Piracy is a real problem for the creative industries and yet, on the eve of the Oscars, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for those at the top, especially when it comes to the motion picture business.
At least some of them seem hell-bent upon driving people to nefarious websites; the streaming era’s equivalent of the bloke with a rucksack full of dodgy DVDs hanging around at the fringes of your local pub while keeping a wary eye out for the plod.
Let’s take Nomadland, which is, according to the bookies, primed to add a sackful of Oscars to the four Baftas it carried off last week.
Chloe Zhao’s examination of people on the fringes of American society, forced by circumstance into the nomadic life, is supposed to be great. But I had to base that summary on what the reviews have been saying because, despite its British Academy awards, very few people on these shores will have seen it and nor will they get the chance to until Disney Plus gets around to releasing it on 30 April.
When the critics are once again mooning over it again next week, the rest of us Brit cinephiles have the choice of either waiting or alternatively flipping the bird to those who control release schedules by indulging the people who we are constantly told threaten future film production.
I won’t be among them because while giving my money to gigantic, soulless corporations doesn’t fill me with joy, I’m still less keen on seeing it finding its way into the pockets of people operating in the shadow economy with all that entails.
That said, I’m not going to pillory those that do because it would be less of an issue if studios made more of an effort to make it generally available.
First world problem? Sure, you could look at it like that. On the other hand, you could also see this as a huge and important industry that employs lots of people, and produces works of cultural importance, engaged in the process of cutting off its nose to spite its face.
If you produce something that gets garlanded with awards and has a small group of privileged people gushing about how great it was when they were able to see it, while preventing the unwashed from doing the same, you’re asking for it just like the blokes in Promising Young Woman were asking for Carey Mulligan’s character to wreak vengeance on them.
That’s a British movie (according to the Bafta criteria), which came out in January stateside but only finally arrived via Sky and Now TV last night (16 April). This was written in advance of that, so I admit I’m guessing at the plot, just as I was with Nomadland.
I get it. Covid has made things complicated for those overseeing the release of new movies, what with cinemas opening, then closing, then maybe opening again, but we’re not entirely sure given the way the virus is coughing up new variants.
But that hasn’t prevented other awards contenders from being released to VOD with the promise of a cinematic run later on, which the cinemas, desperate for anything to show, will take.
It should be said, this never seems to be a problem with Netflix offerings. When it comes to its own properties, the godfather of streaming puts them up for its customers to see, as it should. Mank is a horribly overrated piece of Hollywood navel-gazing. Viciously satirical The White Tiger is (to my mind) seriously underrated. Sign up and you can make your own mind up. Ditto the company’s other contenders.
Streaming has in many ways democratised movies. It has provided a venue for people to see films that might otherwise get maybe a day or two at a handful of art-house theatres. It has kept us entertained during lockdown. It has afforded studios an opening at a time when cinemas have been shuttered, (and it needn’t kill off the latter when they reopen). It allows people to embark on a journey of discovery.
Yet still, we keep hearing about films available in the US that aren’t available in other markets because, rights, which usually means money, sometimes politics, and just as often ego.
I’m afraid this is all grist to the pirates’ mill.
Sorry studios, but you love capitalism, right? Despite all the films you release that take shots at it. Well here’s how capitalism works: if you’re not down with releasing stuff to the free market there’s always a dirty one that’ll do the job.