Mark Llobrera

The Ringer: “The Future of Film Talk Is on Letterboxd”

I haven’t tried Letterboxd so far, mostly because I’m wary about building a deep corpus of data on someone else’s platform1. But I enjoyed Scott Tobias’ piece on Letterboxd, starting with this observation from Demi Adejuyigbe:

“One thing I’ve always not liked about watching old TV,” says Adejuyigbe, “is that it feels like the discussion aspect around it is done. It’s like the day a show drops, you have that day to discuss it with people on the internet. Whereas with Letterboxd, it feels like I can watch a movie whenever and luckily there will be a forum around it right there if people want to discuss it with me.”

That day” stuck with me. One of the small pleasures of being in social-distancing mode has been releasing myself from expectations around consuming media on release2. Just because Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon decide to empty a dump truck full of new releases on Friday doesn’t mean I have to jump on them.

Lately I’ve been making my way through The Knick, the short-lived show from Steven Soderbergh, Jack Amiel, and Michael Begler. It ran from 2014–15, and it’s long gone from whatever small cultural attention it might have generated. But somehow that’s made it easier to approach — I don’t have the ambient noise of the cultural zeitgeist layering on the commentary.

I laughed in recognition at this other bit from the piece (I remember Delicious Library!):

Buchanan confesses to having the “collector mentality” that defines many Letterboxd users—he used to log his own huge DVD collection on Delicious Library, a Mac OS X software app that arranges titles on a shelf with covers, like a video store.

We still have a small, independent video store—Viva Video—here in Ardmore, and I love going in there and chatting with the clerks and other patrons (this is obviously not the case since Covid-19 hit, where it’s still operating but with more of a carryout vibe). I don’t know how long Viva is going to be around—even before the Covid-19 crisis it’s clear that operating a physical video rental store is a huge labor of love for a culture and a community, not a money-making bet3. I can’t help but think, though: if platforms like Letterboxd include some of the things we miss about a community rooted in a physical place, online—why did we decide that we could only have one of the two? Why can’t we have a thriving local film community that overlaps with the online one? (It doesn’t have to be a video store, in some ways I could more easily see the public library being the physical anchor for this.)

A few weeks ago I wanted to watch Mississippi Masala, which—while hardly recent (1991)—stars Denzel Washington, opposite Sarita Choudhury (in her first role, IIRC), and was directed by Mira Nair. It’s not streaming anywhere, and a quick check of Amazon Prime Video and iTunes didn’t show it available for rental. Viva Video had it, though.

  1. I’m trying to figure out when I went from naively assuming that platforms would be around for the long haul, to feeling “as soon as I write here, it’ll just get sold to Amazon”. ↩︎

  2. Except books, I can’t help myself there. ↩︎

  3. Last fall The Atlantic did a short video feature on Viva Video. ↩︎