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Unsold FilmStruck op-ed

Tuesday 12/4/18

Could not unload this piece, figured I'd stick it up here. Nothing else to do with it at this point.

Rage against the dying of the (cinematic) light: the demise of FilmStruck and one more sign of the death of us.

The further I have gone along in life, the more I have realized that humans are like raccoons. That is to say, there are some raccoons that might be slightly better at getting into your garbage than others, but mentally, a raccoon is a raccoon, and the brains they are born with places them roughly in the same ballpark.

So it goes with humans. What tends to separate one from another on the intelligence spectrum is what a person might choose to surround and invigorate themselves with. You can lob arguments of IQ at me, but there’s a great chance you have a higher one than Bob Dylan, and I’m thinking there’s an even better chance he’s smarter than you are.

So it is a real blow that FilmStruck, the streaming service that converted so many Netflix couch potatoes to budding cineastes, shut down November 29, thanks to a WarnerMedia mandate to cut “niche” content. Suck on that, Humphrey Bogart.

It’s also a real problem for the continuation of classic cinema into this cultural cesspool we call the twenty-first century.

People love, and will always love, good things. Sit someone down for a screening of John Ford’s The Searchers, and they will wear out the front portion of their chair leaning closer to the screen. But we are lazier than ever, and we will not check something out unless you all but put the leash around our necks and leads us to that work that gives us a new perspective on the world and ourselves.

A streaming service with an app component is a version of this leash. FilmStruck was so great in part because it did almost all of the leading for you, which was a boon if you felt overwhelmed by cinema’s history.

They didn’t dump all of it on you at once, but rather took the approach of a curator, offering up titles centered on a given theme one month—say, works by pioneering women directors—and then Hammer horror films the next week, Howard Hawks’ Westerns somewhere betwixt all of that, with a generous serving of Hitchcock’s British period.

When I was home in the summer from college, I wore out the roads to the video store, taking advantage of their rent-ten-for-the-price-of-two sales, with a goal to screen 100 films each summer. My life changed over the annual course of those warm months, being exposed to viewpoints, artistic techniques, characters, that helped shape me as a person, a writer, an artist, a son, a brother, a friend, a dude better equipped to comprehend the design aspects of a building, a painting at the museum, or how a novel might be structured.

It wasn’t that those films were necessarily creating new things in me, though sometimes they were; it was more like they were helping me give myself to me, in a process of renewal and birthing.

How stupid do we need to become? How much do we need to devolve? This is not the direction we’re supposed to go in, it’s not how species work, we’re inverting Darwinism, we are rebelling against the tenets of nature and how they work for every other animal group.

We are making ourselves simple creatures who care less about what we get from our leisure, our entertainment, our art, and more that what we’ve chosen to stick in front of our increasingly fat faces is the same thing everyone has stuck in their faces.

That’s the new version of community, and it is false community. The very standards of entertainment dwindle, as it takes less and less to get us to “tune in.” Then we skim a recap on Vulture and feel like we were a part of something. Bollocks.

You control what your own level of intelligence is, to a degree. You control how educated you will be, how well your brain can function, given what you were born with, which is pretty close to what everyone else got.

Pick up where FilmStruck left off. Watch some good stuff. No raccoon ever managed to get a lid off the garbage without a tiny touch of effort. It pays out.


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