RIP FilmStruck: The Dangers of Streaming

Today, the classic, art house and foreign film-focused FilmStruck announced that it was ending its service. This is quite a blow to fans of non-blockbuster viewing as the selection of classics and silent films are pretty sketchy in the libraries of mainstream services like Netflix.

(I will be talking about streaming services that are available in the United States but may not be in your neck of the woods.)

The decision was financial; Warner Bros. decided that a niche service like FilmStruck was simply not profitable enough for them. However, films are not just a product, they are works of art and pieces of our cultural history. Further, many film fans discover silent films and the classics only if they are readily available. Adding another barrier to access is not going to be helpful.

This loss also emphasizes the importance of physical media, often written off as dead and buried. My DVDs and Blurays are mine and not dependent on the fickleness of philistines in corner offices. (And, please, this is not the day to try to defend capitalism.) However, money is an object for many fans and the relatively low price of a streaming subscription gave them access to films they probably could not have seen otherwise.

In a darker observation, this shows the ephemeral and often fleeting nature of streaming services (FilmStruck is two years old). I honestly believe we are teetering on the edge of losing another generation of cinema. All it would take would be the purging of a cloud drive or a lost hard drive.

Remember, lost silent films include blockbusters, Academy Award winners and entire filmographies of major stars like Theda Bara. To believe we are immune is pretty naive.

I am in a dark mood, so please have a cat video:

If you want to keep your viewing off the beaten path, I still recommend Fandor, which curates an aggressively eclectic selection.

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39 Replies to “RIP FilmStruck: The Dangers of Streaming”

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I am constantly told that my ‘stuff’ (books/records/DVDs)I s outdated, space-wasting junk, but at least I own it and can access it whenever I wish.

  2. Discontinued electronics – like Beta tapes, and now VCRs in general. Not completely the answer… Streaming services are like a public library that’s always open, and a godsend for those of us who can’t afford to buy films.

    Plus not every film is something you might want to own. There are many that I’m glad I got to see once, at a film festival perhaps, but have no desire to watch again.

    Schools really dropped the ball by not taking advantage of opportunities to introduce students to significant films. The typical ‘well educated’ person today has at least a passing knowledge of the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Van Gogh, etc – but not Cukor, DeMille, or Lang. Just take a look at ‘Jeopardy!’ lately, where contestants are well versed in categories involving rap artists, for example, but can’t identify a photo of Greta Garbo.

      1. Here some knowledge of classic film almost became quite general. The babyboom generation was active in film clubs, where the films where selected by leading nerds, not by commercial criteria.

        My generation knows nothing of classic film (except Star Wars and Monty Python).

  3. i have an account with Kanopy, though you may need to be a member of an institution to access it (i have it through NYPL). they have lots of oldies.

  4. I enjoy streaming, but selectively. Tend to go for Brit, Aussie, continental and Scandinavian tv series old and new a bit more than movies. I’ll just leave it at that, while mourning the demise of FilmStruck, an excellent service. But hey, it’s Warner Bros., and the overwhelming need to increase their bottom line has ever been the primary focus of Warner Powers That Be (“If it’s an ‘art script’ swell, but will it make us money” no doubt goes further back than Jack Warner’s era).

    Jeez, some days I really do feel like an old fossil: I’ve always kept every film playing machine I’ve bought and seldom sell or give away the films I’ve acquired over the decades (have a LaserDisc player and a Hitchcock collection to go with…shhhh, don’t tell anybody, they’ll think I’m Methuselah). Signed, Marie the Mad Collector.

    1. I’d certainly never find fault with anybody else’s film collection. Plus, some movies only were released on VHS and LaserDisc, so the LD is the best available copy right now. Go for it!

  5. I got a free month of Netflix. There isn’t much for me there, but they due have the documentary: Birth of a Movement. A must for silent film fans. The clip where DWG says that the KKK was necessary is absolutely chilling.

  6. I have a few thoughts. One this is why I refuse to go digital and hold steadfastly on to my physical collection. Second, I really feel bad for those that used Filmstruck to view films before buying as not everyone has the money to dole out for blind buys(though I admit that is kind of part of the allure for me, but not everyone). Third, I fear that this generation is going to lose the access and exposure to classic film(both silents and films before 1970, I seem to remember some services like Hulu and Netflix have only a few classic fllms and well none that are silents). Fourth, internet access is slow in many rural areas. Five, this is why we are starting to see a revival of VHS rental stores in places like LA.

    1. Yes, streaming is not a perfect solution to access. There are no perfect solutions right now. The fact is, the film history does not respect its own history beyond lip service at awards shows.

      1. Yeah were in a frustrating era as more and more stuff is being streamed. Then there’s rights holders just holding on to stuff with no physical release and copyright is confusing especially for so many silent films. Then how many of the execs or people high up are really big cinephiles? I don’t know if there really is a great answer?

  7. Fortunately I have space. I can move among my “junk”–books and LPs bought as long ago as the mid 1950s–& can access them whenever I wish (turntables, drive belts, &c. can still be had). Having recently shifted my video collection from tape to DVD, I am hopeful that players, new or reconditioned, will be available for quite a while. Still, two days ago at a large electronics store I couldn’t find a single player on the shelves! Sad–& ominous for the reasons Fritzi Kramer mentions.

  8. Although I detest the space it occupies, I’m totally on the Dvd/blu-ray camp. Nu main field of interest, animation, is almost only available in high quality on these formats. In that respect, Netflix and such do nothing for me. I’m still waiting for a Spotify-like streaming platform for films, but even that wouldn’t taken my preference for owning away

  9. I share many of the concerns raised above.

    About the loss of FilmStruck in particular, however, perhaps it won’t turn out to matter much for our (streaming) access to quality films. I figure that other streaming service companies eventually will pick up most or all of the access that FilmStruck was providing.
    For example, Criterion immediately said they’d be “trying to find ways we can bring our library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible.”
    Well, I’m sure they are, and I’m pretty sure it will happen. The uncertainties are when, where, and at what price..

    1. Yes, plus FilmStruck had access to the WB back catalog, which includes MGM classics. If they relaunch with a different service, will they really focus on bringing these older treasures to us? Highly doubtful.

  10. Let’s hope for the best.

    As for me, I like to own DVD/Blu-Rays. I want to be able to see them whenever I feel like it, not when some streaming service decides to make a film temporarily available.

    Of course, people like me are an obstacle to the development of successful (profitable) streaming services providing dependable, reliable access to older films. The problem is a bit circular.

    On the other hand,people like me are keeping alive the DVD and BluRay model. Companies are issuing new discs for classic films all the time, so prospects must be good.

      1. Glad to hear that sales of Kidnapped exceeded your expectations! I love the “complete program” concept. I just now ordered my own copy…

      2. Hi Fritzi. If you could ignore a free 2K or 4K restoration offer for some of the Kidnapped features, things must not be that bad indeed.

  11. Count me among the mourners. I was one of the earliest subscribers. When they ramped up their TCM curated films a few months ago I was in classic film lover heaven!

    I resisted streaming for many years, not wanting to undercut the shrinking DVD/Blu ray market. But FilmStruck was different. Where else could you see a quality print of “The Crowd,” which has never been released on DVD? (My long shuttered nearby Blockbuster had a VHS copy back in the 90’s. They had it displayed in the classic comedy section. Say what?)

    FilmStruck helped me fine tune my DVD purchases, focusing on films I enjoyed but never would have spent $20-$40 to sample blindly. These often led to other blind purchases when I found a filmmaker, screenwriter, genre or star who intrigued me. Olive Films, Mliestone, Grapevine Video, Kino, Criterion, BFI and Warner Archive have greatly benefited!

    I might add that a silent film I enjoyed on FilmStruck led me to your wonderful website last year. 🙂

    1. Hi again Fritzi, I sent you two messages last year (one via this website if I recall correctly, and a second one on the Moviesilently Vimeo account), offering you a free restoration of Little Red Riding Hood. Both remained unanswered.

      1. I didn’t receive those messages. I searched my email inbox and found nothing from you. This happens sometimes as I get a lot of spam emails, especially as offers of this kind can trigger spam filters. My Vimeo account hasn’t been active for anything other than previews and I don’t really check messages there.

    1. I don’t know what you mean by “offers of this kind”. This wasn’t a scam or anything. I worked on silent movies restoration before, and was willing to work for free on your project, just because I was a fan of your website and your project. If this triggers spam filters now, that’s sad.

      There were recipees recently uploaded on your Vimeo account, so I couldn’t guess it was inactive. My message should be there in your inbox. Don’t know where my message sent from here went to…
      Anyway…

      1. I simply meant that when words like “free of charge” or something of that sort are used, they can trigger spam filters no matter what the intention of the sender might be. I don’t need to justify myself or my use of Vimeo but the last recipe video was uploaded in April of 2016.

        May I suggest that in future, instead of immediately assuming the worst and hijacking an unrelated thread to attack a person you claim to admire, you might instead ask if someone received your messages? I attempted to figure the matter out and your panties became progressively more bunched. I’ll help you out with those panties, if you don’t mind, and decline to publish or respond to future messages.

  12. I’m sad to see the streaming service go, too, for those that use it. I like to own my media, especially older and/or niche titles. I like to think my supporting these types of DVD/Blu release lead to more titles being released.

    “It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a collection…. It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved. No, I can’t see my way to selling out to the new vested streaming interests. I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”

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