Sunday, June 20

Jeff Bezos believes that our cultural heritage is only “intellectual property” | Nicholas russell

TThis week, Amazon acquired the sacred MGM movie studio for a sum of $ 8.45 billion, second in size after the company’s $ 13.4 billion purchase of Whole Foods in 2017. The day before, the attorney general of Washington DC sued Amazon over antitrust concerns in retail. market; joins attorneys general from California, New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Washington state who have also raised similar concerns. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, who will step down in July, said in a statement: “MGM has a vast and deep catalog of much-loved intellectual property. We can reinvent and develop that intellectual property for the 21st century. “

It’s chilling, and not surprising, that Bezos, a man who makes nearly $ 3,000 a second; who makes a couple of million dollars every 15 minutes; who, since the sun is just over 3 billion miles from Pluto, could travel back and forth more than 25 times and be paid $ 1 for every mile, sees a treasure trove of cinematic history like the one intellectual property to be exploited instead of an important and increasingly vulnerable facet of culture. Really, it is a frivolous and, at this point, almost stereotypical characteristic of writing about Bezos to try to make practical sense of his wealth. More difficult is trying to rationalize how that wealth has distorted his understanding of art and its role in society.

So far, the MGM purchase has been written primarily in the context of the fate of the studio’s most notable productions: Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and the James Bond franchise, among others. This week, Variety published an article It was divided into sections related to various movies and TV shows and what could become of them. Do some fall under the Amazon Prime umbrella? Do the others belong to separate owners due to previous contracts? Such speculation about the ownership of various movies and shows boils everything down to numbers and titles, emphasizing the fact that these properties are in fact products. Not everything MGM owns is culturally significant enough to justify pearl paranoia about preservation. That’s not the point. And anyone who is concerned about how this deal tests antitrust laws when it comes to Amazon’s size and monopoly potential will be disappointed given the small share of the film market that MGM occupies. But that line of thinking is also misleading. What has consequences is the dilution of both the quality and vitality of the cinematic form.

The “streaming wars”, as a concept, have taken over the public perception of how the entertainment industry approaches the production of its movies and shows: staples to trade and hoard to capture subscriptions. Bloomberg framed MGM’s deal in terms of hours. “Amazon studios produce a few hundred hours of TV shows and movies a year. MGM adds an older catalog of 25,000 hours that Amazon could split between its Prime Video offering or its free streaming and ad-supported IMDB TV. ” All the big studios have developed or are developing their own platform, which has reportedly put pressure on Amazon to expand its streaming options. The result is dizzying and frustrating subscription selection for any potential audience who wants easy access to any number of movies.

What is lost in the micro and macro conversations about streaming is why the preservation and celebration of cinema, as well as any other threatened art form, not only matters, but why their new life online is so tenuous. As more and more companies exclude their “content” after fluctuating monthly fees, the collective ownership of cinema is deteriorating. Physical media like DVDs and CDs, integral artifacts when it comes to the long-lasting, idiosyncratic ways in which movies are streamed and rendered precious, are rapidly being phased out. Instead, audiences must settle for inferior image reproduction, dead pixels, and distracting screen buttons. The theatrical experience, seemingly always on the brink of destruction, has been overtaken by flashy stunts, hopefully designed to get people to come and stay. Even the movie studios themselves cannot be trusted to understand what is best for their archives. Kevin Ulrich, head of Anchorage Capital Group, MGM’s largest shareholder, commented on the studio’s deal with Amazon saying: “I am very proud that MGM’s Lion, which has long evoked Hollywood’s Golden Age, will continue its story. and the idea born from the creation of United Artists lives on in the way the founders originally intended, driven by talent and their vision. “

In this black hole of capital and devaluation, curation is one of the few avenues left to help protect cinema from the ever-increasing cynicism and hunger of ever-growing mega-companies. Boutique theaters, independent platforms like Criterion and Mubi, preservation initiatives and the passionate invective of those who care about the future of cinema – these current measures seem insignificant in comparison but are far from insignificant.

In an essay for Harper’s, Martin Scorsese, a filmmaker whose legacy and contributions to the art form seem infuriatingly difficult to protect and replicate in our current landscape, wrote: “Those of us who know cinema and its history have to share our love and our knowledge with as many people as possible. And we have to make it clear to the current legal owners of these films that they amount to much, much more than mere property to be exploited and then locked up. “

The utility, power and social value of art can never be quantified and never should. These “treasures of our culture,” as Scorsese aptly calls them, should proliferate and inspire. To do so, they must be allowed to exist freely, with the tacit knowledge that they are among the few truly universal things that make life on a dying planet worthwhile.

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