Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: An elegy for FilmStruck, the streaming service by and for cinephiles

The movie streaming service FilmStruck announced it would be shutting down Nov. 29 after just two years in operation. The announcement came as a shock to many cinephiles and filmmakers alike, for whom the service (which housed much of the Criterion Collection library) provided a unique and diverse array of films from all decades and countries.  

FilmStruck was an anomaly in the world of movie streaming services, containing mostly foreign films and arthouse features, not the most recent or most popular Hollywood productions. Unlike most streaming services, it offered mostly movies with just a few mini-series here and there.

FilmStruck also didn’t want to be just a place to watch films — the service cared deeply about the artist’s process and the importance of filmmaking and the filmmaker in our society. An entire section of the service was dedicated to its “Adventures in Moviegoing” series, which was composed of video essays, discussions with filmmakers and writers and behind-the-scenes, on-set videos that gave viewers an insider’s look into moviemaking. This allowed viewers to immerse themselves in the discussion about the craft of filmmaking, something the Criterion Collection has always encouraged and inspired film lovers to do.

FilmStruck reminded us that movies aren’t supposed to be just entertainment — they should serve as social messages and teach us something about the world around us. This idea about the purpose of movies is all too often lost in a society dominated by Netflix and reality TV, and the end of a service that was such a proponent of this concept is a great loss.

The death of FilmStruck is also a great loss for classic and foreign cinema of the 20th century. Because Turner Classic Movies was behind the platform, it offered hundreds of classic films from Hollywood’s golden age of cinema, many of which are difficult to find on other streaming services. Of course, these films can be seen on the TCM TV channel and their website, but many young people are unaware of the channel or don’t have a cable subscription, making it even more difficult to view these masterpieces.

Even scarcer are foreign films from the 20th century — Hulu and Netflix have large libraries of foreign films from the 21st century, and only a few from before 2000, but the ones they do have are only the most popular and critically acclaimed (usually films that won the Best Foreign Film Oscar). But there is no Bergman, no Tarkovsky, no Kurosawa — none of the great masters of cinema to be found on any of these other sites, and with the shuttering of FilmStruck’s doors, a crucial era of film history will be missing from the world of movie streaming.

As a subscriber to FilmStruck myself, the announcement of their shutdown is heartbreaking. FilmStruck appealed to a niche audience of the most hardcore cinephiles — and perhaps that is why it is not a sustainable service — but that made it feel like a community, and it indeed spawned such close-knit clubs. After FilmStruck’s inception in November 2016, I joined several Facebook groups dedicated to the service and the Criterion Collection, where I shared my opinions of films I watched on the service with people from all over the world. Without FilmStruck, other film lovers and I will have to go back to buying Criterion DVDs, scouring library bookshelves for classics or searching the internet for free downloads of forgotten foreign gems (and then there’s always the problem of finding English subtitles).

There may still be hope for FilmStruck yet. Perhaps Hulu will pick up the Criterion Collection again, as prior to FilmStruck, most of the Criterion library was housed there. This would also serve to bring arthouse films back to the masses who don’t typically watch such films.

Following FilmStruck’s announcement, Guillermo del Toro, the Oscar-winning director of “The Shape of Water,” tweeted, “We will find a way to bring it back-   We will!” I hope, for the sake of cinephiles everywhere and for the sake of film history, FilmStruck will find a way to survive, because the film world needs it more than anything right now.

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