From Art House to Your House: The Distribution of Quality Cinema on Home Video

By Herbert, Daniel | Canadian Journal of Film Studies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

From Art House to Your House: The Distribution of Quality Cinema on Home Video


Herbert, Daniel, Canadian Journal of Film Studies


Résumé: Cet article défend l'idée que certains distributeurs de vidéo maison ont joué un rôle important pour donner forme au déplacement historique du « cinéma de qualité » des salles de cinéma au contexte domestique. Il examine plus particulièrement la compagnie Kino International, Facets Multimedia et Zeitgeist Film pour comprendre de façon plus complète comment se créent et circulent les notions de valeur et de qualité dans le domaine de la vidéo maison. Alors que Kino International offre une sélection éclectique de films étrangers et de classiques du cinéma muet et que Facets Multimedia se spécialise dans la production internationale, le documentaire et le film pour enfants, Zeitgeist se concentre plutôt sur le documentaire et les films d'une poignée d'auteurs choisis. En dépit des différences apparentes, chaque compagnie élargie, raffine et complexifie les critères constitutifs de la vidéo maison de qualité en se fondant et en redéployant les notions d'exclusivité, d'exotisme, d'intellectualisme et d'activisme social. En défendant cette idée et en faisant aussi allusion à de nouveaux services comme le site de distribution par transit de données Mubi, cet article fait valoir l'idée que la "distribution" est un moment déterminant où la valeur économique et culturelle du produit se façonnent.

If we take it that "film" is a particular technology for the capture and presentation of moving images, and that "cinema" more broadly describes the social arrangements through which moving images are produced, circulated, and consumed,1 then over the last several decades cinema has not "died" but rather proliferated and transformed.2 Specifically, celluloid-rendered images and theatrical viewing practices have been ostensibly displaced by waves of different video technologies and the domestic consumption of media in general. In this transfer from one techno-social arrangement to another, the features that constitute "quality cinema" and "film art" have been contested and rearranged, although not upended entirely. As Charles Acland has indicated, media technologies do not simply disappear when new ones appear, nor do all the practices by which these technologies are used.3 His point suggests the continual need to investigate the creation, exchange, and use of cinematic wealth and value in the face of technological change; in this case, to understand how distinction operates in the realm of home video.

Home video distributors have played a critical role in shaping the historical shift of "quality cinema" from theatrical to domestic contexts. As James Kendrick and Barbara Klinger have discussed, the most prominent among them is The Criterion Collection, which has created a canon of cinema based on exclusivity and eclecticism.4 In addition to their highly selective catalogue, Criterion has also distinguished itself by providing rich "bonus" materials, such as commentaries by film artists and scholars as well as supplemental essays; further, the company typically promises to release only the best digital transfers of their movies. Yet, it is important to note that Criterion has not been the only player in this arena and the senses of "quality" they have cultivated comprise only one part of the larger distribution of attitudes toward home video.5 This essay examines Kino International, Facets Multimedia, Zeitgeist Films, and Mubi (formerly The Auteurs), a streaming media website,6 in order to more fully understand the creation and dispersal of notions of value and "quality" in the home video arena. Whereas Kino International provides an eclectic mix of foreign films and silent film classics, and Facets specializes in international, documentary, and children's films, Zeitgeist focuses on documentaries and a handful of select auteurs. Despite these apparent differences, however, all expand, refine, and complicate "quality" home video by drawing upon and redeploying qualities of exclusivity, exoticism, intellectualism, and social activism. …

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