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Can you be a film buff in a streaming world?

PUBLISHED: 13:07 02 March 2018

A Lobby card is shown for Billy Wilder's

A Lobby card is shown for Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot", 1959, starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. "Some Like It Hot" topped the American Film Institute's list of the 100 funniest American movies. (AP Photo/United Artists)

Streaming services should make access to a wider variety of films much easier. But, arts editor Andrew Clarke believes it’s harder to be a film buff today than it was 20 years ago. He says we must protect our cinematic heritage.

Laurel and Hardy in their feature film Bonnie Scotland. Photo: Hal Roach Laurel and Hardy in their feature film Bonnie Scotland. Photo: Hal Roach

With the Oscars being staged this weekend, thoughts naturally turn to the great films that the cinema has delivered over the years: classic comedies, groundbreaking dramas, science fiction blockbusters, thoughtful literary adaptations and a plethora of cult movies and foreign language gems.

For a film buff like me, a well-stocked film library is as important as having shelves packed with books. But, the world of the film fan is rapidly changing. Landmark movies which have always been important milestones in the film landscape are becoming harder to see.

At times, it seems you need to be a real-life Indiana Jones to excavate movies which in previous years you would have simply stumbled across on television or on DVD. Now you have to physically search them out. Tracking down movies has become something of a treasure hunt: a quest – which, to be fair, can be an enjoyable exercise in itself but I fear that many people may not be as single-minded or as nerdy as me. In short it’s harder to be a film buff in today’s online world.

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Photo: 20th Century Fox Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Photo: 20th Century Fox

The advent of DVD was perfect for the cinephile. The advent of widescreen televisions and improved visual reproduction afforded by those lovely shiny discs encouraged film studios and distributors to re-examine their archives.

Suddenly, old films became an important way of generating extra income. Whereas in the days of VHS third or fourth generation prints were good enough to stick out on the rental and retail market, DVDs showed up the flaws.

Film fans loved nice new prints with perfect sound. As studios searched through their vaults, it became clear that classics like Gone With The Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and My Fair Lady were crumbling and warping away into oblivion as time wreaked havoc with the camera negatives.

Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk. Photo: Warner Bros Errol Flynn in The Sea Hawk. Photo: Warner Bros

Money was invested in film restoration and classic titles were pulled back from the brink of celluloid extinction. New DVDs struck from restored prints proved there was a market for good copies of classic movies and a collectors label The Criterion Collection which invested in restoration work and packed releases with specially commissioned extras.

The early 2000s proved to be a golden age for the film buff getting new prints of classic films by such stars as Marilyn Monroe (Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot), Errol Flynn (Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk), Cary Grant (The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby), John Wayne (The Searchers and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon), Humphrey Bogart (Casablanca and To Have and Have Not) not to mention the complete works of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and curated collections of the Ealing Comedies and Hammer Horror.

But, with the arrival of streaming services something changed. Being brought up in a film-loving household my son and daughter also have a deep love of classic cinema as well as contemporary titles. Going away to university they wanted to stage cult film nights with their mates or, as with this weekend, hold an Oscar party but it would appear that online streaming services don’t hold the same selection of classic titles that were available on DVD. Classic film now means something like Back to the Future or Ghostbusters, something from the mid-1980s.

The cast of the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers featuring Alec Guiness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. Photo: Ealing Studios The cast of the Ealing Comedy The Ladykillers featuring Alec Guiness, Katie Johnson, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. Photo: Ealing Studios

Subscription services are becoming increasingly interested in releasing their own movies and developing big budget, long-form television series, which is great, I am all for it, but we can’t overlook our cinematic heritage. Mainstream television, what used to be terrestrial TV, has largely abandoned the classic movie. When was the last time you saw a black and white movie on BBC1, BBC 2, ITV or Channel 4? Those curated seasons of historic films have now been replaced by endless antiques or house building/buying shows.

As a young boy, I loved diving into old movies screened at 6pm on BBC 2. That’s how I discovered everything from John Ford westerns, to Ealing comedies, to 1950s B movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still.

I also devoured everything I could read on movies which gave me more information to go searching for titles and stars on television schedules. TV programmes like Barry Norman’s Hollywood Greats gave me a solid grounding in film history. Sadly, I fear, my children and the next generation of film fanatics are going to have a harder time connecting to some of the greatest and most enjoyable movies every made.

John Wayne, in his final film role, as dying gunslinger JB Books in Don Siegel's The Shootist. Photo: Paramount John Wayne, in his final film role, as dying gunslinger JB Books in Don Siegel's The Shootist. Photo: Paramount

Streaming makes access to films easier but the companies have to make sure that those historic titles are both preserved and made available for our children and grandchilden to enjoy. Great films never go out of fashion.

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