2018 [9 favorites]


My wife is a Chris Isaak fan but never saw his Showtime series. It's not available on DVD, streaming, or even seeded in torrents. I take a look for her every 6 months or so.
posted by ShakeyJake at 2:29 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


But per the article, the rent seeking issues don't come from video rights holders as much as music rights holders, which is why some movies and TV shows are only available on VHS.

Yeah, I knew this was an issue, though I hadn't realized until I saw the list of movies held up in music rights hell that it's why I spent like 15 years searching for a ridiculous movie of my childhood (1986's Rad).

(I did eventually find it, and it's as awesomely dumb '80s with as great a soundtrack as I remembered)
posted by tocts at 2:37 PM on August 2, 2018


When I lived in Seattle my friends and I would make pilgrimages to Scarecrow Video. That place is incredible. We would browse for hours, and in the end of course rent some movies to take home but the browsing was the thing. They had everything; I hope they still do, and I hope they stay afloat forever.
posted by zardoz at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


Netflix is juuuust worth its cost for me because my wife and/or I get into TV shows and work our way through them, but I rarely watch movies that way unless I'm home sick and want to watch something mentally untaxing, in part because the search function is so awful and in part because even if Netflix made it easy for you to search it, the selection blows. Idly clicking through the scroll and ultimately deciding to watch nothing does, in a sense, bring back the experience of wandering through a video store with my friends in high school in an increasingly frustrating quest to find a movie that everyone wanted to see and/or had never seen before.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:46 PM on August 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


I still subscribe to Netflix DVDs because their physical backcatalog is astounding compared to streaming, but as the number of available DVDs shrinks, and the shipping turnaround time gets longer, I use the public library system more and more. I'm lucky to have a great public library system though.
posted by Hypatia at 3:07 PM on August 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


I'm a public librarian, and I can confirm that as video stores started to go out of business my system saw an explosion in the number of DVDs being borrowed. I believe the numbers are still quite high, but have plateaued and maybe even dropped a bit the last few years, in part perhaps due to the library having subscriptions to streaming services like Hoopla and Kanopy (which is pretty great).
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:12 PM on August 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


I was just browsing Kanopy. Very nice. Considering dropping Netflix maybe? It’s just getting lamer. Toronto Public Library has oceans of content.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


I felt deeply sad when Hollywood Express closed in Cambridge; I couldn't even bring myself to go in and shop at the going-out-of-business sale. There are real gaps opening up in our ability to access film history.
posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


> and in part because even if Netflix made it easy for you to search it, the selection blows.

I've always wondered if Netflix's awful interface is their attempt to hide how bad the selection is. They used to have a pretty decent user experience for searching and browsing, at least on some devices, but now it's awful basically everywhere -- shiny and flashy, but not useful for actually finding stuff, which is convenient if you don't have as much stuff to find as people think you do.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:28 PM on August 2, 2018 [25 favorites]


Netflix DVD works out pretty well for the way I want to watch movies, which tends to be me hearing about something and saying I should watch that sometime. I see they even have Fresh Horses, though honestly it doesn't sound that enticing and I won't be putting it in my queue.
posted by ckape at 3:38 PM on August 2, 2018


In my career as a journeyman disc author, I worked on... well, so many of the films, shows and programs mentioned by name in this piece. And I can tell you that even in the format's glory days off 1998-2004, the obsessive, weird impresarios of the independent home video distributors knew that DVD was their last, best shot to get the grindhouse/arthouse passions of their youth into people's homes and in front of their eyeballs on a permanent basis. To this end, they'd happily spend six figures to get an obscure vampire honky-tonk flick or a bawdy continental sex farce released widely in multiple retail editions complete with ephemera and addenda. They'd also grumble and curse about pocket-change overruns on The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pilates.

Of course when the bean counters flew west to check the books, it turned out that pilates had paid for all the giallos, all of the second-tier spaghetti westerns, all of the Herzog experiments and even all of the boomstick adventures. So the VPs and the CXOs decreed that the feature space was saturated, as they had expected, and that TV on discs was the new heading where profit might be found. These captains of industry immediately ran their would-be Pacific Fleet aground on the reefs of Survivor: Borneo. Meanwhile, the price of music rights rose faster than the price of LA real estate, and the ensuing world financial crisis evicted home DVD and Blu-ray collections onto thrift-store shelves.

A decade later, I have industry buddies working on HD and Dolby Vision UHD restorations of well-regarded films from the mid-century through the 80s. Indy distributors even smaller than the late Trimark, Image and Anchor Bay will use those restored masters to make limited runs of three or five thousand discs before breaking the molds. And then those titles will likely be gone for good. After all, refining oil to produce polycarbonate is getting expensive.

Oh, don't worry, every studio title (that is, every title owned by a studio) will get HD restoration to some degree; they've all been working on it non-stop for fifteen years, through the death of more than one tape format, and it's pretty much a process with no surprises at this point. But even though every film will be restored, not every film will be released, for the ROI reasons explained above.

The restoration line workers—film chemistry boffins, audio dwarves, and Photoshop wizards, mostly—are okay with this state of affairs, because at least they are doing the vital work to preserve these films (as well as getting to watch them exclusively and hungrily, as a dragon might watch its hoard). Meanwhile, Netflix will release Stranger Things '88, Amazon will slap a standard-def public domain cartoon collection sourced from a 3/4-inch U-matic master onto Prime Video, and Hulu will poop out NBC's latest copycat of a better show from some other dying network.

For folks like me who found their vocations in the glitchy, genre-defying glow of VHS, it's a real bummer.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:43 PM on August 2, 2018 [41 favorites]


There will never be as many titles on DVD as there were on VHS, there will never be as many titles on Blu as there were on DVD, and so forth…

This is patently false, for a number of reasons, the biggest being that media output has grown as time goes on. Does refocusing happen? Of course, but that's a function of media being part of pop culture, so our media output will necessarily refocus on what is popular now. I, for one, don't think this process is inherently bad - each generation should be allowed to determine what speaks to - and for them.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:48 PM on August 2, 2018


As a person with an LA Public Library card (and who loves that library) their catalog records and holdings don't match up. E.g. Waking Life (2002 film) is owned on DVD by 10 libraries and on shelf according to the catalog. Yet I've had it on hold for over 4 years; have visited each of the branches where it lives and looked through each shelf myself; asked staff in each branch to conduct searches; and come up dry.

I've been guaranteed that they ever find one of the copies, I'll be next! (Not holding my breath.)
posted by holyrood at 3:49 PM on August 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


it's as awesomely dumb '80s with as great a soundtrack as I remembered

Yes, but was it Thrashin'-dumb?
posted by klausman at 3:52 PM on August 2, 2018


For those fortunate enough to be within driving distance of the Raleigh, NC Alamo Drafthouse, they have Video Vortex, an in-cinema video store offering free one-week DVD/Blu-Ray (as well as VHS!) rentals for quite an astounding selection of stuff.

And, if you're like me and you long since parted with your only functioning VCR (or DVD) player, you can take one home as a part of your rental.

I have no idea if this is going to roll out chain-wide, but I really hope they do, because it's awesome.
posted by snortasprocket at 4:22 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yes, but was it Thrashin' -dumb?

I mean, it does have an extended BMX bike dance scene at a weird kinda school dance but the whole town is there, so ...
posted by tocts at 4:29 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


The real question is do any of these options have Drop Dead Gorgeous? Why is this the only cult classic movie ever not to be available on streaming?
posted by fshgrl at 4:40 PM on August 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


INTER-LIBRARY LOAN FTW
posted by Grandysaur at 4:58 PM on August 2, 2018 [8 favorites]


The real question is do any of these options have Drop Dead Gorgeous?

I can't answer your question about streaming, fshgrl, but you could check it out on DVD from the Los Angeles, New York, or Minneapolis libraries. (But not Chicago. Get with the program, Chicago!)
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 5:07 PM on August 2, 2018


I've been hesitating over subscribing to yet ANOTHER streaming service, but the library over at filmstruck.com keeps taunting me. I mean... Fresh Horses, no... but The Little Foxes! The Man Who Knew Too Much! The Seventh Seal! M! I'm a sucker for old black and white classics.
posted by TigerB at 5:09 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


I, for one, don't think this process is inherently bad - each generation should be allowed to determine what speaks to - and for them.

I get this, and agree, but how can they make a determination about what speaks to them if they aren't even given access to films of a certain era or a certain genre?
posted by queensissy at 5:29 PM on August 2, 2018 [12 favorites]


This is where I always have found torrenting and illegal stream sites to come through for me. There is devotion in those archives that I have found complements and even rivals the most premier libraries and video stores. Stupid greedy companies.
posted by yueliang at 5:35 PM on August 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


TigerB: "I've been hesitating over subscribing to yet ANOTHER streaming service, but the library over at filmstruck.com keeps taunting me. I mean... Fresh Horses, no... but The Little Foxes! The Man Who Knew Too Much! The Seventh Seal! M! I'm a sucker for old black and white classics."

I love Filmstruck or at least I love its content while its tech drives me crazy. Watching Bresson's Pickpocket right now.
posted by octothorpe at 5:50 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is where I always have found torrenting and illegal stream sites to come through for me. There is devotion in those archives that I have found complements and even rivals the most premier libraries and video stores. Stupid greedy companies.

R.I.P. my Cinemageddon account (forgot to log in for too long).
posted by atoxyl at 8:31 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


There's just one thing about this article that bothers me.

The author was talking about the general unavailablity of a specific film. She had an urge to watch it right away, but couldn't - and she both blames this on the death of video stores and laments that she wasn't able to stream that film right away. She had to order it from Amazon and wait three days for it.

....To be perfectly frank, though - it sounds like she was expecting to be able to stream the movie in question but couldn't, and was upset about that. If this were before the days of streaming, she still wouldn't have been able to see Pretty Horses right away - there would have had to have been a drive to the video store and a drive home to obtain it. And that's if it was there - there would always be the possibility that your local store would be out of all copies of any given movie, with maybe no chance of seeing it before someone brought it back 5 days from now.

So.....what's the problem again?

Mind you, I agree about preserving video stores, and wish more classic films were available for streaming. But neither of those situations have anythng to do with a "problem" that wouldn't have even bothered you 10 years ago before the onset of streaming video.

....And in conclusion, get off my lawn, you damn kids.

(Netflix DVD user here. Watching my way through a bunch of old classics, having a ball doing it, have no problem waiting for the 3-day transit time for me to send one disc back and get the next one. In only one instance did I wish I could get rid of something faster and that's only because it sucked dingo balls.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 PM on August 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


There are some people who are just fundamentally incapable of returning things they borrow (or rent). I've been paying for Netflix since the early days, and rarely cycled DVD's. I cannot explain why. Streaming is saving me from an exponential avalanche of late fees and lost item fees and for that I am eternally grateful.
Even though at this point I'm pretty much just paying Netflix a monthly fee to not have to fuck with my West Wing discs.
posted by ApathyGirl at 9:26 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


Portland's Movie Madness just joined forces with the Hollywood Theatre after a successful Kickstarter.

Here was their breakdown of the collection numbers:
There are 80,000+ titles in the Movie Madness collection. In 2016, according to Variety, Amazon had 18,405 movies and 1,981 TV shows; Netflix had 4,563 movies and 2,445 TV shows; and Hulu had 6,656 films and 3,588 television shows.
Also most of the movies on Amazon Prime streaming are pure dreck, that 18K is probably more like 500 that a human would actually want to watch.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:53 PM on August 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


MoviesUnlimited has FRESH HORSES all by itself on DVD. Just noting. MoviesUnlimited goes back far enough to have been a mail order VHS catalogue in the 1980s; it always had an amazing selection of stuff.
posted by wendyg at 11:25 PM on August 2, 2018 [2 favorites]




I just checked and my library also has two copies of Fresh Horses on DVD.
posted by octothorpe at 2:53 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I find that one's memories of the video store age are often colored by locality. If you lived in a city or a college town, you remember places like Kim's Video that were basically cinematic wonderlands. Bootlegs, rarities, foreign films, movies organized by director, snotty (but knowledgeable) staff. They were great places to go when you wanted to watch _a_ movie, but you didn't know which.

If you lived in a suburb or small town somewhere, your video store was probably a blockbuster (or lackluster mom n' pop with a curtained-off Porn Room), and the Netflix age has been a considerable boon.

Personally I wish we lived in a world with both. Netflix for when you wanna binge on something, Kim's Video for when you want some culture. Sadly, Kim's closed years ago and their collection is in the hands of some shady former mayor in Sicily, and I can't find a decent video store to save my life, even here in New York Fucking City.
posted by panama joe at 7:02 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


After hearing many, many recommendations for Grave of the Fireflies, and how emotionally devastating it is, I decided I should watch it. Much to my surprise, it did not seem to be available for streaming legally in the US, through any known service.

Fortunately, it's showing in theaters, including one near me, in a little over a week as part of Studio Ghibli Fest 2018, so I will finally get to see it.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:12 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]




EmpressCallipygos

I don't think she was complaining about not being able to watch it now! now! now! If video stores were still around, you could drive around to the different stores to find what you're looking for. If I want to watch a movie today, unless it is streaming or I physically buy it from a store that still sells them, I have no options.

When you want to watch something today, there's not much difference between streaming and driving around to stores until you find something. But there is a big difference between those options and waiting for days for the DVD to show up.
posted by LizBoBiz at 7:15 AM on August 3, 2018


There's just one thing about this article that bothers me.

The author was talking about the general unavailablity of a specific film. She had an urge to watch it right away, but couldn't - and she both blames this on the death of video stores and laments that she wasn't able to stream that film right away. She had to order it from Amazon and wait three days for it.


I read it differently - she likes streaming for its immediacy, but realized you can only get certain titles immediately. And as the graphs show, much of that instantly available content is really recent, and this is worst for Netflix. In other words, streaming isn't the boon to access that it is often believed to be. And in killing video rental shops, more is lost than local businesses. There's the loss of curation, of local hubs of film and television knowledge and recommendations (see the common gripes about how bad Netflix's recommendations are, pigeon-holing you into a narrow category of films EXACTLY LIKE what you last watched in some cases).

I find that one's memories of the video store age are often colored by locality.

Well put - and also colored by what you want from a video store. Bootlegs and rarities are probably more of "long tail" content, or they would be more readily available (except for the problem of music licensing, and if something was a big enough it, I'm sure it would become worth the time to license all the music ... or start signing different sorts of licensing agreements).
posted by filthy light thief at 7:15 AM on August 3, 2018


a "problem" that wouldn't have even bothered you 10 years ago before the onset of streaming video.

In fact, though I do sympathise with Kate Hagen, my expectations are conditioned to a degree by having lived through a chunk of the long era when if you couldn’t find it actually showing in a cinema, you couldn’t see it.
posted by Segundus at 7:15 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


panama joe: I can't find a decent video store to save my life, even here in New York Fucking City.

I can't speak to "decent," but the map of the Last Great Video Store(s) indicates that there are 5 video rental shops in the greater NYC region, and all in (relatively) close proximity. And don't forget the New York Public Libraries.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:21 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ooooooooooooh! I knew about Videology (which is more of an event space) but not the rest. Thanks for posting! Bookmarked.
posted by panama joe at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2018


For some reason, I have a collection of VHS titles of British TV that I never transitioned to later media. Particularly my Blackadder collection, and my Avengers collection of the Emma Peel years. There is a sense of immediacy about

They are stored in a box somewhere, but I made a point of putting my VCR in the box with them.
posted by Badgermann at 7:31 AM on August 3, 2018


I read it differently - she likes streaming for its immediacy, but realized you can only get certain titles immediately. And as the graphs show, much of that instantly available content is really recent, and this is worst for Netflix. In other words, streaming isn't the boon to access that it is often believed to be.

But what prompted that conclusion was an anecdote about wanting to watch Fresh Horses immediately, and not being able to do so was presented as being less-than-ideal -
FRESH HORSES isn’t a great movie, but that’s besides the point. Ben Stiller and Viggo Mortensen star alongside Ringwald and McCarthy, and the movie is only thirty years old — it should be available online with a few clicks. I definitely would’ve paid a few bucks to rent it via Amazon or Vudu, but those options weren’t available to me.

[...]

I remembered the last time I’d watched FRESH HORSES: I’d rented it from my local Blockbuster in Sharonville, Ohio as a teenager. Had there still been a Blockbuster (or any other video store) in my neighborhood, I would’ve jumped in the car, rented the movie, and been home in an hour. Instead, I had to settle for buying FRESH HORSES in a six-movie collection off of Amazon, which would come three days later.

But by then, the amorphous melancholy that inspired me to watch the movie in the first place had passed. Because I couldn’t access FRESH HORSES, I felt like I couldn’t fully process the restless nostalgia that spring always brings for me.
My take was that she wanted to be able to instantly stream Fresh Horses, and the fact that she couldn't was a problem; having to wait a couple days wasn't good enough because of "amorphouse melancholy" or whatever. My counter-argument is that "jumping in the car, renting the movie, and driving home in an hour" wouldn't necessarily be a guaranteed outcome even in the days of video stores, and she is most likely forgetting that her local Blockbuster being out of the title she wanted was most likely a frequent occurrence which she probably just learned to deal with by waiting a few days to get her hands on a copy of the movie she wanted. I'd wager that even back then she'd have had to wait a few days to get Fresh Horses; your average Blockbuster didn't necessarily stock many copies of the also-rans, so as to stock up on the big high-demand films.

So my question is - if waiting a couple days for her desired movie was something she just learned to deal with then....why is waiting a couple days for her desired movie a problem now?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:31 AM on August 3, 2018


Well, why do 30 second lag times in loading a web page bother people? Why do people expect everyone to be continually available via text or phone when those things weren't at all the norm previously?

Expectations change and the promise of the web being able to bring videos to you whenever you want does sort of carry the idea that any movie should be able to be found for view pretty much immediately as well. There isn't much good reason for that not to be true were it actually desired, and, via torrents, comes close enough much of the time, though in dubious legality.
posted by gusottertrout at 7:43 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Well, why do 30 second lag times in loading a web page bother people? Why do people expect everyone to be continually available via text or phone when those things weren't at all the norm previously?

I think these things are foolish too, for the record. It's all part of my "get off my lawn" perspective I'm sure.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:59 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've always said that video stores went down before their time. It feels like they'll follow the same arc as independent bookstores: we get the big corporate version, a bunch of indies go under. Then we realize what the indies were offering, and how lacking the corporate version is, and the pendulum swings back.

Like, Netflix and Amazon promised immediate access to the world's cinema, streaming for subscription or at least as a digital rental. What we're getting more and more is their original content shoved in our faces with the catalog of old stuff getting smaller and smaller.

My shocking one was Willow. Here's a movie directed by Ron Howard, written by George Lucas, starring Val Kilmer, and it's virtually forgotten. Not available on streaming, not available as a digital rental, not released on Blu-Ray, not in print on DVD. So weird.
posted by skullhead at 8:13 AM on August 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


I'm one of the many British people of a certain age who has the fondest memories not of video rentals -- that was my mother's domain -- but of Alex Cox's Moviedrome on summer Sunday nights on BBC2. Even outside of that oasis of pure weird, the BBC retained the rights to all kinds of interesting films: old ones, obscure ones, foreign-language ones.

The big streaming services have become the equivalent of search engines: lots of copycat content from yesterday, but no long-term memory. And then I wonder what happens when the canon is so compressed, except I already know it: it's the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
posted by holgate at 8:41 AM on August 3, 2018


skullhead: "My shocking one was Willow... not released on Blu-Ray"
Pedantically Willow was released on Blu-Ray in 2013, though it's now out of print and costs a king's ransom -- so your point still stands.

posted by crazy with stars at 8:51 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


One of the things that I keep trying to not take for granted is living literally a block away from Scarecrow Video.

Scarecrow Video is one of the greats but we would have lost it if not for an angel investor years ago...

a Chris Isaak fan but never saw his Showtime series. It's not available on DVD, streaming, or even seeded in torrents.

Music rights I believe is what the problem is for that one. As well as Rad.

the rent seeking issues don't come from video rights holders as much as music rights holders,

This is true but another issue, especially with older films, is that studios either don't care or don't know what they have or don't want to put titles out. Their money comes overwhelmingly from the newest blockbusters and from many studios their back catalogue unless they can franchise it somehow is completely an after thought.

each generation should be allowed to determine what speaks to - and for them.
It'd be nice if it actually worked that way but studios are the gate keepers here. If an executive decision controls the output how does a "generation" decide if a given work of art speaks for them or not? There's loads of titles not widely available or that been made moratorium by studios due to financial concerns that would connect with an audience if they had distribution.

I can confirm that as video stores started to go out of business my system saw an explosion in the number of DVDs being borrowed.

One of my larger clients is a supplier for the educational market, particularly public libraries, I can confirm that they have exploded in terms of their video media sales.

map of the Last Great Video Store(s)
Awesome - it even has Marathon, Ontario's Crossover Video! Though looking carefully it is missing a bunch in Canada.

My take was that she wanted to be able to instantly stream Fresh Horses, and the fact that she couldn't was a problem

I think that is it exactly. Fresh Horses from my quick looking was available on DVD from 2004 to at least to the early 2010's. It was re-released in 2015 by Warner as a made on demand title. That's a pretty decent run and if she looked harder I bet she could have found it locally or bought it and had shipped to her within a week. Compare that to the actual rare films I get asked for each week that have never seen the light of day on any media but film during their theatrical run a generation or 2 ago.

Pedantically Willow was released on Blu-Ray in 2013, though it's now out of print and costs a king's ransom

It looks like it was only available for a short time so I'm wondering if something is up with it. Bad pressing perhaps? Or music rights?
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:46 AM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Bad pressing perhaps?

Bad pressings (problems with the physical media, raw data encoding or underlying file structure) for DVD and Blu-ray are extremely rare and are almost always corrected as soon as possible by reputable distributors in the unlikely event they make it into the marketplace. Bad content (technical issues with interactivity, content, or missing/incorrect content) is less rare but is also usually corrected or worked around rather quickly.

Sadly, there just probably wasn't enough Willow demand for Fox to make enough money after paying for manufacturing, logistics, and the opportunity cost of taking shelf space from other Fox titles. Distributors get very accurate and precise sales data nowadays, and can quickly make profitable decisions about which titles to re-press.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't recall any previously existing music being used in Willow; I think all the music was specifically written for the film, so it's unlikely that music rights would be an issue. It's been a while since I've seen it, though, so I could be mistaken.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:29 AM on August 3, 2018


I had a girlfriend who was obsessed with that movie, she even named her dog Kaiya Ufgood after the character in it.
posted by octothorpe at 11:57 AM on August 3, 2018


I got excited when I looked at the Google map and saw that there's a video store in the DC metro area...Until I clicked on it and saw that it's strictly an adult video store. A map of those would be valuable I'm sure, but I don't think this is the right context...I wonder how many others pinned on that map only have porn.

One of the recurring scenarios I dream about most frequently (right after being back in high school--gross) is discovering that a video store near me has managed to survive, going there to browse the horror section and finding dozens of amazing obscure titles, almost always on VHS.
posted by doctornecessiter at 12:21 PM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


When I lived in Chicago I was an English teacher at an alternative school. I would stop at Facets all the time and get "writing inspiration" type films, weird shit that would make them write really awesome poetry. Looks like Facets has a streaming service now!
posted by RedEmma at 1:15 PM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


We're all missing the most important element of this story and that's that the super-duper DVD release of Michael Mann's The Keep is only being held up by music rights. (ok I know that's not the only reason but it did appear on the linked list of films disappeared due to music rights. Sigh. Come back, Molasar!)
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:00 PM on August 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oddly, I think of this as "The WKRP Problem," even if the content frequently pre-dates that sitcom. I think I saw the show streaming somewhere, checked it out, and found they'd gotten around it by an audio re-master.
posted by aurelian at 5:29 PM on August 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


So my question is - if waiting a couple days for her desired movie was something she just learned to deal with then....why is waiting a couple days for her desired movie a problem now?

Maybe it's just me, but I expect advances in technology to improve things--that they should become cheaper, better, and/or faster. Streaming is not very successful on any of those points: You need to pay a subscription fee (usually with a commitment) or worry about your data to use a streaming service, so it's like the complications of cable compared to simply paying $2 to rent one thing that you know you want. If I stream something, I don't get to keep it; streaming services seem to change their offerings pretty frequently, and if they decide to stop streaming something I like, I can't do anything about that--its impermanence makes it essentially inferior to physical media. And it isn't an option for people in rural areas where there is no cable internet service. If you have the data and happen to want to see something that's offered by a company that streams, then it is faster than renting or buying a physical copy, but the streaming selection is very poor with most services.

So to me, the waiting a couple days isn't more of a problem now, it's just a perfect demonstration of the failure of streaming to do the one thing it sometimes succeeds at.
posted by heatvision at 3:30 AM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


There is no streaming or paid download service on the planet that matches the breadth, reliability, ease of use and convenience of The Pirate Bay and a decent BitTorrent peer running on an always-on small computer that eats less than ten watts.

BitTorrent pretty much solves content distribution and goes very close to solving archiving as well. TPB and Google between them solve curation. Monetization, though? That's trickier.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 AM on August 4, 2018 [4 favorites]


Streaming is also the stupidest possible way to use the underlying network bandwidth capacity, and the rise of streaming services has made deploying networks that actually satisfy people far, far more expensive by making network loads super-peaky.

If it were normal for everybody to download high-bandwidth content with something like BitTorrent, then the time at which that content was consumed would be far less tightly correlated with the time at which it was flowing over the network than is the case now, where most of the streaming content consumers in any given locality will be relaxing in front of their massive 4K screens at roughly the same time of day.
posted by flabdablet at 5:57 AM on August 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


The real question is do any of these options have Drop Dead Gorgeous? Why is this the only cult classic movie ever not to be available on streaming?

So this was the first movie I thought of when I saw this article, because I remember trying without much success to figure out how to watch this movie again after Buzzfeed's look back at the movie on its 15th anniversary.

A few years later, you have a few more options. Apparently Netflix UK has it on streaming, which if true means diddly squat for anyone not in the UK (physically or virtually), but it's a sign that someone, somewhere, thinks there's enough ROI to cut through whatever legal red tape is preventing its release on streaming services. If it's not true? Basically status quo, so whatever.

Physically, the movie was re-released a few years back as part of Warner Brothers' Archive Collection. But there's a catch: it's only available on DVD-R. Basically, WB have taken the same approach Amazon has used to restock long-out-of-print CD albums, manufacturing discs on demand on recordable media and pretending they're the same as pressed discs. (WB also releases Blu-Rays under the Archive Collection label that are pressed discs, adding to the confusion.)

The worst part is that the discs apparently violate the DVD-R spec, which normally is incompatible with the CSS copy protection scheme used on most commercial DVDs. Long story short, the DVDs you get from Warner Archive Collection releases may or may not work on your computer's DVD drive. There is language on the releases to the effect of the discs not being guaranteed to work on anything that isn't a "play only" device. PC drives are explicitly noted as potentially incompatible.

So I just ended up crossing my fingers and buying a used pressed DVD off eBay. Hopefully what I get is what was promised in the listing. This is basically the best you can do for the movie short of pirating it or VPN-ing yourself to the UK and hoping that random website I found that says it's available on Netflix there is correct.
posted by chrominance at 6:40 PM on August 4, 2018


badgermann: I have the Emma Peel years of THE AVENGERS on DVD, so they are around.

We went through this with books, too, which are a lot smaller and cheaper to release (text files!). It's all about what commercial interests think will turn a profit, and even though you'd think that once something's been digitized it makes sense to keep it available, the need to keep updating formats, etc., means that it doesn't happen that way (a much bigger issue with video than with text). I forget the exact percentage but it's been true for a *long* time that a very large percentage of all the films that have been produced are not commercially available in any form.

One I wish I could get on DVD is BAJA OKLAHOMA. One of Julia Roberts' first films, and starred Lesley Ann Warren, Peter Coyote, and Swoosie Kurtz. HBO production. They put it out on VHS, but not DVD.
posted by wendyg at 9:00 AM on August 6, 2018


badgermann: I have the Emma Peel years of THE AVENGERS on DVD, so they are around.

FYI: Tubi TV has all seasons of The Avengers on demand. It's free (with ads that are less frequent than if you were watching on basic cable). I downloaded the app a month or two ago specifically to watch The Avengers and I love it.
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:19 AM on August 6, 2018


Like CRT Monitors before them (2012), the last known VCR maker stopped production, 40 years after VHS format launch in 2016.

I found these details out while looking for production numbers, in response to NoxAeternum's comment that it wasn't accurate to state that "There will never be as many titles on DVD as there were on VHS, there will never be as many titles on Blu as there were on DVD, and so forth…" because "media output has grown as time goes on."

But neither of those get to my real inquiry: what are the production trends for VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray? I found this Den of Geek article from March 23, 2017, which notes:
2013 was arguably the peak year for Blu-ray sales, with 23 individual titles selling a million copies or more in the US. The best-selling of all, Despicable Me 2, shifted 4.6 million copies alone, and many more overseas. On the DVD format, meanwhile, 45 different films sold a million units in America in 2013, including another 2.7 million copies of Hotel Transylvania.
Based on this alone, it sounds like fewer Blu-ray were sold than DVDs at the peak of Blu-ray sales, in 2013. In the UK, Spectator noted that DVD and Blu-ray sales were tanking at the end of 2017, "amounted to £894 million last year, which is almost a fifth lower than in 2015 and less than half of what was achieved a decade ago." Even with streaming. AV Forums users compiled some numbers, and in the UK, the number of DVDs sold peaked in 2008 at 252.9m units, down to 124.9m by 2014. Blu-ray, on the other hand, is growing in market share but continues to drop in terms of revenue, through the end of 2017. But those graphs are misleading --
Note that because Blu-ray market share is proportional to DVD market share, any drop in DVD sales will also result in a higher Blu-ray market share, even if Blu-ray sales are steady. With DVD on a steady decline, Blu-ray market share will continue to rise as long as it’s own sales decline is slower than that of DVD’s.
Either way, DVD sales significantly eclipsed Blu-ray sales, so it doesn't seem like media output is really growing, at least if you're looking at the sales of physical items, backing up the statement that iterative versions of video recordings provide fewer options, for a range of reasons, the most notable being the sales of items (though limited supply could further limit demand, further limiting supply, and so forth).

Bringing this full circle, streaming media should be perfect for supporting the longest of tails in terms of content - storage is ridiculously cheap, and bandwidth is only used when media is requested, so where's the loss in storing more media that is only viewed a few times a year? Unlike a physical library, there's an insignificant cost to "shelve" the content ... unless you only store the top 10% of accessed content, to keep storage lean.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:58 PM on August 7, 2018 [4 favorites]


streaming media should be perfect for supporting the longest of tails in terms of content

That should be true but it doesn't work that way in practice, unfortunately. Especially if you look beyond the larger markets of the UK & the US. As the services in those larger market countries balkanize and larger services lose streaming rights to back catalogues, in smaller markets the result is that you see less older product or less challenging niche product (LGBT+, less international fair, more adventurous art house films, erotica, etc.) available in streaming services. In Canada, for instance, we have less streaming choices compared to the US and Netflix Canada is underserved for classic & local films (even famous or "top 100" titles in that category). Physical media is no longer a hot medium, evidenced but the numerical decline in sales & the rising subscription services, but it does fill a niche that addresses the problem of titles disappearing from streaming services due to rights conflicts or studio neglect. Again, streaming services have the promise of catering to the content long tail but in practice they often offer selections worse then some video stores I've seen, especially in smaller markets.

Regarding Blu-ray / DVD market share - while Blu-ray has climbed it is still proportional to DVD. 4K UHD discs have even less share of the market and less titles. According to last week's numbers total disc sales were 62.9 million which was down 17.50% from the same time last year. Here's the latest release information for last week in the main home media trade which illustrates the share of DVD vs Blu-ray. And if you look at a list like this one you can see the average consumer focus is on new titles with the odd re-release hence the studios general indifference to older titles unless they are part of a franchise.
posted by Ashwagandha at 6:43 AM on August 8, 2018


« Older A list with more records (by women) than the K.G.B...   |   "An attack on the inviolability and dignity of the... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments