Saturday, April 13

Water, water everywhere… but Netflix is bloody stink

Dane Giraud asks if he’s the only one watching less films thanks to streaming.

I have subscriptions to most of the streaming platforms at my whare. It means that – quite literally – thousands of movies and episodic shows at my fingertips. And yet – strangely – I’ve never watched fewer movies and shows in my life. 

How can this be? 

I remember our first video store in Otahuhu, South Auckland in the early 80’s. It was on Hall Avenue, behind the Hall Avenue Pharmacy if any fans of this thought piece would like to pay homage. 

As a young kid, I was obsessed with horror and suddenly found a solution to my constant falling asleep before ‘The Sunday Horrors’ (The Sunday Horrors was a late-night film on TV that would often feature real gems like ‘The Wicker Man’, and the Hammer catalogue) would kick-off. 

The store had sections for VHS, and the superior but now extinct BETA formats, and while my family had a snowball’s chance in Hell of buying a machine, I had a Māori school friend whose whanau had a BETA player at his place. 

Problem solved, right? 

Wrong. 

His family was uber-religious, meaning we were all living on the edge if we got to watch Michael Crawford’s ‘Condorman’. 

This was the era of the video nasty – the cheap blood-and-gore exploitation horror films (most of which were banned in the UK, adding to their allure). This was schlock that was never going to pack cinemas but would fly off video store shelves. And yet, I still had no way of seeing them. The next best thing was loitering in the store after school, sometimes for up to an hour, reading and rereading the back of their clamshell cases, trying to absorb the content by some strange telepathic trick. 

If only there had been no barrier, right? If only we had been rich and owned a blasted video machine so that I could have watched every film whenever I wanted. 

Well, streaming has delivered on that fantasy. And yet I don’t value the movie-watching experience anywhere near as much as I did then. I have seen the first five minutes of plenty of films, but if I am not grabbed, I’m quickly out and onto the next one. I can start and reject five different films in a night before falling asleep within the first half hour of the one I eventually choose. 

As frustrating as it was, being tantalisingly close, yet so far away from the video nasties, only made me want to pursue them more, and eventually, I saw most of them, even if it took a decade in some cases. This was OK. I want movies to play hard to get. But sadly, there is no longer any thrill in the chase. The 2023 Oscar winner for Best Picture is sitting on Amazon waiting for me right now and was even before the award ceremony and I still haven’t seen it. Why not? 

Because it is sitting right in front of me, legs spread. 

Gross. 

There should be a courting period with cinematic art. Though few of us would decline an offer, we really don’t want the lovemaking to happen on the first date. You want to be tantalised by a potential lover’s eyes, her smell, and to allow this teasing of the senses to set our imaginations free to dream about what the sex will eventually be like. But with content now only a button away, viewers no longer get that foreplay. 

Content saturation in the case of pornography poses another set of problems. 

When we were kids, scoring a copy of ‘Penthouse’ magazine out of a father’s wardrobe or top drawer took ‘Mission Impossible’ level planning. 

You paid a price if caught too – a jug chord around the legs. So, there were real stakes, that just made the capture and reading of such magazines (normally under a house, by candlelight) all the sweeter. Today, even the most perverse act is readily available on your phone. Incredibly (or maybe not surprisingly), this is leading to fewer young people having sex, probably because they are bored out of their minds by the thought. The internet has taught us that nothing is so ungratifying as instant gratification. 

It may take a severe content drought to save cinema. Or is the (roughly speaking) two-hour audio/ visual narrative dead as a popular form of entertainment? Could this explain why we are suffering yet another Marvel movie 15 years after the first one appeared? In a vibrant artistic culture, the superhero cycle should have lasted 3 years tops. Like the narrator of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, who recalls the horror of his ship being stuck in an ice jam, it’s not that there isn’t a sea of water out there, it’s just that none of it is consumable! I’ve retreated to the world of podcasts, I think because they demand more theatre of the mind. Films like ‘Avatar’ and ‘Lord of The Rings’ demand you to admire someone else’s imagination without engaging your own. This is possibly what’s missing, from cinema and porn: we’re forgotten that the audience is actually a collaborator and that the more rare, the more precious a stone. 

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