On Diminishing Quality and Classic Movie Choice

(the rare VHS version of the Alan Paton South African classic)

Thank goodness for the Turner Movie Channel specializing in movies from The Golden Age and ranging from the 1920s to 1980s. Likewise, those brave, uncopyright-concerned souls who have made rare out-of-print movies like L’Etranger and Portrait of a Jazz Musician available for all to see on YouTube. And the Criterion Collection folks who have cleaned up and preserved lost classics like Salesman and The Fallen Idol.

Only older movie buffs like me who bought numerous VHS tapes and still have the machines to play them can view many films which never made it to DVD like Ah, Wilderness!, Betrayal (Irons), the original Cry, the Beloved Country, The Glass Menagerie (Newman), Hedda (Glenda Jackson), The Naked Edge, King Lear (Scofield), One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Stevie (Glenda Jackson), the original Death of a Salesman, to name several.

Similarly, many of the DVDs that came out in the past 15 years have never made it to Blu-Ray. And now with the mass transition to Netflix streaming, most of that old pre-1980s catalogue is gone forever unless you were fortunate enough to own the VHS or DVD movie versions. True, Netflix might rotate a handful of classic oldies like Patton and Gandhi, but, by and large, Netflix users are hugely kidding themselves if they believe they have a choice of more than 1% maximum of the good and great movies ever made before the ’80s and ’90s.

Having worked as a film classifier myself, I got out when 90% of what I was seeing in first-run 2002-and-later-movies were simply weak, flawed, mediocre, terribly banal and predictable, and plain mind-stultifying crap. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some strong movies like The Social Network or Doubt since. Just that most of the movies people pig-pile in to pay big bucks to see are either glorified cartoons or special effects flicks. The strong quality and independent writing (there has been a serious decline and abasement of language the past decade), directing, actors, editing, music, and artful cinematography are all conspicuously absent and it is from this weak pool that–you guessed it–Netflix draws most of its largely dumbed-down fare.

Lately here, I’ve been writing reviews of old movies most people in today’s society will never see again unless on the Turner channel, from Criterion, or YouTube in some cases. These movies have remained timelessly entertaining, provocative, or inspiring. No question these pictures are classics and belong to another time. Anyone who enjoys a good or great film would find them very interesting. But the chances of ever connecting to a whole wonderful, exciting, timeless mass of remarkable viewing diminishes daily and, as a result, we are all made smaller, shallower, dumber, and fatally tunnel-visioned, movie-wise. So Netflix is not frankly an option for any serious cinephile.


Just a footnote to say that all VHS movies are out-of-print and many of the rarer DVDs already sold out. However, it is still possible to get most of the films which were once on VHS and DVD; many of them are available online from Amazon, eBay, or other private businesses. (Purchase prices can run high, to over $50-100 quite often.) You can even get some very rare titles which were only shown once on tv (as YouTube attests to). Generally, your best bet for seeing many of these pre-80s oldies when you choose is, ironically, dependent on the size of your own movie and off-air collections

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