So, I’ve just cancelled my subscription to Mubi, the online streaming service that specialises in arthouse and foreign film. I’m a bit sad about leaving, as I’ve discovered some really good things on there – and been made to watch things I’d always meant to get around to – but increasingly I’ve been viewing it with more side-eye than anticipation. I’d like to say that the decision to exit was purely financial – there’s a house being built, after all – but it’s not quite that simple.
(Addendum: when I wrote this, I hadn’t known about this shitstorm. Smooth.)
The idea of Mubi is solid. Rather than an endless pool of content, you have only a month’s worth of films at any time. Each day, one enters. Each day, one leaves. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it sets a timeline, and it limits options – these are what you have to choose from and this is how long you have to watch. It’s bad because if you’re even remotely like me – vaguely OCD – it sets up a Sisyphean task: MUST KEEP ON TOP OF ALL THE THINGS. MUST WATCH ALL THE THINGS. MUST GET AHEAD OF THE CURVE SO THAT WHEN YOU GO AWAY FOR A WEEK YOU WILL NOT MISS OUT ON ANY OF THE THINGS.
The selection tends more towards global cinema, which means you’re going to see a lot of average French films. When I first joined, it was in the middle of a Lav Diaz deluge, which meant my entry was a trial by fourteen-hour epic. But still, I kept on. A lot of things I’d heard about but not gotten around to seeing cropped up, and I was happy to see them. But there was also a long streak of lesser works: short films that might’ve worked hidden amongst better efforts on a late-night episode of Eat Carpet. Interminable mumblecore. Travelogues disguised as deep-dive philosophy. Stuff that it was a chore to watch. Yes, nobody was making me watch, but the site’s curated-by-cineastes air made me feel like I should. Yes, even those shithouse films restored by Nicolas Winding Refn. (Though you can now see them here, if you’ve a burning desire to see Shanty Tramp.)
The quality of films I’ve seen on the service in 2018 has been pretty terrible compared to other years. I went through my rankings and figured out that fewer than 40 of the 180-ish films I’ve seen on there this year have been four or five star films. Of those, a couple were repeats. There’s almost 50 two-star films, and just over 30 one-star entries. The bulk have been three-star affairs: kinda ok, but not particularly wonderful. Stuff I was happy enough to see, but probably could recall fuck-all of were you to ask.
(I also noted that when I came to review a bunch of films on Letterboxd that there’d just be one or two reviews: so either the films were so underground that I was A TRAILBLAZER, or else everyone else subscribing to Mubi was giving them a big swerve. Could be nothing – or I could be an idiot watching everything – but I felt this a keen comment on the worth of some of the selection.)
I guess it feels like there’s not much sizzle in the curation at present. I feel like I’m seeing films crop up as repeats more frequently, and I don’t feel the drive to consume everything that’s on there. I guess I feel like I can curate my own list of films from the titles I have access to and be none the worse for wear. To be honest, the content available on SBS Online alone covers a lot of the ground that Mubi does. It would take me almost two years to watch all the movies that are on the service right now, and I can do that for free. (Admittedly, I’d have to put up with SBS’s occasionally duff streaming tech, but that’s OK, given that I mostly watch these things on my computer anyway.)
So, when my calendar reminded me that my yearly subscription was coming due, I decided to pull the plug. It’s a strange feeling, as watching a film on the service has become part of my daily routine – but I also know that I came to it when I was looking for a lot more structure in my life. Things were shit, and I needed something I could do every day without thinking about it. And it fit that bill just fine: here you go, here’s your film. Watch it.
I still need routine, but I guess I’m feeling that a cinematic routine of my choosing can do the job just as well as the service. I wish I hadn’t become so dissatisfied with it, but hell: this means I can now plough through my mountainous to-watch list, and maybe even get more use out of the other streaming services I’m subscribed to, but only seem to use sparingly. My referral link still works, if you’d like to try it for a month (and get me a free month, I think?) – maybe you’ll find it more to your taste than I ultimately did.
Does this mean I’m going to watch a whole bunch of giallo, shitty action movies and knock-off horrors? Quite possibly. But I guess I’ll be sailing my own putrid canal, and have nobody to blame but myself if it sucks. Tally ho!