Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Netflix, a personal history: from Alias dvds to 13 Reasons Why, Beasts of No Nation to I don't feel at home....


I had the idea a few weeks ago to write a personal history of my relationship with Netflix. The timing seemed right.  Netflix, which seems to always have some sort of cultural presence, had just made news when Cannes programmed two Netflix narrative features (“The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” and "Okja") into its competition slate while "13 Reasons Why," the series about teen suicide/bullying was exploding on social media. 

I decided to binge "13 Reasons Why" in the middle of my binge of the second season of "Love" (another Netflix original). I also felt it would be beneficial for the piece to watch the Netflix Sundance winner, "I don't feel at home at this world anymore." Then I discovered that the 3rd season of "Grace and Frankie" had dropped and felt the need to watch that as well. After finishing "Grace and Frankie," I went back to "Love." That's a lot of content in a matter of days.

Even last night, as I began writing I felt the urge to watch more. Should I watch "Five Came Back" or give "Making a Murderer" another chance?  Perhaps I should watch another festival film. I enjoyed "I don't feel at home in this world anymore." Perhaps I would also enjoy the Toronto entry, "Tramps." 

I mentioned on this site a month or so ago that my inbox was being flooded by emails about new Netflix content and how it concerned me. In the beginning of the new content phase of Netflix, it was so much easier, wasn't it? Remember when we only had "Orange is the New Black" and "House of Cards." Even with those two, I have only watched all of the former. "House of Cards," though entertaining no longer seemed must see to me. And on the movie front there was only "Beasts of No Nation," a brilliant film that deserved better than what it received from critics groups, guilds and the Academy when it came time to honor the best of that year.

Even with these oversaturation concerns I am beyond grateful for Netflix. And I am certainly a lover of the binge process. My very first binging experience was with "The X Files" back in 1996. I came into the show late, a couple of episodes into its third season. I bought and watched the limited episodes available for purchase and needed more.  I found someone online who had recorded all 50 episodes that had aired, and she was kind enough to put them on VHS for me. I was hooked. I watched them all in a matter of days.

My first Netflix binge was "Alias." I think I was subscribed to 3 discs at a time, but I couldn't get them in the mail fast enough and had to go down to my local Blockbuster to get the next set on numerous occasions.  In reading about the early days of Netflix, I was fascinated to learn that Blockbuster tried to buy Netflix in 2000 but Netflix and original CEO's, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph declined. And here I thought for years that Blockbuster just sat there and took the pummeling. They didn't. But they didn't work fast enough and needed a bigger wallet.

As Netflix began to change its model, with streaming becoming the thing, I continued to use Netflix and its 3 discs at a time platform as my foremost means of at home content viewing.  I loved the idea of popping a DVD into my player and watching a movie. And the internet at my Queens apartment was a bit spotty for streaming back in the early to mid 2000s.

Netflix also helped in my quest to watch all of the Oscar nominated films during that time.  I remember quite clearly when "Dogtooth" came in the mail, a much needed piece of my "27 Days of Oscar" puzzle. Redbox was certainly around in 2009, when "Dogtooth" was released, but I honestly don't remember it being the option that Netflix was. Or at least it couldn't beat the convenience of the movie arriving in my mailbox. Eventually I, of course, became a streaming subscriber and have since eliminated the discs at home option from my subscription, utilizing Redbox for at home disc rentals.

Today, for the most part, if I watch it on Netflix, I tend to love it. Something I mostly attribute to like minded friends/colleagues on various social media platforms leading me to the actual shows I watch. Like "13 Reasons Why." I had thought about getting into my thoughts about the controversy surrounding this show, and might do so in another post, but for now I will say that the reason it has generated so much buzz seems to initially be based in the way it truly connects with people who have struggled with bullying, sexual abuse and thoughts of suicide.  I believe the controversy is an unfortunate, yet natural extension of the incredible love for the show.  First comes love, then comes controversy. Just ask "La La Land."

There have certainly been misses along the way. I thought "Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp" was terrible. Same for "Making a Murderer." I am a bit baffled at how this show struck such a chord with people. It doesn't seem very compelling or fair in its portrayal. At least not in the 3 episodes I watched.

Netflix is considered by many to be a monster that is trying to take over Hollywood. The new behemoth attempting to take the reigns from the likes of Comcast and Cablevision. But it's hard for me to feel this way.

This "monster" saved "The Killing" and brought back the Gilmore girls. It gave us pulp summer viewing with, not only "Orange is the New Black" but also the fantastic "Stranger Things."

Netflix seems to have nothing to prove, which is really the problem. They won't bring films into theaters and this pisses a lot of people off, especially as studios and theater houses are "struggling." But why would they? It didn't really work with "Beasts."

We shall see how Netflix fairs this year with its Cannes entries. If one of its films wins the Palme d'Or or even a lesser but meaningful prize...well...it will say something, to say the least.

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