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THIS WEEK: GETTING YOUR NET-FIX

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I was at a party over winter break when someone approached me and asked, under his breath, if I downloaded movies illegally and wanted to join his online file sharing club. I told him, off the record, that I've been known to dabble in torrents now and then, but Netflix has pretty much eradicated any need for that.

With Netflix, there's not much room in my movie love life for illicit file sharing anymore. Illegal downloading is more like my mistress. Though Netflix doesn't enable you to stream theatrical releases online - don't worry, they'll get there someday - movie watching is getting easier. You don't have to race to Blockbuster, only to be met with that empty wall of a thousand pictures of "Inception" where the DVDs were only an hour before. Even Berkeley's late Reel Video, perhaps the greatest video store there ever was, left me in a heap on the floor with stacks of movies under my arms: It can be overwhelming. Now you don't have to decide ahead of time what will go and what will stay on your Netflix queue. In a few years, there won't even be a Netflix queue: They are slated to soon be a streaming-only service.

But that's part of the problem. There's something troubling me about that loaded phrase "Instant Watch," an idiom now permanently fixed in the American lexicon. You can't exactly watch these movies "instantly." For me, choosing a movie to stream is as arduous an endeavor as setting up my queue and anticipating what I'll want to watch in, oh, two years. Because I usually need a movie to fall asleep like some people need a night light, I try and pick something to watch but I just end up watching five minutes of a bunch of movies only to bag the whole enterprise.

The other night, for example, I watched 42 seconds of "Caligula" (apparently that's all I needed) and 49 minutes of "Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired" (but I made it through a whole "Intervention" episode!). Maybe this isn't a problem for anyone else. Maybe I am just an over-stimulated product of the 21st century who can't sit through a damn movie.

I scroll through my "Recently Watched" activity on Netflix and am met by a surprising number of unfinished movies. I apparently took five hours to watch Nicolas Roeg's 1973 horror film "Don't Look Now" which, at 110 minutes, I never finished and probably won't. And suddenly watching something like Chantal Akerman's three-and-a-half-hour "Jeanne Dielman" (1975) - an Instant viewing I seem to have turned into a miniseries event - is as daunting and presumably archaic a task as picking up James Joyce's "Ulysses." Woe is the movie buff who wants to watch everything and suddenly can.

Some films are so fascinated by notions of human boredom (like those of Antonioni or Warhol) such that uninterrupted viewing is necessary. Others, like Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," are like a slow morphine drip to the arm. Sometimes, tedium is just plain tedium. Here's a film I would have stopped five minutes in if I had seen it on Instant Watch.

So in this sense, I think Netflix is breeding the kind of moviegoers - though you're not exactly going anywhere - who are faced with myriad choices and can simply leave a movie unfinished. I, for one, can't just walk out of a theater if I want to because there is some little voice in my head that tells me "Finish it! Finish it!" (I wish that voice hadn't been there during "Somewhere.") Netflix, on the other hand, has implanted a voice in my head that tells me "Get outta here! Get outta here!"


Watch the rest of "Don't Look Now" with Ryan at [email protected]



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