This summer, I’ve been really patient about seeing certain films I’ve wanted to see for a long time. Prometheus and The Avengers had me waiting feverishly for months (I’m still overly excited to see Jeremy Renner take over the Bourne franchise in August). The Dark Knight Rises and Rock of Ages on the horizon make me hopeful that this summer won’t be dominated by mediocrity. But sometimes, my excitement doesn’t quite align with studios’ release schedules. Rewrites, date changes, and ultimately hiding a film in a vault can push any film buff to exhaustion.
Before Lars von Trier made his now infamous Nazi comment, he made a film that quickly became the most controversial film in years. Antichrist became a horror/drama that messed with pushed the envelope in terms of what could be tolerated from an audience. A huge fan of lead actor Willem Dafoe and the film’s trailer, I was dying to see it. So much so, that I did almost everything I could to get the movie theater I worked at to get a print. After almost 18 months of waiting, it became available on Netflix Instant View, giving me the opportunity to watch a movie that easily deserved an NC-17 or X rating in between classes in college. I loved it so much, I pre-ordered it from Criterion Collection’s website (I very rarely pre-order anything). It took about two years from its theatrical release to get to my Blu-ray player as a hard copy.
I’m not always so patient as to wait for the studio to get me their product. When I was in Paris last month, I was seconds away from buying the obvious masterpiece The Intouchables on DVD. Yes, I knew about the regions of European home video, but I have DVD players that will work them, so it wasn’t an issue. Unfortunately, The Intouchables, a French film, did not have the one thing I needed: English subtitles. It wasn’t meant to be. But you can guarantee the day it hits central Iowa, I’m taking a bunch of people with me.
Me buying films from other countries is nothing new. I’ve bought films from China, Germany when I visited recently, and the United Kingdom. With only a couple of exceptions, this collection of movies from around the world (not including the copy of Apocalypse Now my boss got me in Afghanistan) is composed of films not yet available in the United States. Though most of them eventually became available stateside, a few have yet to hit theaters.
A few weeks ago, I bought Shelter and The Awakening from Britain’s Amazon.com. Though The Awakening will likely receive a brief theatrical run later this summer, the big acquisition was Shelter. Made back in 2010, the film has yet to receive any notification of an American release despite the film being made in Pittsburgh and in English. Having seen it, I don’t understand why the film treated like such a turd. It has a solid story and an interesting premise, but those in control of it (I think I read somewhere it was The Weinstein Company) refuse to let it see the light of day. And yet, it was released in Europe.
Sometimes, the film is indefinitely unavailable. Ever a fan of any controversial films, books, or music, I am a bit of a fan of movies that push the limits of what is art. Now, I need to take a step back and make it clear that though I like watching controversial films, I’m talking about films banned in America. Many sources will confuse the two, believing that being banned means it is controversial and vice versa. Though films are banned for their contents and controversy, controversy does not mean a ban, especially after the government created a way to find if a piece has any artistic merit.
I’m too computer illiterate and paranoid to download banned films directly, but I’ve been fortunate to find ways to see a handful of films that have been or are still banned in America. Why do I watch these films? Because I want to understand what is so awful. Most of the time, it is a public that can’t stomach a piece and it needs to sit on a shelf until tastes will be more welcoming of the product. But sometimes, a film’s ban isn’t for reasons involving sex or violence. Titicut Follies was banned because it was a fly on the wall documentary about Massachusetts Correctional Institution Bridgewater. Until the late 1990s, you had to petition to see it and required credentials that would make watching the film essential to your research. A movie that made fun of the Scientology called The Profit was banned simply because Scientology believed it was harmful to their religion.
Having seen these films, I understand why they’re banned. But seeing them anyway, I was disappointed. These are not masterpieces that have lived in their controversy like Citizen Kane or A Clockwork Orange. I learned the hard way that controversy doesn’t equal greatness. But when I’m itching to see a movie I can’t get my hands on, of course I’m going to put unrealistic expectations on it.
I know many of you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned streaming illegal films. As someone who supports the film industry, I believe that bad films get swallowed up by time and great films will live on. Have I tried to watch a Russian dubbed version of a movie and try to translate without having any understanding of the language? Once. Turned into a disaster.
Another contention I have with illegal streaming is the sound and picture quality. I use Amazon.com, iTunes, Netflix and retailers to get access to films with sound quality and visuals that don’t fall on the wrong side of the law. As if sensing my urge to get a jump on certain films, Amazon and iTunes have begun allowing films to be rented before being released in theaters. This has allowed me to fall in love with last year’s The Bang Bang Club and declare Detachment on my short list for best film of 2012.
I realized this impatience when it comes to seeing great films is not going to go away. Learning about all the (legal) methods of circumventing slow studios helps me better understand films that have yet to find an American audience. Will this eat into me paying $10–15 for a movie in theaters? No way. If you get my attention, I’m there. But having to wait another nine months to see the G. I. Joe: Retribution movie may be a problem.