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The demise of FilmStruck: was it a long time coming?

It’s been barely a month since WarnerMedia announced their decision to close the popular streaming service, ‘FilmStruck’. However, as a result of this, The Criterion Collection has already announced plans to launch their own streaming service. There was immense public outcry following the closure of FilmStruck, with a petition to keep the service open garnering nearly 60,000 signatures. So, is launching a new service in its place a bad move? As a service, FilmStruck offered “an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign, and cult films” with weekly segments dedicated to numerous actors and directors, featuring a small selection of films from each one with directors including Edgar Wright and Stephen Frears selecting lists of their favourite films from the service’s collection in regular ‘FilmStruck Favourites’ features.

The service, which was built by the teams behind The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies, will cease operations in all countries on November 29th after just two years of operation in an effort to streamline WarnerMedia’s operations under their new owners, AT&T. Following backlash from several well-known figures in the industry including Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Guillermo Del Toro and Christopher Nolan (to name only a few), Criterion announced plans to launch a new service called ‘The Criterion Channel’ in the US and Canada in early 2019 with plans to roll the service out to an international market overtime (though we aren’t sure when exactly it will come to the UK). Essentially, the service would act as a replacement for FilmStruck, who proved exclusive rights to stream films from The Criterion Collection alongside other acclaimed and cult movies, but without Turner’s involvement.

I also write film reviews and study various film modules whereby such streaming sites become important for me to access material

Despite only discovering the service eight months ago, I discovered some of my favourite movies of all time through FilmStruck: Oldboy; Magnolia; Requiem For A Dream; An American in Paris; All the President’s Men and the list goes on. But in saying that, I also write film reviews and study various film modules whereby such streaming sites become important for me to access material. It’s a pretty niche demographic and even though this cynical attitude is arguably what is killing cinema as an art form it looks like it isn’t going to change.

But why is there such a stigma behind experimental, niche or just plain different films in the first place? After all, without legends like D.W. Griffith, Fritz Lang, Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock or Stanley Kubrick we wouldn’t have the Hollywood we have today in any capacity whatsoever so it’s always a starting point to start exploring older films in further detail to truly understand the landscape of Hollywood because there’s so much history and it’s important to preserve it. A quick Google search will take you to a ‘Business Insider’ article with the 10 best-selling films of 2017 worldwide, all of them being adaptations, sequels or remakes. Even the guy who wrote it, Jason Guerrasio, described each movie on there with basically the same thing each time: ‘this type of movie was about to go stale/this problem happened initially/ critics didn’t really like it, but audiences loved it and it made X amount of money for Y Studios so at least someone’s happy’. All ten of those movies were American, five of them were superhero movies and two of them were Disney movies. The other three were the remakes of It, The Fate of the Furious and Despicable Me 3. I’m not trying to bash the movies on that list because I’ve seen all of them and there were a couple of genuinely good movies on there, like Spiderman: Homecoming and Wonder Woman, but to me the rest were mostly average (if not awful) and I honest-to-God predicted seven of the ten movies before I even read the article, which says so much about the landscape of Hollywood without even giving it a second thought.

Movies are a form of escapism and most people want to get invested into the fantasy and excitement of it all, rather than to be intellectually or emotionally challenged, to the point where a lot of people are genuinely shocked or even outraged at negative responses from critics or neglect at awards ceremonies because they are held to such a high standard in people’s minds. A small section of the general population (i.e. fanboys/girls of a particular brand) even see it as a ‘rejection of the system’ when they have essentially become ‘the system’ themselves by paying for a movie purely through brand or name recognition and by responding to consumer demand and outrage at social norms is companies like ‘Netflix’ have built their business model. They keep a familiar genre image, but with a different gimmick each time to keep it interesting. Even the Oscars themselves have been struggling with low viewer ratings and constant controversy. In August they announced an award for ‘Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film’, though this was quickly scrapped as many critics, Academy members and film fans saw it as an attempt to pander to mainstream audiences to keep ratings up, effectively segregating popular films from genuinely deserving ones. Not only is it an excuse for Hollywood to keep churning out cash cows, but is this also the reason why FilmStruck failed?

The team behind it had a very specific and niche demographic and they eventually lost out to corporate interest

FilmStruck was never going to be the next Netflix. But it wasn’t trying to. The team behind it had a very specific and niche demographic and they eventually lost out to corporate interest. I can’t wait for the new Criterion Channel to be rolled out to the UK but I think that it has a high chance of suffering the same fate. From now until then, I’m subscribed to the BFI Player channel on Amazon Prime, which is an additional £4.99 a month and has some brilliant films on it; my favourites so far being Donnie Darko, Sanjuro and Victim. But I still have a few days of my FilmStruck membership to milk, so if you feel like you want to exhaust every film on there but don’t know where to start, then here’s my personal recommendation of films to watch if you’re in the same position:

  • What We Do In The Shadows (2014) – Filmmaker and comedian Taika Waititi directs and stars in this New Zealand vampire mockumentary alongside Jemaine Clement (who you’ll either know as one half of Flight Of The Conchords or as Tamatoa the crab from Moana), and unlike some of its counterparts, is genuinely hilarious. Even if you’re not a film buff I can guarantee you’ll be splitting at the sides.
  • Le Bonheur (1965) – I’ve been on an Agnès Varda kick since watching her film ‘Cléo de 5 à 7’ in one of my lectures and whilst I don’t think this is as brilliant as Cléo was, it certainly is a beautiful and truly important film. If you’re massively into old romantic movies like Roman Holiday or Casablanca then you’ll love it, it truly holds it’s own.
  • The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Starring Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and my actual queen Katharine Hepburn, I recently rediscovered this gem that I remembered seeing on BBC4 years ago and I wasn’t disappointed. The three of them have great chemistry and comedic timing in an otherwise simplistic story and narrative framing, so it really is a masterclass in direction and acting in comedy more than anything if that’s what you’re into.

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