Netflix’s decision to allow viewers to watch its content on fast forward is an appalling one, writes Aidan Smith.
Yesterday morning I turned on the TV to hear my breakfast show anchors of choice snort at the news that Jennifer Aniston sometimes hits the gym at 3am. The presenters were incredulous. Why would anyone do this? It was blindingly obvious to me: to look like Jennifer Aniston, for one thing. And here’s another thing: there’s so much entertainment that we need to consume, and Aniston herself has just added to the culture mountain with the flagship drama of the new Apple TV+ streaming service, that why not get the workout done in the still of the night when Kanye West tends not to release any new music and the bookshops aren’t open so you can’t nip round for the latest instalment of Ben Lerner state-of-America metafiction?
Hang on, who “nips round” to bookshops anymore? You Amazon Prime your books, CDs and DVDs straight to your front door. Press “Buy” on your smartphone and it activates a cattle-prod which wakes the delivery man at roughly the same time as Aniston is battering her X-trainer and he’ll leap into action, ensuring your must-have goods arrive before you head out to work to begin another time-poor day. You’re about to thank the courier but he’s already back in his van. In fact, he may already be peeing into a bottle, which is what these guys have to do because the next customer on the list wanted his must-have goods ten minutes ago.
You think such indignities are far-fetched? Ken Loach’s new film, Sorry We Missed You, tells you that they’re not. What, you haven’t seen that one yet? Call yourself across-everything or, as we used to say, hep-cat with-it? The movie opened on Friday – what the hell have you been doing since then? Why do we need to work? Why can’t we spend our days consuming all this stuff? Well, assuming you’re not syphoning it illegally, you need money to pay for it.
A wizard wheeze?
The Smith household’s monthly bill for non-terrestrial telly has just shot up to beyond 70 quid, so we’re about to cancel some subscriptions. I reckon I’ve got enough saved, series-linked, supposedly life-enhancing, apparently conversation-enriching, unmissable but as yet unwatched programmes to last me until I fall off my chaise longue and can’t get back up.
Every time I listen to Radio 4’s Front Row or watch one of these review shows on TV – the kind which Monty Python used to send up by having the participants look like their heads were about to explode out of their turtle-necked jumpers from containing too many long-winded opinions – I strongly suspect their clocks must run slower than mine, otherwise how can they possibly have seen everything, read everything, listened to everything including the latest underwhelming Kanye album?
Maybe, though, it’s their art which runs faster. Netflix has just devised a feature which enables viewers to watch movies and drama series speeded up. What a wizard wheeze, and what an appalling idea.
It’s out-and-out vandalism, tampering with the work like this, and has outraged film-makers and actors. Judd Apatow, director of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, pleaded with audiences: “Don’t f*** with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen.”
Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul feared Netflix “completely taking control of everyone’s art and destroying it”. Peter Ramsey, who won an Oscar for last year’s Spider-Man film, wondered: “Does everything have to be designed for the laziest and most tasteless?”
Cowboys mosey, not sprint
Films and shows – good ones, anyway – are not assembled randomly. Directors ensure the action moves at a certain pace; that characters walk and talk no quicker than they do so as to build drama, tension and the opportunity for a gag; that car chases are exciting but do not go Keystone Cops-crazy; and that love scenes come with a certain amount of will-they-won’t-they? anticipation and intrigue, rather than have the leading man behaving like the most powerful mogul in Hollywood and simply allowing his silk dressing-gown to fall open.
Movies and boxsets are as fast or as slow as they are for a reason and handing over a certain amount of auteur control to the viewer is a bit like offering up musical backing tracks and saying: “You sing it.” Okay, karaoke already exists but hopefully you get my point. Westerns are westerns because cowboys mosey into badass towns, they do not sprint. Stanley Kubrick, who shot much of 2001: A Space Odyssey in slo-mo, would turn in his grave at the thought of the audience desecrating his stately cosmic masterwork with the help of a go-faster button. And who among us has ever wanted an Ingmar Bergman dinner-party scene to hurry the bloody well up? (Actually, don’t answer that one).
I guess this gizmo isn’t really designed for the likes of you and me, people of taste and discernment. It’s for the young with their poor attention spans, constantly looking for the next thing and never being satisfied and always in such a tearing hurry, who might appreciate the gimmick of seeming to be in control. Fools, they should have been around when there were only two TV channels!
No one, though, can honestly claim to be too busy or too bored that they cannot permit the hero of Breaking Bad to stagger for what seems like many days across a searing desert in just his underpants and loafers.
That’s one show I watched right to the end and I suppose the speed-up facility is an acknowledgement that there is now simply too much stuff to watch. But won’t the additional time it clears simply encourage the creation of yet more stuff?
Sitting down in front of the idiot-lantern used to be leisure; now it’s like a ludicrous triathlon which never ends, one hill after another, with no one stopping to properly enjoy the view.