The Chaos Of Collecting Movies
This is a bit of a geeky post unless you’re interested in home entertainment’s future.
I try to keep up with what would once have been called ‘B’ movies in the horror/suspense/black comedy/no-budget genres. There are often enjoyable surprises which make the genre worth checking out.
I never pirate because I used to belong to FACT and came from the industry, so it’s ingrained in me not to steal movies, but for a long time now regional coding has become deliberately obfuscating. Unlike books, music and any other creative arts, film has a unique problem because of the territorial splits between makers, exhibitors and distributors.
Add to this the increasing format variations and you get deliberately orchestrated chaos. As I mentioned before, one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard was listening to a poor kid on counter staff in HMV desperately trying to explain regional Blu-Ray coding to a punter. Judging by the complaints on Amazon, any people don’t understand how Blu-Ray region coding works.
Streaming is a way of disconnecting from software and hardware alike – out go DVDs and Blu-Rays and their various chipped or non-chipped players, in come region-by-region online delivery systems. Streaming (theoretically) limits piracy and also means you can be charged again and again for rental and ownership because you never own a physical copy but drop it down from the Cloud.
There are several further disadvantages to this. You need a strong internet connection to watch anything and if you travel as much as I do, that’s a dead loss. The selection available per region varies massively according to rights permissions. You can use a pay-per-month system like Overplay which messes with your DNS, but it’s in a grey area of legality and can cause clashes with your broadband network.
The offbeat material I look for is rarely available in the UK, so the logical system for a hardcore collector is to stick to old-school DVDs, which are still the easiest way to preserve a collection – but once a copy is sold, the customer for that film is lost, and studios aren’t happy with that model. They need you to keep spending on the same product over and over, which is why they’ve been trialling systems where you own for a period and then repurchase.
The argument goes that if it’s in the Cloud whenever you want it, you don’t need a physical system. It’s the same as electronic books, but that puts you at the mercy of those who handle the storage and carriage; see Amazon.
I have a rare collection of DVDs assembled by being in film for three decades, with directors’ cuts and versions of films hardly anyone has ever seen. I use them to help me understand story structure. Until now, studios have recognised that there’s a collectors’ market that continues to sell.
Now though, some films are being released exclusively to streaming services and can only be viewed in their countries of origin. This means that unless a distributor buys it for the UK, say, you can’t see it. Recently I wanted to see a film I’d heard a lot of good things about, ‘We Are Still Here’ – it has given its primary window to streaming in the US. There’s no sign that it will appear here. The same goes for ‘Isabel’ (sold exclusively to Sky), ‘Flight of the Storks’ (TV only) and ‘Vilaine’ (French only), all of which I was interested in seeing.
If B movies and hit TV series from around the world bypass DVD there will be no way of viewing any of them except in their own territories, or by piracy. And as no international standard exists, it seems inevitable that the system designed to create more revenue will end up refuelling black-market demand.