To boot or not to boot
Posted on Aug 29, 2012 in Features
A film lover’s dilemma on online movie streaming
To boot or not to boot? That really is the question, in this day and age. With music and movies readily available for free online, should we even bother with paying for anything anymore? It’s a thorny issue, but one worth investigating closer.
Recently, I was assembling a list of my top films of the year. Last year, I had neglected to include any number of films that either hadn’t made it to Birmingham yet or I simply hadn’t seen, and I ended up paying the price. Though I warned precisely of such shortcomings within the introduction of the list itself, I still got grumpy emails and posts from people expressing disbelief that certain films weren’t included, as well as disbelief with those that did. While I make no apologies for the films that do make my list, I did feel bad about some of those that didn’t, especially as some of them almost certainly would have made the list, if I had only had the opportunity to see them.
My more web-savvy friends pointed out that many of the films were available for viewing online within weeks of their release, if not even beforehand in some cases (i.e. “Paranormal Activity,” which had been available in its original form for literally years before the retooled version hit the screens). Why not just watch them in the comfort of your own home, or the office, or what have you?
I resisted, as I am a hardcore film fan and am of the mind that movies should be seen in their best possible forum: on a big screen in a darkened room, not a tiny computer screen, much less on something like an iPhone. I wonder about those films that never made it to Birmingham, those I didn’t have the option to see in a theater in the first place, or those that managed to squeak by me the first time around with an extremely limited release.
The time rolled around again for last year’s list, and this time I flinched. More than anything else, though, knowing I had fellow film fans in other states that were sure to read my list, and who didn’t have such issues seeing films where they lived, I feared a similar upheaval as with previous lists. How could you not include this movie? Or that movie?
So online I went in search of those elusive films. Though not without its issues, I did eventually find most of the films on my short list of things I really needed to see to make a truly qualified list. Sure enough, a sizable portion of the films ended up on my list. This time, there weren’t any qualms from the peanut gallery, even with the quirky indies I traditionally put on my list to bring attention to them lest they might fall through the cracks. Nothing elicited any negative response this time, so ultimately it was worth it, even if it meant compromising my ideals somewhat.
Besides, I told myself, if they were good enough to make my list, if the opportunity to see them on a big screen presented itself, I would surely venture out to see the films again and there would be no harm, no foul. Also, even if they didn’t, I am an avid collector of DVDs and would surely buy the films when they were released on DVD. So, the filmmakers would be duly recompensed as well, which meant that I really didn’t have anything to feel sorry about, right?
I mean, a critic’s job is either to steer people towards something or away from it, right? I might have cost a few bucks out of someone’s pockets here and there with negative reviews of something, but I also have likely put a few dollars in someone else’s pocket for a good review as well. Ultimately, it was a break-even sort of scenario.
Or was I just fooling myself?
This issue also comes up with music. I subscribe to another music service (which I won’t name-check here) in additional to the traditional iTunes. It offers music for much lower rates than iTunes and does seem to be legit. I’m still paying for it, right? Better than not paying at all. And likewise, if I really like something, I am indeed likely to shell out money for the hard copy of the CD so that I get the lyrics and photos the way the artists intended. If I bought a physical copy and I didn’t like it, I’d end up selling it anyway. So once again, no harm, no foul, right?
Well, yes and no all around. On the one hand, everyone who knows anything about theaters knows that they make most of their money on concessions, so in a way, I am harming them by not attending at all and staying home. Likewise, watching movies online or downloading music at a reduced rate is shafting the performers somewhat, if not outright. After all, is the money I spend going to the artist or to a shifty online entrepreneur?
Clearly, there are problematic factors. What to do? As much as I think the best solution is a happy medium, is it really? Hard to say, but I like to think the free promotion helps somewhat- unless, of course, I hate the film/music, in which case…not so much. Ultimately, there may not be a hard and fast solution, at least until the Wild West that is the internet garners some serious rules.
Until then, the world in which I take advantage may be on shaky ground, but not an illegal one. After all, when all is said and done, we’re not unlike those music collectors back in the day that recorded that legendary bootleg concert and decided to share. Sure, those people doing the selling may be making a bit of money on the side, but otherwise, the fan might not get the chance to have the experience in the first place, and, even better, spread the gospel. And if one good turn deserves another, then aren’t we actually doing the artist a favor in return by doing so- that is, spreading the word around about a film or song we heard?
I like to think so, but until someone tells me different…well, what are you gonna do?