The rise of streaming services like Netflix and Stan hastened the demise of the local video store, consumers sold on the idea that anything we wanted to see was just a click away. But about half-a-decade into Netflix’s local existence, film junkies are coming to understand what’s been lost.
“I’ve seen a lot of people migrate to streaming services and then come back to us after exhausting those libraries,” says Ben Kenny, who has run Sydney’s Film Club video store in Darlinghurst for eight years.
“[Streaming services] like to present the image of having a comprehensive library, but the irony is there’s like ten of them now and they all want to be the only game in town, and even between all of them combined they still don’t cover even a fraction of film history.”
Let’s say you want to watch Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (1968), or an obscure cult favourite like The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) – where do you go? With a vast selection of film culture trapped in the empty space between video shop closures and streaming’s commercial indifference, many titles aren’t available physically or virtually.
“I have people coming in every day looking for something they can’t find legally, or even illegally, on the internet,” says Kenny. “When The Force Awakens came out [in 2015], we had a massive rush on Star Warsmovies because none of those films were on any of the streaming services yet, so even a cultural juggernaut like that can sort of get overlooked.”
Streaming’s focus on “what got released today, what you can binge on the weekend” neglects so much valuable pop culture, says Kenny.
“The film canon, film history, is constantly being rewritten; what’s a classic film and what needs to be rewatched from 60 years ago is always being decided, and I think we lose track of that with streaming,” he says. “[The conversation] shouldn’t just be about the new, fresh, pretty, shiny thing.”
While the music industry has seen vintage media blossom, with recent ARIA figures revealing vinyl sales were set to outstrip CDs for the first time in decades, could the same come true with DVDs and videos? Jeanette Bresaz, who’s worked at The DVD Collection in The Walk Arcade at Melbourne’s Bourke Street for over 20 years, isn’t so sure.
“We still get people walking past who didn’t know or are surprised that there’s still a DVD shop,” laughs Bresaz.Advertisement
“We’ve always had collectors who want hard copies; we get elderly people who don’t stream, don’t download, don’t trust the internet… But streaming pretty much has put the boot in,” she says.
I get people calling me every week wanting to get rid of their [movie] collections because they’d rather go down the technology route and save space. But you can’t find everything there.”
It’s a complaint regularly voiced by customers, she says.
“[Streaming] is all about the blockbusters. They don’t care about the classics or arthouse or foreign films, something that maybe didn’t even make it to the cinema but is still a great film… We have things here like Roger Corman B-grade films. You won’t find those things on streaming.”