THE FUTURE’S BRIGHT
Here at Dirk Towers, Mrs Dirk and I have been having a mini-film festival that has been running since January and is still in full flow: ScFi NOW! Science Fiction films released in the early seventies.
The period between 1968 – 1977 was a particularly fecund era for the high concept SciFi films that reflected the anxieties of the baby boomers; “the bread-heads creating a whole world of doom,” “we’re running out of resources man!” and “there’s a brave new world coming.” The recent moon-landings had created an appetite for films exploring outer and inner space. There are many examples of SciFi dealing with adult themes in an adult way, then STAR WARS came along and changed everything. From 1977 until the present day, the studios wanted more cowboys in space blowing things up, rather than deeply considered, speculative narratives dealing with the pertinent issues of the day.
There are some exceptions and I intend to include some in future submissions to my personal list of the greatest films since STAR WARS.
What has been striking about our search for films to include in the season, is how relatively easy it has become to find the films in the playlist. In fact, Mrs Dirk tried setting a challenge to find even more obscure titles, a challenge that she quickly began to regret. To give an example, I’ve listed a selection of films that we’ve watched and their source:
LOGAN’S RUN (1976) – Watched it as it was broadcast (inspiring the idea for the season)
OMEGA MAN (1971)- Amazon purchase Blu Ray
WESTWORLD (1973) – LoveFilm Streaming service, now Amazon Prime
THE FINAL PROGRAMME (1973) – The full film is available on YouTube
DARK STAR (1974)- Recorded on TiVo from Film Four
DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) – DVD rented from LoveFilm
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)- VHS (ex-rental bought from a charity shop)
SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 (1972)- iTunes download
ZARDOZ (1974) – An Italian DVD from eBay
Twenty years ago, only two of the above formats would be readily available: VHS and television broadcast. The ‘internet of everything’ has changed film-hunting for good.
THE DEATH OF THE BLOODHOUND
Dom-Dirk still holds a sense of nostalgia for the time when it was necessary to be tenacious; looking out for the rarities in hidden corners, “this is not available, but for some reason, it is available” he would say mysteriously as he pulled another VHS from his bag. Every week Dom would study the schedules on the hunt for a rare Ken Russell film that hadn’t been broadcast since the 1980s. I’m beginning to get the feeling that his bloodhound instinct for searching flea markets of the North West for hidden gems and his weekly study of the Radio Times is facing extinction. Thanks to the extreme market inflection of the internet, and the power of the search-engine, it has created a sense that ‘everything is available … now’.
The film companies are taking the lead of the music industry in making content available by opening up distribution channels and studios are putting their back catalogue online to face-off the pirates. If it’s freely available, I’ll pay for it, if you keep hold of it, I’ll turn to fair means or foul to get my hands on it.
Another striking feature of the list is the variety of formats and channels that are presently available. Andy has written about the impact of the internet on the high-street and how browsing physical objects is diminishing. Back in the 90s my shelves were stocked with my favourite films on VHS. Mostly purchased from HMV at great expense. Two years ago, much of this collection was packed into bin bags and was sent to land-fill. This pre-loved format is not even accepted by charity shops as it has lost its resale value in the face of relentless domination of digital formats. Dixons stopped selling VHS machines in 2004, declaring that DVD players were the future for the high-street, little realising that they were about to be blindsided by online shopping. Fortunately, they have learned lessons from putting their hopes on the longevity of product lines, by adopting the futuristic name of Dixons Carphone.
I feel that we are on the cusp physical formats disappearing forever and this mixed economy is to be smoothed out by the growing prevalence of streaming services such as Netflicks and Amazon Prime. Over recent months LoveFilm’s streaming service has been incorporated within the Amazon Prime brand. Amazon acquired the British based LoveFilm back in 2008. It’s a ‘films-by-post’ service that combines excellent value and great service that saw off Blockbuster from the high street. Amazon have been steadily developing the offer since their acquisition in an effort to confront the prevalence of NetFlicks’ streaming service.
The recent removal of the LoveFilm brand and the embedding of the rental service within the Amazon user interface is an indication of their road-map for future distribution: streaming is in the shop window, monetised and easy to use, whereas the rental of DVDs/Blu-rays is now clunky, hidden in menus and the management of your account more tricksy.
The arrival of other options for the distribution of material that would be difficult to find in cinema is also an interesting development. Curzon Home Cinema is an on demand service which complements releases that you’d expect to find in Independent cinemas. It’s possible to subscribe or pay for view depending on what you want to watch. The BFI have also launched their on-demand format which performs a similar function, but also has the advantage of lots of free material from their archives, although there’s only so much you can take of people walking in and out of factories.
The next generation of smart televisions apparently being planned by the likes of Apple are likely to allow you to download these applications so that they are native to the television, removing the need for pesky wires and elegantly-ugly boxes cluttering up your shelves to gather dust. Last year Apple removed optical drives from their Mac range in a similar manner that their original iMac design waved good-bye to the floppy disk.
Before I pack my DVD collection into bin-bags for a life-laundry, I think I’d need to have a function that rips and matches my collection into the cloud. I won’t be fooled into buying the same films again (I will). I don’t buy CDs any more thanks to a combination of iTunes match (I subscribe to listen to music that I’ve already bought, genius) and the magic of Spotify. I can see that my film collection is going to be harmonised into a streaming service in the same way. The full tasty menu of films will be available at my command like a generous portion of SOYLENT GREEN.
In the meantime, if you can let me know how I can get my hands on PHASE IV (1974) by Saul Bass, I’d be very grateful!
– Dirk Malcolm