Does this sound familiar? You want to stream a movie and end up spending most of your time clicking through a disorganized sea of options, most of which aren’t especially good, anyhow.
FilmStruck, a new subscription streaming service by Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, hopes to fill what’s been a giant void in the supposedly glorious age of streaming.
The plentiful options on Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (where Criterion was previously housed) have been terrific for all kinds of watching, just not great cinema.
FilmStuck doesn’t hope to compete with those giants, which are busy building their own original series and films while concentrating less on offering robust libraries. Instead, TCM and Criterion want to bring the art house, and all the passion of movie love, into the 21st century and your living room.
“We feel like it’s a vacuum that needs a caretaker who cares,” says Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM and FilmStruck. “There’s a real need out there in the marketplace for film fans.”
Executives for both TCM and Criterion call their union “a lovefest,” and the match is indeed a fitting one. TCM, the 22-year-old cable network of commercial-less Hollywood classics, and Criterion, the 32-year-old purveyor of pristine, supplement-stuffed DVD sets, have both weathered continued change in media and emerged all the stronger for their steadfast dedication to movies.
While networks like AMC (“American Movie Classics”) and IFC (“Independent Film Channel”) have turned their focus to TV series, TCM and Criterion have kept the faith, and earned devoted followings because of it. The partnership came together because of their already close ties and mutual respect. When word got to Turner Classic that Criterion would be exiting its home at Hulu, talks about creating a new streaming platform began.
“We had a great set-up at Hulu, especially given the time we started there,” says Peter Becker, president of Criterion Collection. “But that service was never built from the ground up to be for movie lovers, to highlight special editions, to be curated, to highlight all kinds of stuff. There was very little opportunity to speak to our audience in our own voice.”
FilmStruck will be available for $6.99 a month via filmstruck.com, the Amazon Fire, Apple TV and iOS and Android devices. It features films from the vaults of major studios but the focus of its about 500 rotating films is more independent, international and contemporary. It’s more Kubrick and Kurosawa than Doris Day and John Wayne.
TCM’s head of programming Charles Tabesh will program FilmStruck, including a rotating selection of Criterion titles. But on Nov. 11, Criterion will debut its own channel on FilmStruck featuring all of its films, about 1,200 titles that encompass a large swath of film’s acknowledged masterpieces. That will run $10.99 monthly or $99 for a year.
What distinguishes FilmStruck, though, isn’t just the quality of its films but its expansive, rethought streaming experience. There’s a long list of searchable titles, but FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel are first and foremost curated experiences. Films are organized into series, retrospectives and essentials.
“This is what art-house theaters have been doing around the country for the last fifty years,” says Becker. “Why would we not build on all the curatorial energy and ideas that has been expended over all this time?”
There will be a Friday night double feature. Another weekly night will match a short with a feature. Filmmakers will be profiled in documentaries, as will art house theaters across the country.
Cinephiles may also drool over the array of special features — the sort that populate Criterion Blu-rays — that dot the service. You can listen to Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola expound on “The Thief of Bagdad” or watch the Coen brothers with Barry Sonnenfeld deconstruct their “Blood Simple” with the kind of telestrators usually wielded by NFL commentators.
“We find that this is a very satisfying night at the movies,” says Becker.
The streaming landscape is increasingly crowded, not just by Amazon and Netflix but by the likes of Fandor, Mubi, IndieFlix and Warner Archive. Standing out _ and convincing viewers to add another monthly bill _ will be FilmStruck’s biggest challenge.
Dorian says their research suggests 15 million could be willing to pay for FilmStruck. It’s a bold gambit for Turner Classic, which has been, as Dorian says with a knowing smile, “very judicious in its changes over the years.”
“We get to try new stuff that we haven’t tried in decades,” says Dorian. “I hope we’re agile and nimble. Working in software has been a total education.”
It’s a leap for Criterion, too, which will for the first time have its own digital playground. The DVDs, Becker says, remain the best image quality for their films, “but there’s now a whole generation of people who haven’t ever bought a disc.”
The entire enterprise has the spirit of a mission: Show the digital world what’s so great about movies. At the FilmStruck launch party in Manhattan, scenes from classic films like Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” were set up. Director George Romero could be seen playing chess with Death.
“There’s never been a better time for art-house film culture, with apologies to the ‘60s,” says Becker. “It’s a crazy time to be a film lover.”