"I messed up. I owe you an explanation." Is NETFLIX breaking up with us?

The mass email news this morning from Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, is that Netflix is not really breaking up with us, but, rather, breaking into two separate parts:  1) Netflix, which will be the streaming service that the company has been trying to transition to for the last five years, and 2) Qwikster, which will be the DVD-by-mail service that they are also going to open up to Blu-ray and Game rentals.

I guess I wasn't aware of how vitriolic some of the feedback from Netflix customers must have been.  For what essentially amounted to a price increase, there must have been some pretty irate response to instigate a message from Hastings, sent out this morning, which begins:
I messed up. I owe you an explanation.

It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.
So the short story is this:  Hastings promises that there will be no further price increase, but the billing for Netflix and Qwikster will be separate bills, as the price structures for these different services need to be handled separately.  For those who still find that red envelope a "source of joy," as Hastings does (I know, it seems weird that he has to wait three days for the next disc of Dexter, too), those deliveries will remain the same, just with a slightly different logo.

Many Netflix customers have expressed that they will simply switch to the streaming service, but the real issue there is the limited number of titles and quality.  Netflix already has a great selection of films through their "Watch Instantly" feature, many of which I have been recommending on Ecstatic with a feature called INSTANT 3, where I have been trying to find some of the best of what Netflix offers, grouped around different themes and genres.  It is clear that Netflix has been working consistently on the quality issues of their streaming service, which I'm sure will improve in time, but for now I cannot recommend watching just everything Netflix offers Instantly, especially if you care about image quality.  Often films with deep black negative spaces are particularly bothersome, as the digital fuzz tends to take precedence over the image.  Trust me--David Lynch, Bela Tarr, or any filmmaker worth their salt do not want you to watch their movies on Netflix streaming until the image quality gets a serious upgrade.

David Lynch
As far as selection is concerned, Netflix's current selection is not as wide ranging as it might seem.  Of course, your perception of this depends on how you watch movies, and, admittedly, I am not the popular example.  In my queue, which I have accumulated slowly, progressively, without really paying much attention to which selections are "Watch Instantly" and which are "By Mail Only," I currently have 161 selections in my queue, 57 of which are available to "Watch Instantly."   Certainly we are the same in that we want to see the movies in our queue, and for me that means 104 pictures that, if I switched to the Netflix-only service, I would not have much access to (I am aware there are other services, like Blockbuster's online service, which does offer some titles that Netflix does not currently--one example being the film I recently wrote up, 1972's Bad Company).  For me, with the recent release of Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, I am pretty excited to catch up with his earlier work, particularly the Pusher trilogy, which would not be available to me if I only received Netflix streaming service.  And, remember when video stores had pretty interesting stretches of genre titles, and maybe even a foreign section (!), that were fun to peruse and pluck from?  Well, with the quick death of the video store and the rise of the movie kiosk, the sickening perception that the only thing that matters in movies is the "New" Release gets perpetuated even farther.

I'm a supporter of the Netflix, and I have been a loyal customer since April of 2004.  They have been expedient and helpful in resolving any mix-ups that have occurred along the way, but, more importantly, they have continued to expand their selection, recently adding a number of rare entries.  In the last Ecstatic Double Feature segment on two of Monte Hellman's best pictures, Two-Lane Blacktop (1972) and Road to Nowhere (2010), I mention the unforgettable work of the late, great Warren Oates, whose filmography has included a couple of hard-to-get entries over the years.  Netflix has been working to include rare pictures like those lost Oates pictures through their "Watch Instantly"-only selections, which now includes entries like Heroes Island (1962), 92 in the Shade (1975), and China 9, Liberty 37 (1978).

Warren Oates in China 9, Liberty 37 
Netflix has been showing additional respect to customers seeking out the more unique corners of cinema experimentation by offering "Watch Instantly"-only rarities like Francois Gerard's 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993) and Guy Maddin's My Winnepeg (2007), as well as adding a number of films to their Classics section, from Audie Murphy westerns like Ride a Crooked Trail (1958) and Showdown (1963) to forgotten Noirs like Don Seigel's Private Hell 36 (1954) and James Cagney's only directorial effort Shortcut to Hell (1957), to name but a few.

32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
Another aspect of at-home cinephilia to mention here is that of DVD Extras/Special Features, which are absent from the "Watch Instantly" experience, at this point.  In some respects, the commercial DVD industry has used the "Special Feature" as a way to market films that can't sell as satisfying product on their own; it's kind of a shame that "3 Alternate Endings!" has so often been marketed as a "bonus," when, in fact, it's usually the mark of a filmmaker that didn't know what film they wanted to make in the first place, or compromised in the face of studio pressure.  You'll never find an "Alternate Ending" on a Coen Brothers film, and, to my knowledge, they are the only directors to ever release a Director's Cut that was actually shorter than the original, with the excellent DVD release of their first film, Blood Simple (1984).  DVD releases that offer truly enlightening and worthwhile "Extras" beyond the film itself, as with the forerunner of DVD packaging, the Criterion Collection, will hopefully find a way to be translated to the Netflix streaming experience.

Dan Hedaya and M. Emmet Walsh in Blood Simple
 For my money, the film is the thing, although I think there have been some Commentary Tracks and Bonus features that have raised "Extras" to an art form (Blood Simple, once again).  Maybe the bigger question here is the future of the physical DVD product in general, as the whole industry seems to be following the path of the music business, and more and more films are finding alternate release venues online.  For now, as a satisfied customer, I'll keep my Netflix + Qwikster accounts through these alterations, and hope they continue to roll with the changes.

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