Netflix, You’ve Got A Nerve
This week I received in my emails an invitation from Netflix to help them kill cinema.
They’re inviting BAFTA members to see the film ‘Okja’ and vote for it in the upcoming awards season. Netflix isn’t the only streaming service to eschew theatrical releases and opt instead for online debuts. It knows that in order to compete with the major studios, it has to sell something that others aren’t willing to. So it premieres the film it invests in on its streaming service and keeps it out of cinemas and off DVD for longer. Which is its right, as it has bought the film for its catalogue.
But Netflix is finding out that television does not operate in the same way as cinema. It has chosen quirky, downright peculiar films. ‘Okja’ is beautiful, eccentric, harrowing and hilarious. But is finding it in an arthouse cineplex different to streaming it on a pay channel?
So far Netflix have released the documentaries ’13th’, ‘What Happened, Miss Simone?’ and ‘Get Me Roger Stone’, and the fiction films David Michôd’s ‘War Machine’ and Yuen Woo-Ping’s ‘Crouching Tiger’ sequel. It bought ‘Beasts of No Nation’, a war drama set in west Africa that other studios refused to touch (it netted Idris Elba a Golden Globe nomination). It even distributed the critically reviled ‘Ridiculous 6’ and ‘The Do Over’, and turned them into online hits. And like other TV channels it is also throwing on a lot of low-end rubbish that never gets written about.
Netflix is becoming a place for directors looking to make films that wouldn’t otherwise find a home, but by cutting out cinemas and the DVD window they’ve also made enemies. The French hate them (quelle surprise) but the real problem for consumers is that films like ‘Okja’ are made for a huge screen – it’s an epic movie but it will now only be seen on laptops, iPads and home televisions.
Netflix doesn’t care. It has a 100 million subscribers. So what if a few awkward French critics complain? Anyway, by removing the nostalgic element of the old-fashioned cinema experience, it may be showing us the way forward.
The Netflix model is already being followed by other streaming services. Cinemas are failing in the US, so studios are concentrating on emerging markets like China, which is the only reason why Hollywood blockbusters have started to become more ethnically diverse.
Perhaps we’ll look back and be able to fix wraparound dates on the life of the cinema (1906 – 2020?).