movies and cinema as mere “content”

In recent months, the chronicle of a shipwreck has been reaching us, in different news: Netflix lost some 200,000 subscribers at the beginning of this year —the first of two million projected for the following months— and fired a good part of the reporters and publishers generating branded content for your portal Tudum, which we learned about with the purge. Shortly after it became known that, in addition, the production of projects in the style of the Irish (2019), by Martin Scorsese, in a measure similar to the cancellation of series that do not generate ideal audience figures for the first season. The last straw was when the company announced a competition program based on the squid game (2021), in which the winner will be awarded a prize of four and a half million dollars, just a month after rumors of a desperate strategy began: by the end of 2022, their broadcasts would include commercials. Always at the forefront, in one of those Netflix invents open television.

Five years ago I participated in the naive comparison of Netflix and Amazon with production companies like BBS, which led to the so-called New Hollywood in the late 1960s. This name is used today to designate a group of studio filmmakers that ranged from mature directors like Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and Sam Peckinpah to young film school graduates like Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Francis Coppola and George Lucas. Five years ago the comparison was due to the delusion that the streaming it would save the auteur blockbusters—Amazon was producing movies by Spike Lee, James Gray, Park Chan-wook, and Jim Jarmusch; Netflix, by Bong Joon-ho, Noah Baumbach, the Coen brothers and Scorsese—would do it today in terms of its opportunism and the immediate debacle of a model that was born to please a pattern of consumption and that soon ended due to the need for one more profitable.

Although the producers of the New Hollywood —characters such as director Bob Rafelson or, to Coppola’s torment, Bob Evans— initially took the risk of betting on films like rosemary’s baby (1968) or the psychedelic I look for my destiny (1969), it would be naïve to think that these were the result of a cinephile dedication and not the detection of a new film consumer influenced by the counterculture. In search of higher profits, by the 1980s the studios marginalized these types of projects because they were trying to replicate the unusual box office success of Star Wars (1977). It took only five years for Netflix and Amazon to get fed up with a more daring cinema because it never generated the amount of awards they wanted to consolidate, let alone the audiences of the films starring the current king of shootouts, Ryan Reynolds.

The patronage of streaming it did not end: rather it never started because Netflix is ​​not an aristocrat with a penchant for the arts, but rather an American company that is governed by profit. It is enough to see who he produced films for to know that his intention was not to support the future of cinema, but to make the most of its immediate past. Although he bought films with a higher aesthetic risk, such as Atlantics (2019), by the Franco-Senegalese director Mati Diop, Netflix barely made original productions of that cut —it only occurs to me I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), by Charlie Kaufman—, and less by filmmakers whose name no longer carried prestige and admirers. His goal was the great American awards and the displacement of the old Hollywood studios, as evidenced by the twenty million dollar campaign to get an Oscar for Alfonso Cuarón and Rome (2018). Although Netflix won the awards then, the rest of its films in competition have flopped. Meanwhile, on the festival circuit, opposition from French exhibitors to its presence at the Cannes Film Festival seems to have convinced the brand to abandon cinema altogether in order to focus strictly on content.

Perhaps that is why it is more difficult than ever to find films from the 1970s —on the Mexican version of the platform, at least— and it is impossible to see a single title prior to that decade: for Netflix, cinema has no history before the neoliberal boom, but a present that is recycled in countless common places. An ideal viewer of the platform considers that filmic language was invented in the 1990s —although in the 1980s there were pioneers such as Robert Zemeckis and Lawrence Kasdan— and that its best time is now; That’s why there’s an overabundance of American movies released in the last decade, most of them accessible entertainment that eases the weariness of a society obsessed with productivity and completely uninterested in media literacy: netflix and chillas they say.

All of the above also explains the insignificance —and sometimes the danger— of Netflix’s penetration in the production of local series and movies. Initially, when the company was still showing off its strategy based on quality, viewers and journalists thought that it could reinvent Mexican entertainment on its own, confined to the sense of humor imposed for decades by Televisa, which imitates foreign hits or conceives Roberto Gómez Bolaños as our Buster Keaton. In recent years our commercial cinema has dedicated itself to imitating certain aspects of the American romantic comedy while using homophobic or classist jokes. But Netflix did not change anything, on the contrary, it gave greater power to the production elite because it was dedicated not to looking for new talents or directly producing content, but rather to hiring companies and characters that, instead of selling their projects to the open television, they began to deliver them to the company of streaming. This has had significant consequences in various fields.

The first of these is the legitimization of all the production trends that already existed, visible in series such as dark desire (2020-2022), which exploits the bodies of its protagonists more than any soap opera, or Are (2021), which culminates in what Jacques Rivette called in an important essay “the abjection”. For the French filmmaker and critic, a traveling that spectacularizes a death in Kapo (1959), a Holocaust film by Gillo Pontecorvo, is a cinematic expression of immorality. Arewhich tells the true story of how drug trafficking destroyed a town in northern Mexico, is not only intolerable because of the gratuitous way in which it looks at the corpses, with the tools of horror cinema: its mimicry of action movies by showing the fire and explosions is unforgivable.

The other effect on our industry was documented by Viridiana Ríos in a column for Millennium in which it demonstrates Netflix’s tolerance for abusive labor practices by the Mexican production companies it hires. Although the company streaming It does not have a direct responsibility, but it could impose conditions to avoid the abuses that culminated in the pair of deaths that Ríos describes at the beginning of his text. Again, Netflix came to consolidate the power of elites that already existed, to the detriment of audiences and image workers. What reasons are we left, then, to sustain a subscription to malaise?

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