Monday, October 17, 2016

Let's go ahead and prejudge Filmstruck before we actually see it!

After months of anticipation and speculation--well, more like  a few days of anticipation and speculation followed by months of radio silence--the Turner controlled and TCM branded streaming video service known as Filmstruck is finally here. It debuts Wednesday, and with the announcement last week, we got a little more information and some stuff to peruse on the website.

I have to say, I'm not impressed. First of all: No Roku option at launch? That excludes me from the get-go. Not cool, Filmstruck.

Now, loads of film buffs on Twitter, grateful for the presence of any SVOD service that plans to show movies before 1980 ('sup, Netflix?), seem eager to give money to this venture. I can respect that, and the Criterion/arthouse/foreign fan may well get good value out of this. It IS called FILMstruck, not MovieMania.

Me, though, I'm more a Frank McHugh guy than a Frank Borzage guy (I hope you like that; I've been saving it since the initial announcement), and most of this stuff has already been around for years. The Criterion Collection, or much of it, has been on Hulu for a long while; on Filmstruck, for 6.99 a month you get a "curated" selection of it. Remember Rick's First Rule of Streaming: Curated Means "Way Less than What We Actually Have." If you want all the Criterion Collection, it's 10.99 a month. That's all well and good, but I never got around to watching most of what Hulu has. Really I wish the Warner Empire would  find a way to use the Turner Classic Movies name and try to make Warner Archive Instant good (another story for another post). I'd rather see the classic-era Hollywood studio content. Part of me thinks, TCM is finally launching a streaming service, and it's nothing at all like  Turner Classic Movies.

But let's look at what Filmstruck IS, not what I want it to be.  One of the main selling points of Filmstruck is that it will offer movies in "collections" and "themes," as if the kind of person who would pay for this is too dumb to find something to watch any other way. Not a big thing for me.  The promise is that there will be hosts (Full Disclosure: Bobby Osbo alone might merit 7 clams a month) and bonus material akin to what you get on the excellent Criterion DVDs and Blu-Rays. That's very cool.

Right now, though, if  you take the opportunity to "explore the library,"  you don't see a lot. A Kurosawa collection sounds great, but that's not rare cinema . There's nothing wrong with a "Directed by Mike Leigh" section, either. And "Political Documentaries" is a timely and compelling theme, but when you click that one,  you see a list of "titles available at launch" and get...4. 4 political documentaries? Whoopee! Not exactly a deep  dive. I hope that's a sampling and not the entirety of this theme, or else I am going to be very worried about the ratio of curated vs. available on this service.

I am most interested in the idea of partners besides Criterion, like Flicker Alley and Kino, providing content.  Unfortunately, that isn't spotlighted on the site so far. I think some of the rarer (especially in streaming) titles may come from those companies. Right now, it's all  about the TCM name--without the bread and butter of TCM's programming--and Criterion. Is that enough to justify 7 bucks a month? Well, without ads and with a better selection than what is apparent now, maybe. But I hope to see a lot more than what Filmstruck is currently promoting.

On Wednesday, when this thing goes live, I will be happy to be proven wrong in my early and possibly baseless judgments! This definitely looks  to be worth a free trial. I sure do wish they would fix Warner Archive Instant, though.

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