MUBI – The Good, The Bad and The Unfair

Please indulge a short airing of grievances.

I should point out, before I let myself go off on a five minute keyboard-bashing rant, that MUBI (formerly The Auteurs) is one of the best video on demand sites on the web. The selection for a fan of cinema is almost unparalleled, the interface is simple, the prices are reasonable and the site’s attempts to foster a community of film nerds is to be commended. Plus it’s on your PS3! When services like MUBI reach their full potential – and I don’t think we’ll have to wait too long – there really will be no excuse for film piracy.

My chief gripe with MUBI is regional differences. I suspect the story is familiar to other users of the site – having signed up for the first time, and checked out the selection, the cinephile is greeted with some a roster of films which would make TCM blush. When choosing to view by ‘Most Popular’, The Godfather, 2001, Pulp Fiction, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Citizen Kane, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, Blade Runner and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind spring up on your screen. There’s far more, a terrific crop of modern and vintage, foreign and Western, dramatic and alternative.

Oh, but I’m in the UK. So I can’t watch them.

I hope it doesn’t sound naive to say that I think the internet shouldn’t perpetuate the same inadequacies of distribution as the physical world. When Europe gets Black Swan a couple of months behind the USA, I understand. When US fans of Doctor Who (and they do exist) can’t access their favourite episodes from the BBC iPlayer, I get it – these limitations exist for their own reasons. But on the internet, there are no physical or financial barriers to rightly keep us away from these films. Surely my money is just as good as anyone elses?

This probably comes across as whiny, and ungrateful for the great selection which MUBI does offer – Chaplin, Von Trier, Visconti, Murnau, Eisenstein, Griffith and Svankmajer (MUBI loves Svankmajer) – are all there. I daresay there are films there which can’t be accessed in the US. Furthermore, I know this isn’t MUBI’s fault entirely – studios are notoriously cautious about foreign people paying for their films, and certain titles can be wrapped up in regional red tape and rights issues. But come on! I’m willing to pay.

Let me reiterate just how much I love MUBI in its current form. There’s nowhere else on the web where you can see Nic Roeg’s Walkabout for the price of a bag of chips, and I’d recommend the site to anyone. But the web is one country, and the rise of paywalls, regional locking and other nuisances (see: Youtube in the last few months) is completely at odds with what it should be about – information at your fingertips. Unless your fingertips are in an authorised country, however, it’s tough shit.

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