Sunday, November 20, 2022


Considering how often I have written here about the virtues of home media, and owning copies of films, music and TV and radio shows, I should have had much to say about the abrupt removal of shows and films from the HBO Max streaming service, plus the cancellation of upcoming projects. The reason I had not done so, apart from HBO Max not being available in the UK, was because I had already covered similar ground back in 2018 [link], when Netflix took down the 1978 film version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” - this led me to buy a Blu-ray copy, which has a higher-quality picture than the variable bit-rate of online streaming often delivers.

What has changed since then is that online streaming has slowly become the norm. HBO Max, Discovery+, Apple TV+, Paramount + and Peacock are among the services that launched since 2018, and Tesco and Sainsbury’s are among the supermarkets that have stopped selling DVDs.

Worse for me, films I have watched at the cinema have not yet become available on a physical home video release in the UK, namely Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”, originally released in October 2021, and the Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All At Once”, from April 2022. I have been so used to a 13-16 week between a cinema and home video release that I am seriously considering buying the German issue of “Everything Everywhere All At Once” over having to buy a download of it from Amazon Prime, which is subjected to digital rights management avoided by having a physical copy to use as you wish. Meanwhile, I could watch “The French Dispatch” by subscribing to Disney+, but I have already once chosen to buy a box set of a Disney TV show over subscribing to Disney+ - that show was “Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers”.

I have no answer to these problems, except that if physical home video is to become a niche pursuit, available for purchase through specialist stores or online, that having the ability to buy a physical release must become as easy as possible. The Warner Archive Collection has been a North American success I wish they would replicate in the UK, being an operation that produces DVD and Blu-ray copies of films on demand. If it means they need to have the money upfront before making a DVD of, for example, the 1931 pre-Hollywood Code release of “The Maltese Falcon”, it guarantees the availability of films for which there is less viability in producing a wider commercial release.

Likewise, it has been customary for other distributors to licence TV shows and films to release themselves. In the UK, I have Network Distributing Ltd to thank for releasing brilliant sitcoms like “Whoops Apocalypse” and “Hot Metal” on DVD, shows that broadcaster ITV, who own the rights, have not released themselves, like they did with “Inspector Morse” or “A Touch of Frost”. 

“The Strange World of Gurney Slade”, a surreal 1961 sitcom starring Anthony Newley that plays with reality in ways next seen in “The Prisoner”, was released by Network in 2011, which I bought on the back of knowing it was a major influence on David Bowie, before realising he could only have seen it at age 12 on its original airing, or on its single repeat run in 1963. TV used to be ephemeral until the advent of home video, but the shift to online streaming puts all the power back in the hands of rights holder to display or withdraw content as they wish – you can no longer grab a copy out of the air in the way that a VHS or DVD recorder provided to you.

If I return to this subject in another four years from now, I can only expect that the situation will have become worse – “home video” as a concept may be dead by then, and even The Criterion Collection may be online-only. Keep your DVDs.

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