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Staying In: Of Love and Data-Processing

Staying In: Of Love and Data-Processing

Staying In is a weekly Reverse Shot series that focuses on films our writers have viewed at home through all forms of digital distribution, from cable on demand to downloads to instant streaming. With Staying In, we hope to expand our ideas on film watching and criticism by getting out of our comfort zone—the theater.

Of Love and Data-Processing
By Eric Hynes

Desk Set
Dir. Walter Lang, 1957, U.S.
viewed on Netflix Instant

All films, post-theatrical and likely also during theatrical, will soon be available for streaming to computers and home viewing devices. But for the time being, offerings through Netflix Instant, the most popular resource for live streaming movies, remain limited. Perhaps my habits are atypical, but its relatively meager selection doesn’t preclude me from almost always choosing from among the instant options rather than popping in a DVD. I’ve adapted quickly to the new viewing model, but that’s only because it satisfies a considerably older instinct: laziness.

Looking back on the past decade of DVD viewing, it’s remarkable how Netflix conquered the market with such an imperfect model. Yes, the selection is peerless. And yes, there are no dreaded late fees. But must I select films days and weeks, if not months or years ahead of time rather than choose something that suits my mood today? What we save in late fees we more than match by paying $16 month after month so that Scenes from a Marriage can sit red-sheathed on the shelf, indentured until an elusive block of time will open up, or until guilt finally gives way to giving up. Until Netflix Instant, I often shirked the obligation of watching whatever had arrived from my “queue”—a dutiful word if ever there was one—in favor of the unfettered unpredictability of basic cable. Raised on remote control and video stores, I prefer to stroll around a bit before settling on something. On cable, TCM usually draws me in, while in video stores I often parked myself in front of the ghettoed “foreign” and “independent” racks. With streaming video, I can again encounter films the way TV and retail stores had taught me to: personally, impulsively, and within limitations.

The same spirit will guide this column. From the available offerings, I’m choosing a film that somehow seems relevant to the moment. Also, it’s a film I probably wouldn’t otherwise add to my Netflix queue, yet one I’m compelled to watch. With The Social Network set to face off against The King’s Speech at this weekend’s Academy Awards, I fished for something that spoke to the zeitgeist of an earlier era, and specifically that earlier era’s technologically-tinged zeitgeist. I looked for the likes of War Games and The Net, but they’re not streamable, and I can’t be bothered to re-rank my queue, send back that Sokurov documentary I’ve been sitting on for six months, and wait four days for Sneakers to arrive. So how about a very early computer-age romantic comedy, starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, called Desk Set? It’s hardly obscure, but I’d never seen it. Click, boom, presto. Instantly, it begins. Continue reading.

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