Netflix and Hulu stack filmed content in virtual space and leave us largely to fend for ourselves. Coded reading of keystrokes and previous selections teases us with the idea that these services “grow to know” what our preferences are and can alert us to new releases in our proverbial wheelhouses. But sometimes what we, as film lovers, need is someone to sift through the cinematic noise for us, to apply a discriminating standard to the process of selection and relay the resulting choices to us in a digestible format.
On the surface, what I’m suggesting is similar to film festival curation, but festivals, especially the major events, mirror what occurs on a streaming site like Netflix, although on a higher end.
As a late adapter to the streaming video world, I stumbled upon MUBI about six months ago. The initial hook was its free first month trial ($5 per month afterward with long-term sign-up deals). The service purported to be “a curated online cinema bringing you cult, classic, independent, and award-winning movies.” This “passport to the world of cinema,” available in more than 200 countries and on mobile devices, provides users with a new film every day, selected by film experts. Subscribers have a month to watch each of the daily MUBI-curated selections.
Talk about your high-minded branding. This sounded like the perfect fit for a displaced elitist snob trapped in the flyover zone, removed from the East Coast bastion of cinematic culture. The thing is, MUBI really is a revolution for the cinematic-minded.
Currently, MUBI subscribers have access to Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy (Love, Faith and Hope) from 2012-2013; The Kid (1921) from Charlie Chaplin; The Scent of Green Papaya (a personal favorite of mine from my self-directed post-collegiate film immersion period in the early 1990s); and Caesar Must Die, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s 2012 festival gem about a performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that takes place in a maximum security prison in Rome with the drama of prison life mirroring the themes and circumstances of the play.
The film won the Golden Bear at Berlinale and I was fortunate enough to catch it during the Cleveland International Film Festival.
The festival schedule for your friendly neighborhood critic tends to focus on titles with a reasonable chance of opening in our market, at some point during their theatrical run. I am constantly seeking opportunities to get an advantage in terms of coverage, especially for independent and foreign titles, which in the past has meant forgoing a film like Caesar Must Die unless I was looking to appease my own personal cinematic appetites.
But now, thanks to MUBI, this genre-bending Italian film (a cunning blend of documentary and performance art) that deserves to find its audience, kicked off a month-long run on Nov. 7, which means it will be gone later this week. Of course, the MUBI marketing team, as part of their narrative, speaks to the notion that by signing up, you will join an exclusive community “full of film fans, students, filmmakers, festival-goers, and more,” all of which is true, but that just comes across as pitch-making.
I see MUBI is a key tool assisting smaller-market critics like myself all over the country. Whether able to attend festivals or not, MUBI brings the festival experience home to all viewers. It means that, in my case, I no longer have to feel the need to limit my choices at festivals throughout the year because there are platforms out there providing greater access to good cinema. This is a vital part of the intended promise of the Internet.
And more than that, again, borrowing from the site’s marketing, “MUBI is not just about discovering wonderful new cinema or classic masterpieces. It’s also about discussing and sharing these discoveries, which makes us like a small coffee shop … a place where you can gather and talk about alternative endings, directors’ cuts, and whatever those frogs in Magnolia meant. Heated debates and passionate arguments are welcome.”
Since signing up, I have embarked on an old-school word of mouth campaign in support of MUBI, whispering in the ears of cineastes in my inner circle, teasing them with hints about its possibilities.
MUBI is the band you discovered and realize is on the verge of breaking out, but you want to hold onto them just a little longer, to squeeze them tight one last time before releasing them to the masses.
MUBI has made me a better critic (and will make true critics of all film lovers) because it allows for self-directed curation. With MUBI, you can unleash the festival programmer within. (tt stern-enzi)