The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

The frustrating inaccessibility of classic film

Molly Parker

Streaming has proved to be more convenient and accessible than physical media in plenty of ways, but unfortunately, many films still just aren’t readily available.

Many of these are classics released before 2000, the screening rights of which are often difficult to obtain for streaming companies. 

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 best picture winner “Rebecca,” George Romero’s 1978 horror classic “Dawn of the Dead” and James Cameron’s 1989 undersea hit “The Abyss” are all completely unavailable through any legal online service, according to an Oct. 12 article from Yardbarker.

Many of these unavailable titles are still incredibly relevant today, such as the 1965 Oscar winner “The Sound of Music,” which just gained a re-released soundtrack with over 40 new songs, according to a Sept. 27 Variety article.

Despite this recent publicity, “The Sound of Music” isn’t available for streaming anywhere except for in its separate sing-along edition. The normal theatrical cut can only be accessed legally through physical copies.

Having access to older movies like these is crucial to young streamers accessing film; this provides not just a better understanding of history, but a larger scope of great films that they’d be missing out on.

With this inaccessibility being a constant problem, it’s no wonder why film piracy has been growing 36% annually, according to a Feb. 13 Variety article.

However, there have been many preservationists trying to make room for classics.

British Film Institute Player Classics, Cineverse, Classix, Max and the Criterion Channel are all some of the best streaming services for classics, according to an Oct. 21 article from A Good Movie to Watch.

Turner Classic Movies is another streaming platform provided with a subscription to cable, but it provides an additional large array of classics dating back to the 1920s.

Unfortunately, Turner Classic Movies has experienced major pushback from parent company Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., with CEO David Zaslav laying off many TCM workers, according to a June 29 Los Angeles Times article.

After significant protest, Zaslav agreed to keep TCM up and running, but this chaos shows just how insignificant classic movie accessibility is to many studio executives.

It’s assumed that around 700 Paramount Studios productions are in Universal’s vault, but after so many years it’s difficult to parse through ownership rights, according to the same Los Angeles time article. 

This results in films constantly leaving platforms and old titles that are seen as too much of a hassle to be accessible anywhere.

The sole survivor of this distribution mess seems to be The Criterion Channel, the streaming offshoot of the popular Criterion Collection.

Criterion isn’t owned by a corporate enterprise like Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., but it still has to compete in the uphill battle for screening rights. Getting access to some films can take years, according to Criterion’s FAQ page.

This also means that Criterion isn’t immune to the constant reshuffling of films that happens every month. Many films may be constantly available, but others are just too expensive to justify keeping.

These battles for rights often seem too strenuous to major streaming platforms that prefer releasing what’s fresh and new, as seen by David Zaslav’s efforts to shut down TCM in an effort to alleviate debt.

For college students, a database for films available to stream digitally instead of physically would be incredibly beneficial, especially since most students have laptops and the last laptops with built in DVD players are several generations old, according to an Oct. 6 Laptop Magazine article.

Even though extra hardware like external DVD players are still in use and available to students, none of this is mentioned on Howe Library’s Multimedia Services page.

If students aren’t made aware that the library offers these resources, they are still inaccessible.

Some of my favorite films are classics that I only had the pleasure of seeing through means beyond limited streaming services.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film “The Passenger” is one of these. “The Passenger” may be available on a few streaming services now, but just a couple months ago it was nowhere to be found.

There’s not much mystery as to why: the film is nearly 50 years old and has nearly fallen into obscurity.

I hesitated to watch it after noting these factors, as many people my age do when looking for a movie to watch. But I still gave it a chance, and now I consider “The Passengers” to be one of my favorite films of all time.

Young moviegoers should keep an open mind when looking for something to watch and broaden their scope past just the last 30 years.

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About the Contributor
Molly Parker
Molly Parker, Illustrations Editor
(She/her) Molly Parker is a senior studio art and anthropology double major from Hopedale, Mass. She had been a member of the illustrations team since the spring of 2020 before becoming editor of the section in the spring of 2023. Molly also creates prints and zines that she displays in the Burlington area as well as her hometown. Apart from illustrating and creating art, she loves watching horror movies, cooking and crocheting. Email [email protected] to get in contact with Molly.