How we watch movies in the age of streaming

Not a year goes by without some blowhard predicting the death of cinema, but in 2020, the dominance of streaming platforms is becoming hard to ignore. Join us at GFF to discuss how we watch films in the age of streaming

Article by Jamie Dunn | 20 Feb 2020
  • The Irishman

It might seem perverse to have a debate on the pros and cons of streaming during a glorious celebration of the communal cinema experience like Glasgow Film Festival. But that’s exactly what’s going to happen on 4 March when The Skinny sits down with filmmakers Matt Palmer (Calibre) and May Miles Thomas (Voyageuse), and The Scotsman’s film critic Alistair Harkness, to discuss their experiences with streaming.

Why ask this question now? Of course, there have, since the dawn of home video, always been films that have bypassed cinemas altogether. Rarely, however, have these straight-to-video (or in today’s parlance, straight-to-streaming) films – usually cheaply made genre work or lazy animated sequels – troubled the canon. But ever since Netflix released its first original movie, Beasts of No Nation, in 2015, there have been signs that the pejorative associations with straight-to-video were beginning to erode. In the five years since that Cary Joji Fukunaga film was released in theatres and on Netflix simultaneously, the stigma around straight-to-video has gone completely.

The heroes of the straight-to-video world used to be bruisers like Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Charles Bronson. Today, it’s Hollywood royalty: Meryl Streep (The Laundromat), Anthony Hopkins (The Two Popes), Sandra Bullock (Bird Box). When Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, two of the finest films of 2019, were released on Netflix after only a few weeks playing in UK cinemas, there was a feeling that everyone in the country was talking about them. It didn’t matter if you saw these films on a screen the size of a double-decker bus or on your smartphone, you were part of the conversation.

Egalitarian, convenient, comparatively inexpensive, what is there to gripe about if streaming platforms are bringing wonderful films to huge audiences? Surely this is the future? Well perhaps not. Traditional cinemagoing isn’t going down without a fight. Netflix may have been the distributor with the most nominations at this year’s Oscars, but it was Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite that ruled the ceremony. 

Unlike Marriage Story or The Irishman, UK audiences have had to wait months to see this wonderful South Korean social satire since its world premiere at Cannes in the summer. Despite the wait, the film is doing record-breaking business – it recorder the highest-grossing foreign-language opening of all time in the UK, and is currently selling out screens in both the arthouse and multi-plex. The lights in our cinemas clearly aren’t ready to be turned off just yet.

To Stream or not to Stream: How We Watch Cinema Now: Presented by The Skinny, CCA Clubroom, 4 Mar, 6.30pm – free tickets available on the day from the GFT box office