Let’s be a thousand percent clear about what a gargantuan change it would be: the biggest change in how we watch movies, I would argue, since the advent of the video cassette in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Owen Gleiberman writes: Christopher Nolan went off-script at CinemaCon, and for a moment, at least, the movie universe blinked. But maybe just for a moment. Asked what he thought about the brave new world that was potentially coming, in which major movies would be offered to home viewers through video-on-demand as early as 30 days after they first opened in theaters, Nolan replied, “The only platform I’m interested in talking about is theatrical distribution.”
There was a bit of an ouch! to that remark. Yet it was a very classy bit of gnomic dismissal, because Nolan, on the surface, was voicing a sentiment that almost any film director would agree with — and that, indeed, many studio representatives recited with dutiful reverence at CinemaCon. Nolan was there to promote to “Dunkirk,” his upcoming World War II epic about the legendary evacuation of Allied soldiers from the northern French city in 1940. After all the WWII movies we’ve seen, you’d better believe that Nolan’s is going to thrive on size and scale and a gotta-see-it-on-the-big-screen awe factor. Nolan was reminding his audience — rightly, if a bit curtly — of the primacy of the theatrical experience.
But, of course, he was also speaking in code. By ducking any direct comment on the VOD revolution that is now in the works, he wound up making a statement that was deafening in its silence. He was saying, implicitly: No, I’m not happy about it, and I don’t “approve.” And maybe because Christopher Nolan, in addition to being a visionary film director, is also a gentleman who commands the power and respect of an ace politician, he knew, at that moment, that he was speaking not merely for himself but for an entire side of the business: all of the other visionary directors — the ones whose job it is, every day, to put the dream in the dream factory.
You could say that they represent the “art” side of the art-vs.-commerce divide, the one that has always created a defining tension in the movie business. Yet in saying so, it’s important to remember that the art-vs.-commerce divide isn’t really a divide — it’s a yin-and-yang symbiosis. The industry that Hollywood represents depends on artists; and the artists who work in Hollywood need the movie business to be a business. Christopher Nolan, in insisting that “Dunkirk” be talked about as a big-screen phenomenon, wasn’t standing up for some “boutique” side of moviemaking. He was standing up for the essence of what movies have been for 100 years.
The question that now looms is: Are they going to keep on being that thing? If you want the answer to be “yes,” there’s a good case to be made that the coming VOD revolution, if it happens in the way it’s being talked about, is not a revolution that’s going to wind up being on your side.
Let’s be a thousand percent clear about what a gargantuan change it would be: the biggest change in how we watch movies, I would argue, since the advent of the video cassette in the late 1970s and early ’80s. That change had the potential to upend the movie business, and in many ways did, but it cushioned the upheavals it created with new revenue streams, a paradigm that continued through the introduction of the DVD (and then through VOD and streaming services). On top of that, the big change the VHS created — the evolution in how we consume films — is one that everyone liked.
You could now see movies at home! You could go out to a video store and that night, that very moment, decide which film, from a vast storehouse of old and new titles (in a good video store, the history of cinema was laid out before you), you wanted to see. This wasn’t an anti-movie revolution; it was a pro-movie revolution, one that helped to spawn new generations of film fanatics. And part of the paradigm was the length of time it took for a new release to come out on VHS. It was usually three to six months — not so long that you had to wait forever, but just long enough that the release of a film for home viewing didn’t tread on the magical primacy of the theatrical experience.
That window has shortened a bit over time, but it has remained, in essence, true to the 1980s VHS window — until the introduction of video-on-demand, which allowed films (usually smaller ones) to become available for home viewing right after, or sometimes the day of, their theatrical release. But given the nature of the movies we’re talking about … (read more)