What we lose if we lose FilmStruck
On October 26th, Variety reported that WarnerMedia would be shutting down their indie, arthouse and classic cinema app, FilmStruck. Housing both the Criterion Collection and TCM’s stockpile of early Hollywood cinema from MGM and Warner Brothers, the app was a gift to cinephiles all over the world. Launched just two years ago, the decision to ax the streaming service came as a surprise to many across the industry.
In a recent speech at the IndieWire Honors Ceremony, Bill Hader asked that the influential audience members to use their powers for good stating, “If you can, there’s a petition going around to save FilmStruck which is my favorite thing in the world.” The audience erupts into applause as he finishes, “I know there are a lot bigger fish to fry out there, but in my little kingdom if you could save FilmStruck, that would be awesome.”
Creator of the petition, Kevin Bahr wrote, “FilmStruck is not just a niche market, it is a massive archive dedicated to keeping (the) art of the past alive… FilmStruck was a welcome breath of fresh air from the homogeneity of all other streaming services, and made us think for a brief while that perhaps these films would be able to have a home on streaming.” November 29th is currently the last day the app is scheduled to be available.
With nearly 1,800 films in its library, FilmStruck offered a unique experience. I began subscribing to the app just a few months ago. I was helping a friend do research on her book. She needed to watch a ton of classic films. She began with Amazon Prime, knowing Netflix to be lacking in this area. Unfortunately. we didn’t fare much better with Prime. We ended up watching “It Happened to Jane,” a tedious film starring Doris Day and Jack Lemon. Hulu, Xfinity, and HBO Go weren’t up to the task either.
It took FilmStruck, with it thousands of films to fill the void. Lacking an algorithm, the app is one of the few streaming experiences that didn’t feel like it was demanding I watch the flashy new thing. Hulu is always suggesting things I would never watch, The CW’s app plays whatever show is desperate for ratings, and Netflix has its own produced shows taking up more than half of my screen.
FilmStruck’s layout was clean and simple. Playlists of directors, actors, and themes were a great way to explore specific eras or artists in one easy place. Best of all, the TCM films often had adorable introductions by their staff hosts. Those fireside chats that define the channel were accessible by the push of a button. It was charming.
In an interview with the LA Times writer, Avika Gottlieb, chief curator at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image David Schwartz said, “(FilmStruck) never felt like a site that existed primarily to monetize a studio’s library. What other streaming service offers 16 films by the great Japanese director Mikio Naruse — films which are rarely shown anywhere in the U.S.?”
Easily one of my favorite apps in terms of layout and content, I sincerely hope this petition works. When I was in film school, the number one rule was to watch as many movies as you can. We had Netflix. Hulu wasn’t even charging a price for its service yet and still mostly featured TV shows. The library remained the best place to access great cinema. The screens were small and the headphones from another era, but the selection was unparalleled.
Discovering FilmStruck was like bringing that library into my home. In the first week, I watched fifteen movies. I got absorbed in all the Katharine Hepburn and Gregory Peck films I’d missed coming up. I drooled over the recently rediscovered indie The Devils, a 1970’s horror classic, the revival of The Devils (1971) had FilmStruck Twitter ablaze with conversation.
FilmStruck felt like coming home. If the petition fails we’ll lose a budding cinematic lovers community. Future generations will miss out on the building blocks of this great art form. Most importantly, cinema could lose the thing that makes it unique. Everyone knows the story of Lumiere Brothers first film screening. A train barreled toward the audience. Terrified, many fled the building, thinking the train would skip the tracks off the screen and into the theater.
For them, the cinema was alive. Watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), is like seeing an ancient nightmare through a hundred-year-old lens is magic. Cinema is an opportunity not just to predict the future, but to gaze at the past. It’s a gift sent through time and left by artists to the next generation of thinkers. Without an app like FilmStruck, those gifts will be out of reach to many.