Why I’ll Have To Write The Book Of Forgotten Films




Okay, the ubiquitous ‘Dunkirk’ was the best film of the year for me, but I have a special love of flawed oddities likely to disappear, so ‘Valerian’, ‘A Cure For Wellness’, ‘Snowpiercer’, ‘Mr Nobody’, ‘Rams’, ‘Skeletons’, ‘Black Pond’ and ‘What We Become’ all worked well enough that I was able to overlook any missteps…then along came ‘Okja’, from Korean director Bong Joon Ho.

The story: For ten years, Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja, a giant mutant pig, at her home in the mountains of South Korea. Then the multinational conglomerate that created it comes to take Okja back as a PR stunt before swamping the globe with GM food. The rescue mission involves the Animal Liberation Front, Tilda Swinton, a wildly overreacting Jake Gyllenhaal and a CGI monster that puts most other creatures to shame. The oddest part is the tone, which is an equal (and very Korean) mix of slapstick, family charm, swearing and drama.

And here’s why it will vanish; Netflix bought it, and as they’re a US streaming service investing heavily in film, they’re not releasing it in cinemas. The Cannes Film Festival has banned them and director Christopher Nolan castigated them, but Netflix aren’t about to hand off their USP to someone else.


Another problem; streaming services often hide other subscription companies within their shells, so you may find that a film will now bypass cinemas to be shown on Amazon, but although you have an Amazon account you still can’t watch it because it’s on a sub-channel like Mubi or another encrypted part of the service – which is what has happened to the theatrically extravagant French comedy ‘Ma Loute’ (‘Slack Bay’), bought by Mubi on Amazon’s platform.

So as the entertainment system gets more crowded and ever harder for us to understand (and Hollywood gives up the ghost after posting its worst returns in two decades) there’s a good chance that many more good films, especially those from around the world, will be lost. Unfortunately US companies have an appalling track record of buying world cinema to dump originals for remake rights.

If the film you really wanted to see bypasses cinema entirely, there’s no guarantee now that you’ll ever figure out a way to find it. We’re lucky in the UK that we have the Fopp! chain, which supports collectors and geeks. But until streaming services, channels and distribution companies find a more inclusive delivery system for entertainment it’s back to books, I think!

9 comments on “Why I’ll Have To Write The Book Of Forgotten Films”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    If you’re open to suggestions how about Leo the Last, made in 1970 by John Boorman. Despite it’s big-name director it has sunk into complete obscurity which is a pity because it’s a bit of a masterpiece. It is one of those films that could only have been made in the 60s or very early 70s like Blowup. if.., Clockwork Orange etc. because it doesn’t fit any established genre or have a neat predictable storyline, and is also rather subversive.

    Leo is a deposed king of some obscure European country living in a grand house in London in a formerly desirable location which has become a slum (it was filmed in North Kensington). He is surrounded by fanatics determined to get him his old country back but he’s a diffident and kindly sort of chap, really only interested in helping the deprived people living in his area.

    I am of the opinion that copyright law should be on a “use it or lose it” basis, ie. if the copyright owner of a film, book etc. isn’t making any revenue by releasing it in any form then after a period of time, say 10 years, the copyright should be forfeited and it would become public domain.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    I’m sure there is an opposing argument to be made for that last para, Chris, and I would like to hear it, since there have been a number of times I would like to have had access to material that is out of print, unobtainable, but still copyright protected.

  3. Roger says:

    “a wildly overreacting Jake Gyllenhaal ”
    overreacting or overacting or both?

    ‘Ma Loute’ turned up at the Cine Lumiere for a few days at least.

    I agree about ‘Leo the Last,’, Chris Webb. The problem – and virtue – of Boorman is his films are completely unpredictable as to subject, technique and quality and it’s only long after you’ve seen them you begin to realise their virtues.
    Another lost film I’d like to see is ‘Little Murders’, just as existentially nihilist in its way and just as much a product of the early 70s.

  4. David says:

    I’d nominate Terrence Donovan’s cinema foray Yellow Dog, not even his widow has a copy.

  5. John Peacock says:

    Another recent Netflix curiosity is What Happened to Monday, which, I think, wanted at first to be an intense piece along the lines of Dogtooth, but was dressed up in combat gear and forced to be an action film. I kind of like it because it doesn’t quite fit together, and it shares with Okja moments of harshness that you wouldn’t find in a Hollywood movie (Netflix seem to be looking at the wider picture, at what might sell outside the Midwest, though not always successfully).

    One thing about it, though, is that it’s like it’s missed an editorial stage. There’s a thing that editors do – as far as I can tell, I’m not a writer, just someone that sometimes hangs out with them, and editors too – which is to sit down and point out things that the author can’t see in the text that need to be adressed, and Netflix doesn’t seem to employ someone who does that. In the case of Okja, there’s someone in charge with a very clear vision and enough experience that they can do it for themself. In the case of Monday, there’s a jobbing director making a movie from a spec script, and the whole operation is efficiently run, looks lovely for the apparantly sparse budget, and yet…

    I suspect neither film would have been as likely to get made at all without Netflix, though, and people don’t know what they’re missing, really, if they don’t have that platform. What our esteemed host refers to is going to become much more of an obvious problem should Disney pull their movies from all other platforms but their own (which would, presumably, include Marvel movies). I don’t mind the occasional bit of Iron Man (actually, I think they’re the most consistently entertaining bits of mainstream entertainment that we have), but I’m not going to subscribe to a Disney channel to see it on my TV.

    Perhaps it will prolong the life of DVD/Blu Ray discs (much rather buy Twin Peaks: The Return than get caught up in Sky’s rapacious business model).

    Or perhaps what we get from that walled garden approach is a revival of piracy. Filesharing has gone a bit into the doldrums because everything is so much more available now – though it’s good for TV that’s not available in the UK (such as the marvellous comedy The Good Place) or locked away in Sky’s walled garden (taking money from Murdoch is not stealing, it’s political action). Or so I’ve heard, obviously, from people who might do such things.

    Sorry – I’ve just had my Saturday coffee. It seems to give me the ability to type long, incoherent comments, yet sap me of the judgement that would otherwise delete it without posting.

  6. brooke says:

    @Chris and Helen. A counter argument; a copyright or patent and other such protections of intellectual property are rights to reap the value of something you’ve created, and the right to pass that value to your loved ones and others you want to benefit. Often artists’ works are not valued in their lifetime…you can think of numerous examples; why would you deprive their families of any future benefit? On the science side, it’ usually takes a life time for an innovation to be commercialized– the market and infrastructure need to be built.. Why should venture capitalists be able to claim this property just because the inventor couldn’t deploy (use) it during her lifetime? And by your argument, the powerful can block the innovator’s “use,” forcing a “loose it” deal. The Tech Megalomaniacs (Gates, Cook, etc.) do this all the time. Why do you think the EU is charging them with monopolistic practices? Only the powerful win under your proposal.

    If a work is copyrighted, there are numerous ways to make a deal that is mutually beneficial, e.g licensing agreements, one-time use agreements.

    “Okja” sounds like a wonderful movie and one I would pay to see; I hope Boon Joon Ho made a great deal of money. from the Netflix deal.

  7. admin says:

    This is a subject for much longer debate. As a member of FACT I got involved in too many copyright disputes to see them turn out well. One of the main reasons for the continued success of books in the UK is their cross-platform availability, if you will. Think of it this way; writers own the well, and someone pays to lower a pipe into it, charging those at the other end for the tap. Too many chargeable taps fragments the user base.

  8. Chris Webb says:

    Have I opened a can of worms? I wasn’t suggesting that anybody be deprived of their rightful royalties, and certainly not individual authors.

    However, if a company owns the copyright of a film but hasn’t released it on DVD or licensed it for TV broadcast for years they are just depriving people of the ability to watch it with no financial gain for themselves. These are typically older and more obscure films so if they were released in some forms the revenues would be peanuts anyway. I don’t see why a business should squat on rights they don’t use and probably never will.

    By the way, are you sure that’s a pig? Looks more like a hippopotamus to me!

  9. brooke says:

    Common ground:
    1) Much creative innovative work gets hoovered up by the established distribution systems which then mangle it in the name of marketing and profit. We wish for and need alternatives.
    2) Wider distribution of creative/innovative work is often hampered by copyright/intellectual property laws–like the “prime directive” being turned against humanity by the robots. We wish for and need another way that protects creators.

    Like the analogy–very visual.

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