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Monday, July 5, 2010

Three years of Netflix

It’s my third anniversary of subscribing to Netflix, which is a real joy in my life. There are times when I’m an early adopter – a home computer, a “digital cellphone” as they were originally called, a Palm PDA, a digital camera, a GPS – but there other times when I’m behind the wave. Netflix is one of the latter, and I regret it.

I’m on the cheap one-at-a-time plan. So far I’ve rented 63 movies. Some of them I saw on their first run but not since, like Fiddler on the Roof. Others are classics that I missed in the theater, like Chinatown. How did that happen? It wasn’t easy to get a date at Georgia Tech where the male:female ratio was astronomical.

Woven into my sequence of rentals is the complete output of Woody Allen, a project that’s half complete. This project required some thought before proceeding. I had quit watching his films after the Soon-Yi Previn scandal. His relationship with her still deeply disturbs me, despite their being together for a long time now. I’ve come to understand and tolerate that people like Allen are on the verge of insanity; that’s why they are highly successful artists. Not all highly successful artists are deeply flawed and troubled souls, but many are. When I walk through an art museum or listen to oldies on AM radio, I don’t walk past Édouard Manet or turn off Jerry Lee Lewis. Appreciating their art doesn’t require me to endorse their character. I admit, though, that this is a sharp razor.

Back to Netflix: there are 148 films in my queue. They will take me into December 2016, assuming I stay on the two-per-month plan. . . as much Netflix as I can take or have time for. At first my queue grew rapidly, but now it's growing slowly. I expect that by the end of the year, the queue will begin to decrease. Let’s see if that prediction comes true.

One of the joys of Netflix is watching movies in conjunction with Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes, and the Internet Movie Database. I've learned a lot about film-making by using these sources to study the films I rent. It's a poor man's way to go to film school. The most interesting movies, like Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors or Coppola's The Conversation, can be re-examined scene by scene. I've found that some films get better the more I view them.

I applaud Netflix for a well-run operation. Only one DVD was scratched, and a few times their elegantly simple website was down. Otherwise, Netflix has been flawless. As a plus, they are single-handedly keeping the US Postal Service afloat. I wonder how expensive a first-class stamp will become when Netflix has converted most of its subscribers away from DVDs to streaming over the Internet.