“I have people coming in every day looking for something they can’t find legally, or even illegally, on the internet,” says Kenny. “When The Force Awakens came out [in 2015], we had a massive rush on Star Wars movies because none of those films were on any of the streaming services yet, so even a cultural juggernaut like that can sort of get overlooked.”
Streaming’s focus on “what got released today, what you can binge on the weekend” neglects so much valuable pop culture, says Kenny.
“The film canon, film history, is constantly being rewritten; what’s a classic film and what needs to be rewatched from 60 years ago is always being decided, and I think we lose track of that with streaming,” he says. “[The conversation] shouldn’t just be about the new, fresh, pretty, shiny thing.”
While the music industry has seen vintage media blossom, with recent ARIA figures revealing vinyl sales were set to outstrip CDs for the first time in decades, could the same come true with DVDs and videos? Jeanette Bresaz, who’s worked at The DVD Collection in The Walk Arcade at Melbourne’s Bourke Street for over 20 years, isn’t so sure.
“We still get people walking past who didn’t know or are surprised that there’s still a DVD shop,” laughs Bresaz.
“We’ve always had collectors who want hard copies; we get elderly people who don’t stream, don’t download, don’t trust the internet… But streaming pretty much has put the boot in,” she says.
“I get people calling me every week wanting to get rid of their [movie] collections because they’d rather go down the technology route and save space. But you can’t find everything there.”
It’s a complaint regularly voiced by customers, she says.
“[Streaming] is all about the blockbusters. They don’t care about the classics or arthouse or foreign films, something that maybe didn’t even make it to the cinema but is still a great film… We have things here like Roger Corman B-grade films. You won’t find those things on streaming.”
Dr Liz Giuffre, senior lecturer in communications at the University of Technology Sydney, says a splintered landscape of exclusive copyright licenses and regional access rights around movies and TV shows, and streaming services who want you to sign up and spend your money before you even get a glimpse at their complete libraries, is to blame for the lack of availability.
“There’s lot of stuff that’s still not available, or is only available in one form or another, or on one service or another, or in one region or another. The idea that everything is going to be there… nothing’s going to have everything,” she says.
The lack of accessibility around titles that streaming services deem commercially unviable is problematic. But it’s also too easy to romanticise lost video shops and the simple tangibility of physical media, says Giuffre.
“Titles getting lost forever, that’s going to happen with physical media anyway. We’ve got the [National Film and Sound Archive’s] ‘Deadline 2025‘ around the decay of physical media and the machines that can play those tapes; those things are deteriorating. The idea that something can last forever is a problem no matter where we look.”
“I don’t think we’re necessarily going to have a repeat of silent films or early TV shows getting lost en masse like it was when those things were considered worthless,” adds Kenny, “but copyright law keeps a lot of things from easy distribution and that’s why streaming services are so focused on making their own content, so they have control over the rights.
“But that does mean that a lot of great films, classic films, they’re not lost exactly but they do become inaccessible. They’re just sitting in cold storage in some film distributor’s basement gathering dust, which is not what films are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be seen, they’re supposed to be part of the conversation, part of the culture.”
Robert Moran is a culture reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age