My weekly TV column is up at Torontoist.
Torontoist asked me to provide captions to all their photos this year at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, and this may have not been wise. That Jake Gyllenhaal, he sure does love his ethnic gorilla jokes!
So I was sorting through my movie collection the other day – I do this about every three months, whittling down those movies I don’t really need to keep – why did I buy The Dish, anyway? It’s a nice little movie and I know I must have paid maybe four dollars for the used DVD, but did I need to own it? – and taking stock of what’s been released on Blu-Ray that I can upgrade from my DVD collection. (Yes, I duplicate on Blu-Ray. What’s more, I buy blank multidisc cases from blankmedia.ca and turn everything that isn’t already a Blu/DVD combo pack into one, because I want format redundancy wherever possible. I probably have something of a condition that demands exotic pills of some kind.)
Although Blu-Ray selection is growing steadily, it isn’t growing explosively like DVD did. It’s slow and steady, and so many major titles just aren’t available on Blu-Ray at all. Lots of classics are just missing – there’s no Touch of Evil on Blu, no The Big Sleep, no Ikiru, not a single Marx Brothers movie, not a single Astaire/Rogers joint (and the only Fred Astaire you can get on Blu-Ray at all is Easter Parade, which isn’t bad but isn’t even a top five Astaire flick). There’s no UHF, no Monty Python and the Meaning of Life, no Real Genius, no Erik The Viking, certainly no Brain Donors. No Eight Men Out, no Searching For Bobby Fischer – no Abyss, for crissake, and it’s only the single best movie James Cameron ever made! If you want a Blu-Ray copy of Sneakers you have to import it (since its initial North American release was in HD-DVD and, I dunno, someone’s still pissed about that, I guess?). If you want to watch Shall We Dance? on Blu you have to settle for the mediocre American remake instead of the Japanese original – and don’t get me started on foreign films generally, if it’s not top 200 IMDB it’s kind of a wasteland.
Now this is the point where someone says “but we’re all going digital instead” and I get irritated by this because digital is hardly an answer. First off, renting films – and when you “buy” digital movies, that’s what you’re doing almost every single time – is not the same as buying them. Second, digital delivery is getting more and more sporadic as rights get more and more expensive for distributors to purchase.
As an example, take Wimbledon, a charming little 2004 sports film/romcom starring Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst. I am not saying Wimbledon is an unsung treasure or anything; it’s a lesser offering from the Working Title factory that cranks out chipper British romcoms, a solid B-grade movie: well-written with a few flashes of inspiration, good performances all around (including a younger Nikolai Coster-Waldau before he became the Kingslayer) and mostly funny, although Jon Favreau’s character is just annoying. But it’s fun, and it’s less than a decade old. It should be relatively easy to catch digitally, right? But no. It’s not anywhere. And there are tons of Wimbledons out there. (I asked on Twitter a while back what the word should be for when you want to watch something you would expect to see on Netflix – an unambitious mid-level dramedy that only really wanted to make its modest budget back and maybe a little more – and it is not there. My friend Tara suggested “Netflunx” which is just perfect.)
And then there’s international rights issues. Of the digital solutions, Amazon Instant Video is the best for selection (although at ten bucks a flick I would not say it is especially a winner on price considering you’re just paying for a license) – but that assumes you live in the United States. Outside of the United States digital selection is crap or nonexistent. Digital is not really a great option for non-Americans period, which is why we furners all spoof our DNSes and watch American Netflix instead of the local brand: there’s just so much more on it.
And worst, remember the DVD selection explosion? All that stuff is out of print now. Want a copy of Without A Clue (another great movie not available on digital anywhere)? Get ready to pay upwards of forty bucks for a new DVD of it.
It’s nuts when you think about it. We very briefly had a neverending rainbow of home cinema, the largest film selection available to any generation ever, period, end of story, and we’re regressing from that. How depressing is that?
I just found this comment added to an incredibly old thread (link removed):
“Debora said on August 10th, 2013 at 1:14 pm
If i could possibly clone myself ten times the will perform all other Search-engine Optimization business I require by hand.
I can’t therefore I exploit Ultimate Demon in place
my homepage: freelance blogging delhi (Debora)”
I want to frame this. I want to develop it into a screenplay, about a mad computer programmer who becomes obsessed with developing the perfect software for optimizing her search-engine. “No, it’s not fast enough. “It’s not good enough!” she rants to her assistant. “1.6 million results in .30 seconds? What if they need one result, and only one? We need a search-engine that can know–truly know–what the searcher wants! We need the Telepathic Master Engine! And I will code it!”
And in Act Two, she realizes that she simply can’t code it by herself. She needs someone as intelligent as her to collaborate with, someone who can truly understand all her revolutionary ideas about search-engine creation. So she instead begins work on human cloning technology, planning to create an army of Deboras to work in parallel and create her infinitely powerful search-engine optimizer in a fraction of the time!
Then finally, in Act Three, she’s been abandoned by her assistant. Her love interest has told her that he loves her, but he can’t watch her tear herself apart with this obsession. She’s finally realized that she can no more clone herself ten times than she can perform all the search-engine optimization business that she requires by hand. So instead, she turns to the last resort of the mad. She kidnaps thirteen infants and prepares to summon and exploit the Ultimate Demon. With the power of the occult backing her computers, she will create the perfect search engine. She will optimize and organize the Internet! All human knowledge will bow to her command!
I haven’t figured out how it ends yet, but I think that it has something to do with the assistant challenging her Ultimate Demon to find a single specific piece of lesbian porn and failing. But we might have to change that to get a PG-13.
So the movement to do… something about Russia’s insane new anti-gay laws via the Sochi Olympics is starting to pick up steam, but the unfortunate truth is that most of the ideas that are being generated are most likely to be ineffective. Stephen Fry’s open letter, for example, is eloquent and moving – but it is also directed at the wrong people. The British government doesn’t get to make decisions about Olympic management, nor does any other government for that matter. The International Olympic Committee quite obviously does not care a whit about public opinion – remember, we’re talking about the IOC which cheerfully went ahead with the last games in Russia despite everybody getting angry over the invasion of Afghanistan.
But the IOC, being a private organization run by oligarchs primarily concerned about subsidizing their own lifestyles, is concerned about money. And we know how they make money, because it is a matter of public record. Over 90% of Olympic revenue comes from two sources: sales of broadcasting rights and sponsorships. And those money sources are mostly other private companies. And private companies are vulnerable to boycotts – especially when we’re talking about the high-end, prominent sponsors who are officially partners with the Olympics and who pay tens of millions of dollars for the privilege. There’s even an easily-accessible list of the premium-level sponsors, who provide the majority of sponsorship funding:
Procter and Gamble
Now, some of those companies are so widely diversified that it’s difficult for consumers to avoid purchasing them entirely (particularly Dow and GE). But Coke, McDonald’s, Visa, Panasonic and Samsung are actually pretty easy to avoid: all of them have high-profile alternative competitors (Pepsi, Burger King, Mastercard, Sony and… Sony again, I guess… to name a few). If you want some supermarket brand orange juice buy Tropicana instead of Minute Maid. If you want a burger go get a Whopper rather than a Big Mac. (Or, you know, something good.) Charge things to your Discover card if you can find a place that takes Discover. Et cetera.
And don’t just not buy McDonald’s and Coke – don’t buy McDonald’s and Coke and tell them. What is McDonald’s going to do when it has ten thousand tweets – or a hundred thousand, or a million – directed at it along these lines:
@McDonalds Until you end your IOC sponsorship or until the IOC disavows the Sochi Olympics, I'm not buying any more food from you. Sorry.
— Christopher Bird (@mightygodking) August 8, 2013
And I am quite serious. I mean, I like McDonald’s every once in a while, but it’s not gonna kill me to not eat it. Not eating McD’s is the easiest thing in the world! And they know this. Ditto drinking Coke. Ditto charging to your Visa (well, assuming you can get an alternative card – I know a lot of people depend on credit). Atos is a bit more difficult to hit because they’re an IT company, but they’re an IT company that contracts out services to many governments, and that is something you can pressure your government about. (But really: stick with pressuring the companies directly, because direct is better than indirect.) And Tweets are literally the smallest thing you can do to communicate your displeasure with these companies. Sit down and write a letter, a real letter. (Companies react very strongly to large bags of angry mail. Remember that most of them have a “respond to all complaints” policy.)
The broadcasting works along the same lines except here the IOC’s revenue stream is even more concentrated. Really, if Americans want to kill the Sochi Olympics dead, they can just start Tweeting at (and mailing and phoning and so forth) NBC – the American broadcasting contract is worth a ridiculous amount of money. “Hey, I’m not going to watch the Sochi Olympics while Russia seems determined to ghettoize homosexuals” is a start. The Olympics are a perennial cash cow for NBC because they get billions in advertising revenue, which means activists can start targeting NBC’s revenue stream. All of this technically won’t hurt the IOC directly – after all, NBC has already paid for the Games – but it can mean lower bids in future for Olympic broadcasts, and that’s all that really needs to happen.
To sum up: If you’re just going to rant on the internet, nothing’s going to stop the Sochi Olympics from happening, because words are empty to people who care about nothing beyond the bottom line, and that is the International Olympic Committee in a nutshell. You get their attention by hurting their bottom line. The good news is this: they are remarkably vulnerable.