Society/Culture Streaming, Hollywood Studios and Modern Cinema

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spinynorman

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I've been thinking of creating a thread on this topic for a little while after numerous news stories kept concerning me about the direction in which film is heading. I'm a great lover of film, who pre-Covid would attend the cinema two or three times a week, and who loves third quarter 20th century film with directors such as Bergman, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ford and so many others. And so while there were changes around 1980 that bother me (the consuming of the foreign market by the American market and the consuming of the American market by the big Hollywood studios after the era of directors' independence in the 1960s and 1970s), it nevertheless really depresses me where I see where things seem to be going.

A great article in 2014 detailed the death of mid-budget cinema, as studios increasingly rely on increasingly huge budget fare to bring in astronomical box offices, or take gambles on small budget movies with a few small losses being outweighed by successes that would occasionally blow up and make something of a profit. This is seeing a real lack of originality in film, a cursory glance by me of each year of the 2010s' ten biggest Box Offices suggests only eight of the hundred films listed were original screenplays, not based on popular books, biographies of popular figures or (increasingly) comic book adaptations. This is well down from the 2000s, which itself was well down on the 1990s. While an adaptation can be exciting and interesting, there's an increasing reliance on familiarity in selling movies with any large budget behind them.

Paired with this has been the rise of modern streaming. For the regular viewer, undoubtedly it's been a godsend. Netflix particularly has produced quality film such as Roma, The Irishman and Marriage Story, and the library of film at our fingertips no doubt seems infinitesimal and more readily attainable than it ever has before. But as argued by Amazon over a recent lawsuit over ownership of films purchased through Prime, consumers don't actually own the movies or shows they purchase through the website but instead have purchased an indefinite licence. While we owned our DVDs and videos, we no longer do with our streaming purchases. And the streaming companies aren't necessarily showing us films as we know them, with streaming services regularly providing small edits to the movies we know and love without necessarily notifying us (probably most easily highlighted by many of the stupid removals or edits to various classic shows and movies earlier this year, from Gone with the Wind to Community, in an unnecessary response to the Black Lives Matter movement).

The recent announcement that Warner Bros will release all of its new 2021 movies simultaneously in cinemas and on HBOMax furthers the empowerment of the streaming services and the decline of cinema, reeling from the effects of the pandemic this year. The world's second largest cinema chain, Cineworld, stands on the brink of collapse. It's a perilous time for film's original (and, from the director's point of view, generally intended) means of viewing work.

As film production continues to consolidate into a shrinking group of companies, we've seen that these companies are beginning to flex their editorial muscle. Recently watching David Fincher's very good Mank, about the writing of Citizen Kane, I discussed with my friend I'd just watched it with whether or not a movie like Citizen Kane, which eviscerated the most powerful media mogul of its time, could be made today. It didn't take long for me to begin to see an answer, with an article about Apple+'s intervention to kill a series being made about Gawker. The article also details other interventions by Apple, including stopping a production's scene featuring the damaging of a mobile phone. While other companies haven't yet locked down this level of editorial control, it seems inevitable, especially given the above example of edits to popular existing films becoming more common. And today's news, that the creatives behind the most successful film series ever receiving $50 million from a Saudi bank shows that the list of those paying to be exempt from criticism is only growing.

This has been a very long post, so if you're still reading I'm sorry to say I don't really have an answer to close with, but hopefully this can lead to some discussion. The length is due to how many developments I've allowed to build before posting. Film is possibly the most popular and most profitable of all art forms, and its complete capture by corporate interests should be pushed back on by all of us. The current film industry is comprised by a small number of people who can make huge profit through saying very little. Anybody who loves good cinema needs to try to reclaim it.
 

ferball

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I’m sure film buffs will respond, but it’s pretty funny that your strongest opinion seeems to be “reeeeee BLM made them destroy movies”.
You know my attitude to BLM yeah, (i think its a good thing and was bound to happen after John T Williams was murdered.)

But that is a fair point. Those movies shouldn't be changed. I have never watched Gone with the Wind (cos frankly my dear I really couldn't give a sh*t about ruling class Southern people's problems during the civil war.) It seems obvious that people who get edited movies when they expected the originals are being ripped off tho.

A memory hole is a dangerous thing. If we don't understand how society has changed we may not understand how its possible to keep changing it. As a kid we used to laugh at some of things people had left behind culturally. We only ever saw them in movies. I think Apple editing a shot that showed people damaging a mobile is far more insidious tho. Cos its not even making it to the original movie.

We seem to be losing independent things to massive franchises across society. Not just in cinema. It started with food and fast food. There are no more independent hardware stores, at least not in cities, its all Hammer Barn.

Video games and music seem to be one of the few places independence is alive in modern culture, maybe cos music and games are easy to make in small groups.

Although short movies turn up on youtube.

There is a series of x files like short films that started out being made off the back of video games but that is becoming bigger and recently some episodes have been made as live action short movies - they have the moniker SPC. The latest I saw was SPC: Overlord. It was a horrorish movie. There are heaps of these sort of short films turning up on you tube. Alot of post apocalyptic types, sci fi and horror. Not so much traditional movies about everyday stuff tho. You won't see a movie like Proof for example.
 

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Chief

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I have never watched Gone with the Wind (cos frankly my dear I really couldn't give a sh*t about ruling class Southern people's problems during the civil war.) It seems obvious that people who get edited movies when they expected the originals are being ripped off tho.
It’s not like no copies exist without the contextual note at the start. Close your eyes until you hear the opening music if it upsets you that much. Fast forward past it. Whatever.
 

spinynorman

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I’m sure film buffs will respond, but it’s pretty funny that your strongest opinion seeems to be “reeeeee BLM made them destroy movies”.
Did that seem like my strongest opinion?

Not wanting to derail too much (and I would have liked to think my post was about a lot more than Black Lives Matter), but BLM as a grassroots movement achieved great outcomes. It drew attention to police brutality, even had Republicans speak of the need to reform the police system and through mass disobedience challenged the racist authoritarianism of the American state. But within two weeks of protesters burning down a police station, discussion had turned to whether an episode of Mad Men or whichever other show should remain unedited on streaming platforms or about the ongoing availability of Gone with the Wind. It killed the momentum of the movement and it whimpered out soon thereafter.
 

The Dice Man

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I've been thinking of creating a thread on this topic for a little while after numerous news stories kept concerning me about the direction in which film is heading. I'm a great lover of film, who pre-Covid would attend the cinema two or three times a week, and who loves third quarter 20th century film with directors such as Bergman, Hitchcock, Tarkovsky, Fellini, Kurosawa, Ford and so many others. And so while there were changes around 1980 that bother me (the consuming of the foreign market by the American market and the consuming of the American market by the big Hollywood studios after the era of directors' independence in the 1960s and 1970s), it nevertheless really depresses me where I see where things seem to be going.

A great article in 2014 detailed the death of mid-budget cinema, as studios increasingly rely on increasingly huge budget fare to bring in astronomical box offices, or take gambles on small budget movies with a few small losses being outweighed by successes that would occasionally blow up and make something of a profit. This is seeing a real lack of originality in film, a cursory glance by me of each year of the 2010s' ten biggest Box Offices suggests only eight of the hundred films listed were original screenplays, not based on popular books, biographies of popular figures or (increasingly) comic book adaptations. This is well down from the 2000s, which itself was well down on the 1990s. While an adaptation can be exciting and interesting, there's an increasing reliance on familiarity in selling movies with any large budget behind them.

Paired with this has been the rise of modern streaming. For the regular viewer, undoubtedly it's been a godsend. Netflix particularly has produced quality film such as Roma, The Irishman and Marriage Story, and the library of film at our fingertips no doubt seems infinitesimal and more readily attainable than it ever has before. But as argued by Amazon over a recent lawsuit over ownership of films purchased through Prime, consumers don't actually own the movies or shows they purchase through the website but instead have purchased an indefinite licence. While we owned our DVDs and videos, we no longer do with our streaming purchases. And the streaming companies aren't necessarily showing us films as we know them, with streaming services regularly providing small edits to the movies we know and love without necessarily notifying us (probably most easily highlighted by many of the stupid removals or edits to various classic shows and movies earlier this year, from Gone with the Wind to Community, in an unnecessary response to the Black Lives Matter movement).

The recent announcement that Warner Bros will release all of its new 2021 movies simultaneously in cinemas and on HBOMax furthers the empowerment of the streaming services and the decline of cinema, reeling from the effects of the pandemic this year. The world's second largest cinema chain, Cineworld, stands on the brink of collapse. It's a perilous time for film's original (and, from the director's point of view, generally intended) means of viewing work.

As film production continues to consolidate into a shrinking group of companies, we've seen that these companies are beginning to flex their editorial muscle. Recently watching David Fincher's very good Mank, about the writing of Citizen Kane, I discussed with my friend I'd just watched it with whether or not a movie like Citizen Kane, which eviscerated the most powerful media mogul of its time, could be made today. It didn't take long for me to begin to see an answer, with an article about Apple+'s intervention to kill a series being made about Gawker. The article also details other interventions by Apple, including stopping a production's scene featuring the damaging of a mobile phone. While other companies haven't yet locked down this level of editorial control, it seems inevitable, especially given the above example of edits to popular existing films becoming more common. And today's news, that the creatives behind the most successful film series ever receiving $50 million from a Saudi bank shows that the list of those paying to be exempt from criticism is only growing.

This has been a very long post, so if you're still reading I'm sorry to say I don't really have an answer to close with, but hopefully this can lead to some discussion. The length is due to how many developments I've allowed to build before posting. Film is possibly the most popular and most profitable of all art forms, and its complete capture by corporate interests should be pushed back on by all of us. The current film industry is comprised by a small number of people who can make huge profit through saying very little. Anybody who loves good cinema needs to try to reclaim it.
Disruptive innovation. It appears we have all the choice in the world, but the very thing we are using to communicate through is causing a refinement and diminishing return of original ideas. To the point of a polished turd.
 

spinynorman

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It’s not like no copies exist without the contextual note at the start. Close your eyes until you hear the opening music if it upsets you that much. Fast forward past it. Whatever.
That outcome wasn't the worst, in the end.

But how much longer will unedited copies remain for public access, as the new US Covid stimulus bill would make illegal streaming a felony, ensuring the power of distribution remains in the hands of a handful of corporations.
 

CheapCharlie

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Has there been a time when big production/movie companies didn't have heavy editorial control over productions?

Big screen experience has a lot of positives, but also negatives ,which is why i prefer to see most of my movies from a download or streamed at home.

Producing content for an audience, the audience will decide how they a want to watch it, so if there is a push by consumers to watch at home, and streaming services can make better $$ this way, it seems natural that is how things will go.
It comes down to the movie makers to then give a product that fits the way it can be seen the most.
Isn't moaning about a loss of big screen experience pandering to self interest of directors to craft their art?
 

ferball

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It’s not like no copies exist without the contextual note at the start. Close your eyes until you hear the opening music if it upsets you that much. Fast forward past it. Whatever.
Honestly its always seemed like a stupid boring movie, especially compared to star wars.
 

ferball

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Did that seem like my strongest opinion?

Not wanting to derail too much (and I would have liked to think my post was about a lot more than Black Lives Matter), but BLM as a grassroots movement achieved great outcomes. It drew attention to police brutality, even had Republicans speak of the need to reform the police system and through mass disobedience challenged the racist authoritarianism of the American state. But within two weeks of protesters burning down a police station, discussion had turned to whether an episode of Mad Men or whichever other show should remain unedited on streaming platforms or about the ongoing availability of Gone with the Wind. It killed the momentum of the movement and it whimpered out soon thereafter.
I'll leave it at this comment (cos I think the point you make about control of distribution is a good one,) but I always wonder who is responsible for things like that incident with the cop shop, and the way the frame of the discussion changed. The FBI has been running operations to discredit particular political views since at least the 60s. It is alot easier to discredit something if you focus on the most violent or craziest things you can instead of the most important.
 

spinynorman

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Has there been a time when big production/movie companies didn't have heavy editorial control over productions?
Certainly historically in Hollywood yes, and the cultural revolutions that saw more freedom through the 1960s and 1970s was pretty effectively shut down by the 1980s (and undoubtedly corporate and economic norms of the time had a part to play with that). A major difference though is that it's now monopolistic corporations that are effectively running as production companies, so it's not just movie studio MGM, it's huge corporations with a range of interests such as Amazon and Apple. On top of that, the number of studios that aren't subsidiaries of others are really shrinking, and our access to cinema that isn't American is also being pushed to the fringes. The loss of the big screen is a part of a number of changes that are seeing a major centralisation in control of our viewing.

Streaming at its best could allow a democratising of storytelling (and to some extent Youtube is good for this, although far from perfect). But instead the stories coming out seem to be more like this one, where an Oscar winning documentarian couldn't find a major studio or service to distribute his work about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
 

spinynorman

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The release of Wonder Woman 1984 with its incredibly questionable take on 1980s geopolitics is a good reminder (that I didn't even touch on in the original post) that the US Department of Defense routinely (and, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's case, quite explicitly) partners with film studios to ensure messages they want sent get put out in big studio releases. While, as this article points out, this isn't anything new and goes back to the Silent Era, it does show why it's such a concern that we are so reliant on American media, and that the American system's dominance by a handful of powerful players who control what we can and cannot see.
 

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Brunswick Trap King

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The release of Wonder Woman 1984 with its incredibly questionable take on 1980s geopolitics is a good reminder (that I didn't even touch on in the original post) that the US Department of Defense routinely (and, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's case, quite explicitly) partners with film studios to ensure messages they want sent get put out in big studio releases. While, as this article points out, this isn't anything new and goes back to the Silent Era, it does show why it's such a concern that we are so reliant on American media, and that the American system's dominance by a handful of powerful players who control what we can and cannot see.
Yeah, I remember hearing that the military allows Hollywood to use certain equipment in exchange for a certain level of creative control in films.
 

ferball

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The release of Wonder Woman 1984 with its incredibly questionable take on 1980s geopolitics is a good reminder (that I didn't even touch on in the original post) that the US Department of Defense routinely (and, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's case, quite explicitly) partners with film studios to ensure messages they want sent get put out in big studio releases. While, as this article points out, this isn't anything new and goes back to the Silent Era, it does show why it's such a concern that we are so reliant on American media, and that the American system's dominance by a handful of powerful players who control what we can and cannot see.
I knew a guy online who had this theory about Hollywood and the CIA.

He called it keyword hijacking (and claimed to have coined the term and that its use by online advertisers and SEO types was an example of it, very meta.)

So any major event that had questionable government narratives and a conspiracy involved would have a movie with the title of the terms most associated with the keyword. And it happened alot. There wasn't always a clear link between the movie and the incident iit was running cover for, for example a movie that was 10 years older than an event it was hiding was still relevant because the CIA is infallible or something. As much as I laughed about his theory it happens alot. (And no I'm not endorsing it.) But in order to back his claims up he did alot of research into the influence of US military and intel agencies on hollywood. It is eye opening hiow much effort they put into Hollywood.
 

Ned_Flanders

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Yeah, I remember hearing that the military allows Hollywood to use certain equipment in exchange for a certain level of creative control in films.
bit of that or pay for play

the USN got such a recruitment bump from the JAG series that they almost got whatever they wanted in terms of equipment and access

for others, ive heard its borderline like a catalogue. they tell you the equipment and sites, and how much each costs, and you select what you can afford

we have similar here - friend was involved with Sea Patrol and they used to tell me the Navy basically saw them as a private sector recruitment ad (which is why they got upgraded to the newer vessel - to show the toys you get to play with in the modern RAN)
 

Toump Ass

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...Easily highlighted by many of the stupid removals or edits to various classic shows and movies earlier this year, from Gone with the Wind to Community, in an unnecessary response to the Black Lives Matter movement).
Gone with the Wind was (temporarily) removed with a disclaimer attached when it returned.

I don't see what the problem with adding an editorial to a film is. I appreciate learning about the historical context surrounding it etc.

But in order to back his claims up he did alot of research into the influence of US military and intel agencies on hollywood. It is eye opening hiow much effort they put into Hollywood.
They sure did.

The FBI ran Charlie Chaplin out of the country because he was a communist who was going to destroy the country :$
 

spinynorman

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I knew a guy online who had this theory about Hollywood and the CIA.

He called it keyword hijacking (and claimed to have coined the term and that its use by online advertisers and SEO types was an example of it, very meta.)

So any major event that had questionable government narratives and a conspiracy involved would have a movie with the title of the terms most associated with the keyword. And it happened alot. There wasn't always a clear link between the movie and the incident iit was running cover for, for example a movie that was 10 years older than an event it was hiding was still relevant because the CIA is infallible or something. As much as I laughed about his theory it happens alot. (And no I'm not endorsing it.) But in order to back his claims up he did alot of research into the influence of US military and intel agencies on hollywood. It is eye opening hiow much effort they put into Hollywood.
It's easy to see how people can get so sucked into conspiracy theories given how many problems there actually are, and how crazy a lot of them sound. And a film can be propaganda and still be great (see Battleship Potemkin and Eisenstein's other films) and likewise can be a masterpiece with awful politics (On the Waterfront comes to mind, or, hey, Gone with the Wind). But these tend to at least allow an auteurist to experiment and push their craft. That's not happening for the most part with the amount of commercial interests calling the shots in practically every Hollywood movie with a >$50 million budget.
 

utility

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I'll chime in with a few things...

Digital destroyed what was the legacy music industry. The same is happening to video/film. It's just playing catch-up and with bigger budgets at stake.

Everything is slowly moving to the "cloud". I hate this as I prefer autonomy. Companies more and more are moving to server-based solutions rather than client-based (e.g. local copies).

As the industry shrinks, investors (record labels, movie studios) take less risks. So you end up with predictive content to make money rather than cinematic films.

The movie industry goes through phases (much like the music industry used to). For example, if you look at Italian cinema it had a massive westerns period, a giallo period, and a horror period. Hollywood a few years ago went through a strong zombie film period and is now going through a superhero/comic book period. It's both for economic reasons and IMO a sign of the collective consciousness.

If I were to predict future trends I'd look to music. Some predictions:
  1. An equivalent of bandcamp for smaller scale productions but larger than just YT videos. Netflix may be kind of working in this direction as they have production standards you can produce with certiification.
  2. There will still be major producers but will mainly take safe options.
  3. A grade performers will still make a good living, but B-level talent will struggle.
  4. Total sales/revenue will decline, there will be an increase in digital sales but fans will still want physical things.
  5. I think smart merchandising could play a part. I remember on ebay years ago there were promotional bars of Fight Club soap for sale. I think if you find a movie where you can package up a DVD/USB fans will still buy it.
  6. Middle men and those doing "busy work" will be out of jobs.
  7. Productions will become more reliant on CGI/chroma screen, which in turn reduces the needs for big lots and large crews. Post-production will be done "off-shore" with low cost labour. Films may actually go offshore as well.
  8. More product placement in movies - paid advertising spots.
  9. More and more standardisation on production such as application of standard LUTs. Basically lighting will be optimised and technology will support this, which reduces production/post-production costs.
  10. A "back to the future" where movie studios sign up stars on multi-film deals, much like bands signing multi-album deals with record labels.
  11. An overall reduction in the size of the movie industry. Less movies made every year to the production quality we are accustomed to.
  12. Greater focus on fan loyalty. For example, I'll buy merch from bands or "YouTubers" but practically never for a film. I think this will change and not in a Disney Stars Wars-cringe type of way.
  13. Crowd-funded films may happen but unlikely.
  14. I'm torn on whether or not resolution wars will happen. TV has standardised on 1080/FHD so would assume the same for film, but I could be wrong and 4K will be the new standard. I just can't see that happening at 8K for a long, long time. Data rates are simply too great for streaming and there is a cost to push each GB of data (and cache it, store it, etc.).
Anyway that's a brain dump...
 

spinynorman

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An article by one of cinema's greatest living directors (and most passionate admirers) Martin Scorsese penned a wonderful article on the genius of Fellini. I recommend it to anyone who loves Fellini, Scorsese or even just movies.

Two sections have caused controversy and discussion, although I think are reasonably straightforward and make similar points to my original post (however, far more articulately!).

Flash forward to the present day, as the art of cinema is being systematically devalued, sidelined, demeaned, and reduced to its lowest common denominator, “content.”

As recently as fifteen years ago, the term “content” was heard only when people were discussing the cinema on a serious level, and it was contrasted with and measured against “form.” Then, gradually, it was used more and more by the people who took over media companies, most of whom knew nothing about the history of the art form, or even cared enough to think that they should. “Content” became a business term for all moving images: a David Lean movie, a cat video, a Super Bowl commercial, a superhero sequel, a series episode. It was linked, of course, not to the theatrical experience but to home viewing, on the streaming platforms that have come to overtake the moviegoing experience, just as Amazon overtook physical stores. On the one hand, this has been good for filmmakers, myself included. On the other hand, it has created a situation in which everything is presented to the viewer on a level playing field, which sounds democratic but isn’t. If further viewing is “suggested” by algorithms based on what you’ve already seen, and the suggestions are based only on subject matter or genre, then what does that do to the art of cinema?
Everything has changed—the cinema and the importance it holds in our culture. Of course, it’s hardly surprising that artists such as Godard, Bergman, Kubrick, and Fellini, who once reigned over our great art form like gods, would eventually recede into the shadows with the passing of time. But at this point, we can’t take anything for granted. We can’t depend on the movie business, such as it is, to take care of cinema. In the movie business, which is now the mass visual entertainment business, the emphasis is always on the word “business,” and value is always determined by the amount of money to be made from any given property—in that sense, everything from Sunrise to La Strada to 2001 is now pretty much wrung dry and ready for the “Art Film” swim lane on a streaming platform. Those of us who know the cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And we have to make it crystal clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked away. They are among the greatest treasures of our culture, and they must be treated accordingly.
Unfortunately some are seeing this as an extension of his overblown comments about Marvel and are seeing this as some shot on them (I enjoy most of the Marvel movies). But it's not really at all, but rather a point about how the art of cinema is being distilled purely into a profit and content. It's how we can lackadaisically remove classic films of earlier ages from public consumption for any reason, or constantly edit them to the point the original edit is increasingly impossible to find. United States v Paramount Pictures in 1948 found that studios operating theatres and deciding what would be distributed in them was a break of antitrust law - and it was after this we really saw cinema's potential start to explode. This is being wound back in the age of streaming.
 

dumb

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i remember reading that movie piracy had picked up again the past few years - exclusivity means needing to pay for many streaming platforms to see everything that you want. owning your physical copies of movies will continue to become unusual but important to avoid subscription fees.
personally, if i love a movie enough i buy a copy of it. it will come with extras not on any platform and i can watch it without internet connection, possibly at higher quality than seen on a service. i have a nice oled tv but haven't pulled the trigger on a uhd player despite buying some titles.

having everything at our fingertips via streaming has altered the way we consume. i don't want to say badly or in a way that automatically casualises enjoyment of movies (or music), but our investment has shallowed. we no longer have to commit past a certain point, we can just stream something else.
it's possible this has an effect on movie writing, much like the change that would have come from writing and arranging songs on a two-sided medium, to writing and arranging on a cd. without people committing the time and money to visiting a cinema and movies created for streaming, you'd think movies would start to play more of their cards in the first 5 minutes or risk being ignored.

i haven't actually seen gone with the wind but i think reading the discussions on it, an editorial at the start of the movie is a good compromise.
generally speaking, it does bring into question what people think movies are or should be. the idea that we need to depict things to be sensitive or sympathetic to them seems lost on some people.
 

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