Monday, November 7, 2011
Strange gaps in the Netflix catalogue
Don't you tend to think of Netflix as the one place you can rely on to get pretty much any movie you want?
There are limitations, of course -- out-of-print movies, movies that never made it to DVD in the first place, movies that are still in theaters, etc. But you should be able to find pretty much any other movie of a certain level of prominence, right?
As luck would have it, I struck out twice this past Friday, on movies I thought for sure should be prominent enough for me to rent. Both were movies I've seen -- and both were movies it looks like I won't be seeing again anytime soon.
The first movie jumped back on my radar after I read a very sympathetic article on Howard Stern, in which he talked about how his divorce really threw him for a loop. It reminded me of the other time I'd seen Howard's outer costume peeled away to reveal the human being underneath: Betty Thomas' Private Parts, which I would dare to call a "sweet" movie. (In some respects at least. It also has naked porn stars.)
I think I've only see it that one time, back in 1997. So right then and there I decided to see if it was available for streaming on Netflix, guessing (correctly it turned out) that my wife had never seen it.
Nope. But neither was it available as a physical DVD.
Just that big green Save button.
(And why is the Save button green, anyway? Is it a way to soften the blow that we won't be able to get the movie we've searched for? In all other places in our world, green means Go. But here, green means Stop.)
The second was a slightly less prominent film, but one that should still be all over Netflix anyway.
Back in college -- and this shows you what kind of college I went to -- I wrote a serious essay on literary theory that compared Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and ... Andrew Fleming's Threesome. That's right, the 1994 comedy starring Stephen Baldwin, Josh Charles and Lara Flynn Boyle. And it wasn't like I was trying to shoehorn the movie into this discussion because I hated English as an area of study and was just trying to get out of an assignment in the easiest way possible. In fact, I was an English major, the class was called Literary Theory of Popular Culture, and this type of outside-the-box thinking was encouraged. (Although I think my professor specifically had to watch the movie in order to grade my paper -- which received an A.)
So I came across Threesome again while dueling on Flickchart, and thought "Huh. Haven't seen that in awhile. Wonder if it's available on streaming."
Same result: No streaming, no physical DVD.
(Well, it's not exactly like this -- it just says Save. Surprised I was able to find an image of the button at all.)
I mean, it's not like Threesome is a movie everybody has seen. (Unlike, I would argue, Private Parts, which even Ethiopian children under five years old have already seen.) But it's prominent enough that some friends and I actually used to quote it. Our favorite was this line from Stephen Baldwin: "For me, sex is like pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good."
Two thousand eleven has been a bad year for Netflix, a year in which the company has come under fire repeatedly for poor decisions and a trial-and-error approach to market research that is astoundingly amateurish. But the actual content of its DVD offerings has never the subject of any debate. Yes, some new releases are delayed from arriving on Netflix in order to increase the company's streaming offerings, and yes, those streaming offerings are going to diminish next year when the Starz contract runs out. But the back catalogue of DVD titles has traditionally been an area of strength, beyond reproach.
If I identified two missing titles in the course of one random day of searching films of legitimate stature, how many others are there?
And perhaps more troublingly, how will I actually see these two movies from the mid-1990s that I rather enjoyed?
We live in an era where we have the ability to watch pretty much any movie we want, from any time in the history of cinema, within a couple days of the moment we decided to watch it.
Or do we?