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Rachel del Valle
Duly Noted

Credit: Rachel del Valle

DVDs by mail always seemed like a weird, impractical hybrid between the modernity of the 21st century and the lingering quaintness of the 20th. So it makes sense that Netflix would try to eliminate the middle/postman by upping their prices. But then comes the question of sacrificing selection. Netflix jumped the gun by convincing millions of its subscribers to choose between price and quality. What’s the point of paying almost $10 a month for a video service that doesn’t offer The Godfather or Casablanca or Annie Hall?

When Netflix first came into the mainstream, it was its selection, not simply its price that drew me to convince my parents to drop the sometimes spotty Blockbuster for Netflix. I could rent new wave French movies on Netflix! Maybe its copy of Pretty Woman wouldn’t be as scratchy! I had such great hopes.

Despite my speedy abandonment, I have fuzzy, pretty memories of this two-story Blockbuster that took up the corner of a block in my neighborhood. There was a mezzanine that looked down on an itchy carpeted, fluorescently lit basement; there was candy. Over the course of my childhood, I spent hours there, perusing the hollow video-boxes, looking for the next movie that would change my life. That place closed a few years ago. The loft-like space has since been split into a deli and dry cleaner.

It’s just not the same to roll over a synopsis on a computer screen. You lose the advice of the over-eager video store employee, the neat juxtaposition of Airplane! next to Animal House. Movie-watching, movie-choosing is meant to be a group experience, not an alone-in-your-room experience.

Of course, Netflix has the streaming-to-television option, but for most the cost of the equipment to turn a TV into a miniature cineplex outweighs the benefits, at least for now. Although digital video will certainly dominate film rental and ownership in the years to come, it is too soon for Netflix to expect its customers to adjust to the changing times. According to recent reports, Netflix expects to lose at least one million customers altogether, much more than it had originally anticipated, and many others have downgraded to the more economical simply streaming option.

For college students who don’t have time to make it to a mailbox but do have periodic half-hour periods between classes, the seasons one through five of 30 Rock offered on “Watch Instantly” is ideal. But for the cinephile families Netflix once counted as customers, a couple Stanley Kubrick films and Ally McBeal: The Complete Series, isn’t going to cut it. How many of Netflix’s titles are actually worth watching?

Netflix gives you more autonomy than, say, HBO, but it’s not actually all that much better. The titles offered are often fleeting and the notification for how long a movie will be available for viewing isn’t very clear.

For newer releases, there’s Redbox and its shameless doppelgangers, Blockbuster Express, which is a Redbox painted blue. There’s something about the instant gratification of inserting a card and getting a DVD that is more fitting for 2011 than utilizing the postal service. But even then, there’s the leaving the house, the getting to the kiosk, the waiting in line, the other people panting and judging behind you as you choose between the latest Kate Hudson movie or the latest Katherine Heigl movie. It’s all very taxing. It’s much easier to choose from the nuptially themed rom coms Netflix has suggested for you (Bride Wars! Why didn’t I think of that?) and watch it by the lonely glow of your laptop.

There’s something else lost when the physical video store, with its bounty of titles, is removed: the power of the consumer. What’s going to happen to the potential Blade Runner or Fight Club of our generation? Both of these films achieved their cult status thanks to their word-of-mouth popularity after they were released for home viewing. Will box-office success become the marker of a good movie? Judging by the titles that have drawn exponential numbers in the past year (Kung Fu Panda 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), I really, really hope not.

Rachel del Valle is a College sophomore from Newark, N.J. Her email address is Duly Noted appears every Monday.

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