I’m a guy who is only slightly past middle age. And like most people my age I tend to have a penchant for the past. I still think Abbey Road is the greatest album of all time. I think the greatest era of film is the 70s. I still kind of prefer a phone call rather than a text. And I have said the term “good old days” to varying degrees of eye rolls.
I have, however, embraced many changes in our culture, exciting changes, and try as hard as I can to have an open mind to how the digital landscape has transformed how we consume pop culture. I have a deep-seated fear of becoming a dinosaur, but that’s for another article.
Which brings me to Steven Spielberg. (Cue the Jaws theme music).
Spielberg recently stated that films on Netflix should only be considered for an Emmy, not an Oscar. He calls them “TV movies.” This implies that Netflix films are somehow lesser forms of cinema art than those that premiere in theaters. Like “Buster Scruggs” is equivalent to something routinely viewed on the Hallmark Channel.
Mr. Spielberg, your application to the old school has been accepted, you start immediately.
The tone deafness of his statement is immense; and his denial of how consumers actually consume content in a digitized landscape is frankly ignorant. But really this isn’t about Netflix at all – it’s about quality, and he’s making a qualitative judgment of films like Roma and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Okja that is simply misguided. These films are great regardless of how you view them. Much like “Come Together” is still great through my tiny bluetooth speaker.
Heck if the Mona Lisa is on my living room wall it’s still the @#$ing Mona Lisa, right?
What is ironic is that the massive Hollywood theater industrial complex did this to themselves. The cinema as we have come to know it has become synonymous with work that has become less and less essential. It has been overtaken by the Marvel/DC/ Franchise Film marketing machine. And Tyler Perry. The art house is the bastion of cinema, and it is the rare film from a distributor like A24 that has a longer run in mainstream theaters (i.e. Hereditary, Ladybird, etc.).
The theater experience in and of itself has become a bit of a problem, with its loud talkers and popcorn chompers. It’s no wonder that more and more people are opting to watch films in the privacy of their own homes. Hell, the popcorn is 500% cheaper. Not to mention the superior bathroom facilities. I have never had to search for a parking spot in my driveway.
The rise of these new channels has also been a boon for actors and actresses, with much more diverse and interesting roles to play. The fact that incredibly talented people attach themselves to these projects keeps the quality up, not down. And think about the thousands of film workers putting their blood, sweat and craft service appetites to the test every day to make something great. Many of those workers are likely working on a film that doesn’t have distribution – and when a streaming service comes calling, I would assume it’s something akin to a dream coming true. But call me crazy, Mr. Spielberg.
You should be happy that you have created some of the best films of all time. You’ve had a hall of fame career and continue to make great movies. In fact, for a time you were Hollywood’s firebrand, shaking the branches on the film establishment’s tree. And that’s exactly what streaming services are doing today. God forbid you made a movie and no one wanted to distribute it and Netflix came along and made you an offer. Let’s not get all hung up on the size of the screen or the venue. None of that matters anymore. You can go about your daily life thinking your Netflix film isn’t really a “Spielberg.” “Spielberg Lite” perhaps?
It is time to accept the fact that Netflix and Hulu and Amazon are here to stay and that they make great content, worthy of consideration by your hallowed academy. You sound like a doddering old man complaining about damn kids that are ruining your day. The get off my lawn act gets old, and inflexibility is not an attractive personality trait. Think of your audience for once and how they want to consume content. The old model is, well, old. The new model is here to stay.
Steven Spielberg illustration by Matt Herrmann.