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.

we-are-still-hereI 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.


9 comments on “The Chaos Of Collecting Movies”

  1. Vivienne says:

    Having grown up when every cinema visit consisted of an A movie and a B movie, I would love to revisit some of those original B ones. My recollection is that they were shorter than 90 minutes, black and white and often gritty thrillers. Hard to track down since I don’t know what I’m really looking for!

  2. snowy says:

    Vivienne, you will probably not thank me for telling you this, [if it causes you to go on a massive spending binge].

    NetworkONAIR carry a large range of older British and US films and Tv series, among with their World Cinema offerings.

    In my defence they are having a 40% off sale.

    [As it’s commercial, I’m a bit shy about posting a link. but It’s not hard to find.]

    There are a couple more places, but I’m not near my shelves just at the minute.

    [I need to absorb the orig. post a bit longer before considering saying anything.]

  3. Vivienne says:

    Thanks, Snowy, that sounds very tempting. Will see if I have any money left – off soon to prop up the Greek economy.

  4. snowy says:

    A quick run down the shelves:

    Criterion, not cheap except during sales, mostly classics but usually do a restoration and bundle in extras.

    OdeonEnts, the old Odeon catalogue under a new name, nice mix of titles.

    Optimum, been swallowed up by Studio Canal, never quite forgave them for putting out a copy of ‘The Goose Steps Out’ with @!**%£ big chunks cut out. I wouldn’t have been quite so miffed, but it was the good bits.

    There are others but they seem to spring up like daisies and then vanish just as fast.

    Καλό ταξίδι!

  5. snowy says:

    Well this is going to be ripe with opportunities for me to slip up badly and start handing out lessons in egg suck-age to people who much more about the biz than me!

    *shuffles notes………. and feet.*

    We are in this mess because of ‘stuff’ in the past, that nobody can change, so no point covering that.

    Content creators are chasing money, it’s what they do. They are all resolutely united against piracy and that is the only thing they are united on. They spend most of their time trying to shore up their individual little kingdoms and trying to smash the competition. While they field vast armies to wage huge wars over a fraction of a percent the peasants are raiding the castle.

    Either life goes on as now in a never ending ‘arms race’, new content protection systems, DRMs, all pointless. The industry might have a few tens of thousands of people working on this worldwide. Puny compared to the millions that will break, bend or subvert anything they try. And they will do it for free, they will smile while doing it, just because they can.

    [CUT TO END]

    There is no way out even if they gave in and adopted the ‘One Market’ model; any content, anywhere at a single price somebody will still nick it.

    There seems only one way for content owners to safeguard their ‘product’ and it’s going to seem a bit extreme. They need a delivery system that requires up-front payment in a secure environment to prevent any leakage. A secure location under their control, that the audience comes to. Somewhere with good transport links. They could call it a… a… Cinema, they might even sell snacks. Who knows.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy always gives us the down low on things. Perfect.

    Ahem. On a totally separate note

    Our favourite author has just been awarded the Dagger in the Library award which is given to the author providing the most pleasure to his/her readers. The judges declared B&M to be a great find and now a great favourite but they only mentioned 10 B&M books. Nice photo, though. Look at the Crime Writers Association.
    Shall we cheer, laugh, and drink champagne?
    We always said you were great, Chris.

  7. Gaz says:

    I’m pleased that I’m not the only one to see that the new system benefits no-one but the studio. I pointed out to a friend who was waxing lyrical about downloading and streaming that although I didn’t have these systems, I did have the movies that I wanted on DVD. I didn’t have to pay a penny more for them and they had bags of extras on them. He just stared back at me with blank incomprehension. It’s a con but it’s a brilliant one that leaves selling the Eiffel Tower to tourists look really amateurish.

  8. Matthew Davis says:

    Vivienne: Renown issues almost nothing but old British b&w flicks from the likes of Butchers and Anglo-Amalgamated. Unlike Network they’ve licensed them to some of the tattier UK cable channels like Movies4Men and Talking Pictures, broadcasting 60-70 minute crime investigations like Christopher Lee in “Traitor” or Peter Vaughan in the surprisingly enjoyable “Smokescreen”.

  9. chris hughes says:

    We’re taking great delight in watching the old b&w British B films on moviesformen (although not quite sure why it’s a ‘tatty’ channel). Some like Smokescreen and Grand National Night are really good – some very entertaining in the way that bad films can quite often be. Wonderful too to spot all the old faces and places – one great film with William Hartnell was filmed in Hastings and the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill.

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