Category Archives: Exploratory Articles

#DVDRIP20

As we welcome in a new decade there are many things we are told about the last one. Fashion, Geography, Politics – all consigned to history – as the record books are officially written about the last 10 years. On social media, people posted photographs of themselves in 2009 compared to 2019 and commented on how much they might have changed and what they might have learned in the process.

One comment, however, which didn’t get as much attention was that DVD was to become officially extinct. The roaring 20’s would, it seems, not be done in the company of digital versitile disc. In a 2010 article from Live Science the DVD Player was officially placed on a list of the 10 most likely technologies to be extint by the end of the decade – with Fax Machines, Beepers and even Credit Cards also making the cut.

According to CNBC in November 2019, DVD Sales have declined more than 86% since the same time 2008. Even if these figures are just for the US, that in itself is a remarkable figure, proving that whilst you’re always likely to see DVD around (in a friends basement, in HMV on reduction, in a charity store) it’s unlikely the format will have any sort of Vinyl type revival.

Dead formats such as Cassette, VHS and Mini Disc have seen a small revival online in recent years – with some companies and organisations offering limited runs of, for example, a classic movie in the VHS format for subscribers through a pledge site. But the facts speak for themselves, as the same CNBC article quotes a staggering 1,231% rise in streaming sales since 2011; which an estimated annual turnover of $12.9 Billion. And this is set to rise further.

Even Blu Ray, which launched in 2006, could struggle to survive – as consumers decide to recieve their content from streaming. Hulu, Disney and Netflix are just some that lead the charge – whilst retailers left in the UK like CEX and HMV have an increasing selection of 50p DVD’s taking up an incredible amount of space. If these products were to be removed, and this space taken from shelves, retailers would then either look for smaller units in which to trade or need to cease trading altogether.

And it’s not just video formats, as gaming is effected. Personally I have several friends who only purchase games digitally, and do not buy physical formats, believing that such things are a waste of money – especially considering sales prices regularly available on PlayStation or Microsoft online store. Recently, Microsoft have launched a disc less X Box One, which the next generation of their console (X Box Two) speculated to contain a disc and disc-less version. In the age of micro consoles, it is also now possible to buy a gaming system which comes without physical hardware.

While it used to be about owning these properties, gathering large amounts of media and building a huge collection; nowadays, it would seem less is more, with a minimalist lifestyle now attempting to convince us that we don’t even need to own the film. I’ve spoken before about this phenomenon in music, how not owning a single physical album from a band doesn’t mean you’re not a hardcore fan – particularly if you’re attending their concerts and wearing their shirts.

Ultimately, it would appear there are more ways than ever to spend your money on…nothing.

This Damn Cough

I’m sitting here typing thinking that it’s been months since I’ve actually written anything for this site. Looking back, I wrote quite a bit during the end of last year, when work didn’t feel much like work and I had time to spare. As my experience increased, so did my responsibilities, and once again I found myself slipping into the routine of never having enough time.

The radio show, The Spanish Announce Table, that I first began as a hobby in August 2018 is still a hobby but it’s growth has exceeded my wildest dreams. Something has been latched onto too, a sense of community present within the North East, and for the first time since I’ve moved here I actually feel like I’m meeting so many new people. There’s a lot to be said about British Wrestling in the North East but I’ll need to save that for another article as my topic here is still about my employment.

Currently, I’ve been with my employer for the past two years, and as this very site will attest I’m still extremely grateful to them for offering me employment at a time when it was needed. And employment is still needed. But like the changing of the seasons, time moves on, and so I find myself more akin to wondering what the next move is – all part of that wonderful human condition.

My employer pays a steady wage, I don’t need to wear a uniform, I work set hours, I work indoors and get to sit down most of the day. There’s a number of things about the job that I not only like but which make it more rewarding than past jobs. But my ambition, my drive and direction, seeks something more – the chance to create, the chance not to be so uniformly tied to a desk, the fact to not have to feel like a number rather than an individual. And restless feet can only keep from dancing for so long.

So where should I go? Should I take a better paying job – if only it were that easy. Marginally better paying, perhaps, but would the hours suit the comfort of the ones I’ve become accustomed too. Likewise, do I risk a probation stint in a new job; meet more new people, get used to a new route to work, new routine, new pattern, new work mates. Some may see this as needless wining on my part but I actually disagree, when in fact, I’m committed to the fact that this is the reality of changing a job. On my best days I don’t want to leave but on my worst days I don’t want to stay there another minute.

Change, on the other hand, change is something entirely thereafter. So if I do have the “strength” to leave, I then have to have the additional strength too cope with a period of acclimatization and finding out whether a) the grass is greener and b) if I can stand in the field and enjoy the sunshine. But enough metaphors. Because if I found a job that I actually wanted to work at, something I truly wanted to do, that would take away a lot of uncertainty – wouldn’t it?

One day I’ll read this and know at that point whether I took a new job, whether I stayed and I’m still there or whether I achieved a personal dream/milestone. But for now, we continue to exist in a world where change can be almost as frightening as it is exciting and self doubt erodes us.

Bet you’re wishing I’d never come back now?

Netflix’ll Be There For You

Last year I read an article in which Netflix paid $100 million in order to keep the show ‘Friends’ for another year. Apparently, this happened because both Hulu and WarnerMedia (who originally owned the show) wanted it back for exclusive streaming, and Netflix didn’t want to let it go. I’ve never considered myself a fan of Friends but recognize that airing over 10 Seasons and producing 236 episodes it was something a generational phenomenon.

Originally launching in September 1994 the show (for the one person who has never heard of it) focused on the lives of six friends in New York City. The different characters and commotions they encountered evidentially brought them closer as they moved from late 20s into mid 40s – and the actors portraying them became increasingly wealthy in the process. In fact, by the end of the shows final season, it was well documented each actor was receiving $1 million dollars per episode filmed.

So the value of $100 million to each actor across 18 episodes ($108 million) means the show has lost virtually none of its value in the previous two decades – which, in itself, is somewhat of an astonishing achievement. Even if the actors themselves claim to have made virtually nothing from the shows first three seasons, and that it wasn’t until the latter half the shows run that they were able to capitalize on their monetary worth and value.

But asides what makes this show so watchable, as every fan has no doubt watched Friends in its entirety about 20 times now (and I thought I was bad re-watching the entire Breaking Bad series four times and counting) there’s a real question of why we do this and what the point is. Well, we are creatures of comfort, and as humans we enjoy squeezing chance out of our lives. Consider, for a moment the stressful world in which we live, or at least which social media would have you believe the majority of the population live.

Within this world, we look for moments in which to rid ourselves of stress, whether that’s taking a night out with friends and getting inebriated, reading a book we love or watching a film we’ve seen a thousand times. Netflix is, in itself, a reliever of stress.

And as consumers of mass entertainment we’re unlikely – more often than not – to watch programs and films we’ve seen before. Either because we wish to “half watch” a program and pay little attention to it, in the case of tormented parents subjected to the 100th watch of ‘The Greatest Showman’ or ‘The Little Mermaid’ or because we really want to escape to a world where we know all the exits. The kind of person who spends more time checking their phone than watching the movie. Just the other day I visited a cinema where a patron stopped during a film to take a selfie in a darkened theatre, with the flash on, before continuing to watch the film.

No surprises and no shocks from the “real world” make life better. That, coupled with the nostalgia we experience from the familiar – and in this case, we’re literally talking about the cast of Friends – mean that we remember good memories of previously watching this show or interacting with the dated set pieces and situations these characters find themselves in. Particularly when we’ve little to no interest in new experiences or taking chances.

Consider the success of YouTube streaming services over the last decade. Someone will unbox the product, play the video game, reveal the ending, berate and review the movie or react to the trailer – all before you’ve had a chance to express your opinion. Between work and travel we are constantly looking for ways to squeeze the most out of those precious few hours luxury we have a week. I personally choose to write, and many would argue I should stop wasting my time, but I choose to take a chance and challenging myself to create something on a particular topic. Reading a review of an a book before I’ve read it or spoiling the end of a movie so I can validate it’s worth my time isn’t of interest. Because if the Internet does your thinking for you, what’s the point?

But what does this mean for Netflix and streaming services? Well, effectively, it means that Friends is a popular show. But it also means that just like the terrestrial stations of years gone by it is now streaming services who are encouraging people to subscribe to their services by offering long established product. Disney’s recent acquisition of Star Wars will ultimately mean that their offering of the entire franchise created by George Lucas gives another massive boost to their pre-existing animated catalog and makes Disney + an attractive proposition.

I’ve spoken on this site before about streaming services making more physical venues like HMV obsolete. The other day I saw a ‘Rick and Morty’ Season 3 Blu Ray newly released over the Christmas period for £19.99; and considered why someone might purchase content that restricted them to just one season where the entire show was available to view on Netflix, whose cheapest subscription is now just £5.99 a month within the UK. It made no sense to pay so much more for a physical copy, yet on the other hand I’ve done just that, paying over the odds prices on not only physical copies of films and albums but also purchasing obsolete formats on Vinyl and Cassette in favor of just using a streaming service on my phone.

2018 may be recorded as many things, but as we enter 2019, we’ll be looking at the second decade of this millennium truly coming into its own – entering its “roaring 20’s” and that this is an age of streaming and mass consumption based on a whim gives one reason to pause for thought. Social Media such as Facebook and Instagram, Music on Spotify, Film and TV on Netflix, streaming platforms on video games all essentially offering us an a la carte menu through which to consume whimsically and skip ahead to what we like. There’s no sense of achievement in taking that Friday night trip to the video store, browsing the shelves and choosing what you’d like, instead you select your choice (based on pre approved reviews that tell you to absolutely watch Birdbox now) and if you don’t like it you can discard it and move on quite quickly.

With that mountain of content growing, and more emphasis placed on older achievements and nostalgia (as we think about the countless prequels, reboots and comebacks Netflix alone has supported) it won’t be long before we simply stop taking chances – stop paying or investing in new product – stop doing anything but watching reruns of Friends and ironically fail to make our own Friends to grow, share and bond with.

Your mother told you there’d be days like this, but she didn’t tell you when the world has brought you down to your knees.

Burying The Formats

“I definitely believe the next decade is going to be streaming plus vinyl – streaming in the car and kitchen, vinyl in the living room and the den. Those will be the two formats. And I feel really good about that.” Jack White, Rolling Stone

 There’s been a lot of talk in the last few weeks about the death of music. 2019 is barely five days old and already I’m reading how it will be the last year in which we expect to buy physical formats on a large scale as consumers. Of course, it’s early January, so there’s no doubt an endless amount of copy that has to be written and the statistics published commemorating the achievements of the last year always seem like a good place to start.

According to the BPI, or British Phonographic Industry, 2018 has seen a decline of 23% in CD sales compared to the twelve months previous. Year on year this equates to a drop of 9.6 million but comparing figures from ten years ago, there’s been 100 million fewer CDs sold.

That in itself is easily explained. Changing consumer habits, including streaming services, have meant that we’re now far more likely to purchase digital downloads or a subscription than a physical product. Less cars feature CD players, of course, and much like its predecessor the cassette it’s simply not cost effective to produce them on such scale. Shrinking shelf space in supermarkets doesn’t help, of course, but HMV’s recent woes would suggest we seem less interested in actually owning our own music.

Last night I spoke with a friend and commented that, aged 17, it would have been abhorrent for me to think of being a fan of a band and not owning the majority of their albums at that time. Singles, EPs, Albums, live releases, you name it – I would have wanted it – and yet nowadays the proverbial snowflakes of the generation are probably uninterested in purchasing and acquiring such physical content. Almost 17 years later it seems that my way of expressing interest in a band is simply not the same and this change can easily be seen.

According to the BPI, however, there is hope in some areas. Vinyl sales have grown just 1.6%; and although this is not an astronomical rise, it is a rise nonetheless – with 4.2 million records sold.  That in itself is a rise upon previous years sales and means sales have yet to stagnate or even decline. Considering this format was originally abandoned due to its ‘impracticality’ I would still equate this to ‘new’ Vinyl being a successful format.

A younger music fan I met recently in HMV was heard to remark to her friends that she wanted to own only Vinyl albums, with the artwork and design being the main reason for doing so. From a practical point of view, they also make excellent mementos, should you be lucky enough to get them signed or obtain a limited ‘colour’ edition upon release. Some record labels, such as Germany’s Nuclear Blast, will regularly release the same album in several variants from popular artists – and it’s not uncommon for hard-core fans to want to purchase every single one. I mean, somebody has to be buying them, right?

It’s certainly true to say that we’re becoming more consumer conscious, watching everything from our weight to our spending habits, and choosing things a lot more carefully than the generation before. Even so called ‘luxury’ items or disposable income simply isn’t as clear cut as it once was. Ed Sheeran’s album ‘Divide’ definitely divided fans, with 59% purchasing the album digitally and yet 40% purchasing the album physically; making it one of the UK’s biggest selling albums of 2018. The biggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the soundtrack to ‘The Greatest Showman’.

The film stars Hugh Jackman as PT Barnhum, an American showman, businessman and politician who perhaps equates more to Donald Trump and Vince McMahon today as he does to the actor who plays him. Sales of this film – whose soundtrack remained atop the UK Album Charts for 23 uninterrupted weeks – led to record breaking sales. Christmas week alone, it’s 22nd week, the soundtrack sold 57,000 copies alone with 48.7% Digital and 51.3% physical confirmed sales across 2018 in the UK. This soundtrack hasn’t left the Top 5 of UK Album Charts all year and is just one reason why Hugh Jackman is one of Hollywood’s hottest properties.

The picture is the same in America, where CD sales have fallen 80% in the last decade, from roughly 450 million to 89 million. “Lots of us have changed the way we consume music and film, and more people are streaming from Netflix or Spotify,” Kim Bayley of the Entertainment Retailers Association recently told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“But I think we should remember that [physical music] is almost a £2bn business. Even HMV has sales still of a quarter of a billion pounds, so that’s not a small business.” Others see it differently;

“I don’t buy it that physical music is necessarily competing with streams. We all access music and film on the internet, and that’s fine and healthy and valid, but you wouldn’t look at the Mona Lisa on your phone and think it’s the same thing as going to see it in a gallery.” 

“The reason vinyl sales are at a 25-year high is because people are rejecting this part of modern society where everything is immediate and nothing means anything.”

Jon Tolley there quoted from a BBC article, who runs the independent record shop Banquet Records in London, arguing that perhaps Vinyl is a way for consumers to rebel against a disposable society. A novel concept, if not somewhat expensive.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic, however, is Vinyl’s effect on sales in 2018. Of course, we all know Vinyl has made an impact, but the artists who make the biggest sales – Nirvana, Queen, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Oasis, David Bowie and Amy Whinehouse are either well past their critical peak or long since departed. These are artists who are appreciated for their sound, their legacy, and whom many fans (young and old) can collectively appreciate as not just a flash in the pan. Which would seem to support the idea of a “rebel rebel” philosophy.

On the other hand, cynicism might lead one to suspect it’s because Vinyl is only released in such large quantities through albums that can be assuredly guaranteed sales, with Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ at my local Tesco for a tenner and Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ not far behind it. Vinyl is, by a large margin, an expensive format – so selling classic albums for cheaper is bound to encourage those looking to build their collection for an affordable additional purchase.

But Vinyl’s strength is not just limited to a private collector and his secret stash.

I attended a Vinyl night in 2017 that has gone from strength to strength ever since in Newcastle, England. Hosted at the Tyneside Cinema, Drayton’s Record Player invites fans to enter a darkened room and listen to a Vinyl album uninterrupted (except briefly pausing to change sides, of course) – paying for the privilege. It’s an interesting concept, though not unheard of to physically pay money to do something you could do for free, simply to feel committed to take the time needed to achieve the act in the first place. Yet at this point I’m willing to admit Vinyl is nothing if not surprising, revisiting 2018’s highest selling albums in the UK on the format, with The Greatest Showman’s Cast Recording easily the youngest and second placed record on the list. Doubtful that I am Drayton would play it.

Of course, streaming services have yet to eradicate the reflex nature, or whatever phenomenon it is that prevents Now That’s What I Call Music records from dominating sales across the country. Volumes 99, 100 and 101 make up a large part of the biggest albums sold in the UK in 2018 and other entries (like the Greatest Showman) are Cast Recordings from musicals and motion pictures that have dominated cinema attendance. 

Nostalgia serves a huge part in our consumer habits, as does affordability and ease of access, so there are many reasons to see why these albums prevent such an attractive purchase. Whatever people’s reasons for purchasing them, it’s unlikely that our obsession with Vinyl is likely to go away, especially as CD now ironically becomes the obsolete format.

Now where did I put that Mini Disc…

Let Me Be Frank

I loved House of Cards. It was a powerful show, built from the memory of a BBC serial, it outgrew its predecessor rapidly as it focused on the political machinations of Chief Whip Frank Underwood and his wife Claire. Drawing comparison with Macbeth, Underwood is the classic politician loyal to the King, yet spurned by that King and driven by ambition he aspires to become the King himself. Setting the show in Washington DC, in the heartland of US politics led to all kinds of possibilities, as the series itself began to be mirrored in the real life political ambitions of one Donald J Trump.

And yet, as good as the show was, it’s main drawing power was actor Kevin Spacey. As Underwood, Spacey gave another phenomenal performance, proving that he is an extremely gifted actor with the skill for deception and the art of imitating life.

On Christmas Eve 2018, it was announced by the prosecutor that Spacey would be charged with a felony over his sexual assault allegations, a matter which had first arose in October 2017 when Spacey admitted his homosexuality publicly on Twitter and spoke about allegations made from fellow actor Anthony Rapp. This snowball effect created a public outcry against Spacey who made no further comments and retreated into a self imposed exile while a number of Spacey’s current projects where either delayed or entirely altered altogether. We’re used to seeing celebrities fall from grace, normally such allegations coming long after their prime has passed, those like Jimmy Saville posthumously or Gary Glitter. Rumors or allegations may surface but it is only once the individual is well past their prime. Not so with Spacey.

Although arguably some of his best work behind him, Kevin Spacey was still producing thought provoking and engaging drama, very present in public life and not likely to be retiring anytime soon. I had personally heard allegations from a family friend, who claimed Spacey had been auditioning for a play in Dublin in the late 90s, and had invited one of the younger cast members back to his room to discuss the role in private. It was always something that had stuck with me – even though I’d been told the story many years previously – but something I had assumed was such commonplace in certain Hollywood circles it was thought impossible to police.

When the felony charge was confirmed on Christmas Eve, it seemed like old news, considering there had been no new comment from Spacey for well over a year. In the interim the studio responsible for his House of Cards show had announced it would continue for a sixth season. It was explained that Underwood had been killed off screen, with his wife Claire now resolved to take her place in the Oval Office. The show lacked something for me, and although there were moments of sparkle, I regret to say that they were moments built on the back of Frank’s involvement. The show was legitimately the Kevin Spacey hour and without his presence it felt like Netflix had commissioned the series simply to make a point that didn’t hold much water. Without the show’s lead actor it had nowhere to move. A deeply unsatisfying end to the series came and went and we were promised a resolution but received none.

Suddenly, both Spacey’s fiction and reality were merged together, as he presented a short video from his official YouTube page. Entitled ‘Let Me Be Frank’ it showed a character, performed by Spacey, in the accent of Frank Underwood addressing the audience and asking what actually happened. The video has acquired several million hits in just a few days and that counter is far from slowing down, as many people have spent Christmas literally recording, editing and publishing their own reaction videos, analysis and feature commentary to this piece.

At the beginning of the video Spacey is seen washing his hands preparing a Christmas dinner. Dressed in a novelty apron, it would suggest that the video has either been created recently (owing to the fact it is Christmas Eve) or planned somewhat in advance. I personally believe the former, since Underwood’s character in House of Cards had grey hair and although Spacey may wish to give the impression Underwood is now living a secret life with colored hair, the lack of any grey hair is more significant I feel as a way of merging fiction and reality. Given the emphasis on Christmas, the washing of the hands is also slightly significant, considering that Jesus Christ (born on Christmas Day) was executed on the testimony of what is described as an angry mob. When attempting to deal with Jesus, and adjudicating his trial, Pontius Pilate is known to have washed his hands in gesture of relieving himself of the responsibility of this matter. My belief is that Spacey, who could have begun the video anywhere, chose to begin it at this point as he is washing his hands of previous issues and what is before him.

Spacey turns to the camera having wiped his hands, and affixes a stare, though his words are spoken with the distinctive Southern accent of Frank Underwood. He starts by berating his audience, telling them they trusted him when they shouldn’t, and how he shocked us by revealing his deepest, darkest secrets. It’s an interesting juxtaposition between life and art, immediately Spacey is creating a sense of confusion between Frank Underwood and his own personal abilities as an actor and what rumors might have been heard in his private life.

He takes a cup to drink, and does this twice in the video, which I believe in itself is significant. The cup definitely appears to be a regal – a royal design – and has a message in Italics on it. Of course, when Spacey continues and says “you and I are not done, despite what they say” it’s a chilling statement.

His defense counsel will likely argue this is Spacey in character, though prosecutors may see this as an attempt for Spacey to influence any trial, stating that he knows what the audience wants, that they were quick to judge him without evidence and that they haven’t heard the real story yet. Even the video’s title, “let me be frank” is both a play on Frank Underwood and a potential way for Spacey to address his accusers. It’s also a way for Spacey to influence any potential jurors or judge before the trial is even set. If such a thing was released during jury selection there would no doubt be uproar. Spacey has chosen an ideal time, when the Holiday’s prevent anyone from doing much of anything until the New Year.

Spacey is to be arraigned on January 7th, according to the Boston Globe, but he himself asks in the video “no, not you, you’re smarter than this…all this presumption led for such an unsatisfying ending” and this is easily believed to be a reference to the online disapproval of House of Cards Season 6. But it’s Spaceys next comment which I find the most significant in the video;

“If you and I have learned anything these past years, it’s that in life and art, nothing should be off the table”

This in itself is seen as a direct statement to anyone watching. Spacey goes on to say that if he (Frank, who knows at this point?) got away with the stuff he did do he sure as hell won’t be punished or what he didn’t. There’s a moment of pause after this statement, and you can’t deny the powerful nature of any monologue, which immediately makes you think about what is being said. Is Spacey blackmailing his accused, are we looking at the threat of further repercussions if they dare to challenge him. What does he know? Or is this just Frank talking. We are, after all, a world so heavily influenced by dialogue of fictional characters, people we’ve never met and reality television.

At the end of the segment Spacey points out that you never actually saw him die, and then puts on a ring, a ring which looks suspiciously like (but which I doubt is) the ring from House of Cards Season 6 that Frank Underwood was meant to have been buried wearing. Frank wore the ring for the entire show but it was most prominently featured in the final season in his absence. The ring itself was about as close as we got to having Underwood as a character in Season 6 and showed just how much presence an actor can have in legacy when they’re not even present on the camera.

Think about what Spacey is doing. He’s cooking a meal. He’s got his hunger back. He begins by washing his hands of the past, and he ends the video by assuming character, placing the ring off his finger and walking off screen. Those familiar with the very first season of House of Cards remember the pilot episode; Underwood eating ribs at Freddy’s the morning after Walker’s inauguration, and marking a page in the print with sauce to indicate the hunt had begun.

I believe Spacey, a clever man with a tactile mind, has just given us a very clear motive of what he intends to do. Many reporters comment that the video has backfired. I don’t believe it has at all. Just like I don’t believe he’s made a bad move here. As of last count there were 42,939 thumbs down on YouTube from 6.375 Million Views; and 138,461 thumbs up. Regardless of guilt or innocence, I believe the true winner here is entertainment and fiction.

A message seeking comment was left with Mr Spacey’s spokeswoman Laura Johnson.

As Spacey walks off screen, we remember that he is an incredibly gifted actor, and what we’ve seen is a performance we’re likely to see again. Though on whose stage?