Thursday, December 11, 2014

The long wait for Tim's Vermeer

Tim's Vermeer has been on my Letterboxd watchlist for longer than all but a couple of 2014 movies.

I use my watchlist as a means of keeping track of which movies from the current release year I'm trying to watch prior to my ranking deadline, which arrives on January 15th (as I have started mentioning in just about every post). I keep adding to that list as I hear of new titles that interest me, so I basically never make a dent in it. It's at 85 films right now, and that's probably about where it's been since April or May.

Tim's Vermeer is sixth from the bottom, meaning that it's been on there since January or February ... and I have yet to get my hands on it.

The reason this surprises me is that I've developed an assumption about which movies will be available for streaming on Netflix sooner than later. Tim's Vermeer seems like exactly the type of title I should have been able to find shortly after its video release.

Yet like its writer-producer-directors, Penn & Teller, Tim's Vermeer remains elusive, the star of its own disappearing act. Or, never-appearing-in-the-first-place act.

I suppose what I really want to talk about is not the rather banal topic of a particular movie not being available for streaming on Netflix, but rather, the underlying assumption of which movies you expect to be available. Which is only slightly less banal, but hey, not every post can be earth-shattering.

I consume probably 90 percent of my documentaries by streaming them on Netflix. Then I probably see five percent in the theater and watch another five percent through some other a la carte rental option.

In fact, Netflix is so good at making the documentaries I want to see available that it's enough to prompt a post like this one, expressing surprise when a particular title does not eventually rear its head.

Since early on in the year I've been periodically checking Netflix for this title, considering it exactly the sort of movie that Netflix has excelled at making available. I have now probably checked a dozen times, and still, it's nowhere to be found. I am starting to think I might have to actually (gasp) pay to rent the movie if I want to see it before January 15th.

Which dovetails well with a discussion of just how much we're willing to spend on particular types of movies ... perhaps the worthiest discussion topic this post will yield.

Call me a philistine, but I don't tend to think of documentaries as the type of movie I want to spend much money on. It's rare that I will go to the theater to see one, though it certainly does happen. Two that I saw in the theater in 2013, though -- Blackfish and 20 Feet From Stardom -- were movies I snuck into as the second half of a double feature. If the doco promises to be a little more distinctive -- say, Stories We Tell or The Act of Killing -- I will pay for it as a single theatrical admission. Let it be noted, though, that I spent only $6 apiece on Stories and Act, since I saw them before 5 p.m. on discount Mondays at Cinema Nova.

It's also worth noting that without my matinee Mondays available to me in 2014, when I've been working nearly the whole year, I haven't seen a single documentary in the theater this year.

Earlier this year I did spend a full iTunes rental price on Mistaken for Strangers, and more recently, Life Itself. But that's rare. And that was in part to make up for the documentaries I'm not seeing in the theater this year, while still trying to see around my usual quotient of non-fiction films.

The weird thing is that documentaries are a much safer bet in terms of quality than fiction films, yet we are much more willing to gamble our money on the latter. Fiction films have higher highs and lower lows, and are also much more likely to benefit from being seen on a big screen. Documentaries, to us, feel barely more cinematic than television. So even if they're good -- which most of the ones we see are -- they don't have that certain oomph that makes us prioritize a theatrical viewing.

So although I'm incredibly eager to learn how an untrained artist can use science to produce a nearly perfect, nearly indistinguishable version of a Johannes Vermeer painting -- so eager that I've specifically sought it out a dozen times -- I'm too cheap to just go purchase the thing from one of the sites where it's available for rental.

I'll give Netflix a couple more weeks to comply. If my hand is forced, we'll see whether I drop the coin on Tim's Vermeer ... or just let it be lost to history, like all the other films I'll never see.

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