Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Very long wait" is the "I want to see other people" of being a Netflix DVD rental customer

Time to cue that classic tune called 'Bang Bang (Netflix Shot Me Down).'
Netflix envelope doodle by Tim Hodge (Photo source: Doodle Flix)

I've been an on-and-off-and-on-again customer of Netflix ever since it was just a small Los Gatos company on the verge of becoming a household name (here's how old the very first DVD I rented from them was: Netflix's transformation into both a producer of prestige TV for the Internet and a formidable HBO rival--which has now caused HBO to strike back with its own standalone streaming service--was 13 years away). One thing has never changed in my time as a Netflix customer, and it's still my least favorite thing about using its DVD/Blu-ray rental service: the amount of titles on your rental queue that slip into "Very long wait" status. "Very long wait" are words you always dread encountering, like "I want to see other people" or "Thanks for coming to our booth but we're not hiring."

The Man Who Would Be King, an older film on my queue that I've never seen and have wanted to see for a while, is always in the "Very long wait" category, as are a lot of other older films on my queue that I've never seen and aren't currently available on Netflix Instant, like the '70s made-for-TV western spoof Evil Roy Slade and the 2004 Johnnie To flick Throwdown. "The 'very long wait' movies are either pre-1985 American or foreign titles, the films @Netflix barely curates on streaming," noted film writer Matt Patches on Twitter.



Being told to wait for these older films is ridiculous, and I'm not alone in my frustration with "Very long wait." A KQED.org piece last month criticized Netflix at length for appearing to neglect its DVD/Blu-ray service (I wouldn't be surprised if Netflix phases it out within the next five years) and being unreliable as a carrier of older titles, which frequently slip into "Very long wait" or become listed as unavailable for rent. In my case, I was especially sad to see The Man with Two Brains become unavailable on my queue. It's like Netflix is conspiring to prevent me from watching either movies with titles that start with The Man... or Step Brothers in its most proper form; it cropped the ultra-widescreen aspect ratio of Step Brothers when I saw it on Netflix Instant back in 2009, and now the Step Brothers Blu-ray--which contains a musical audio commentary scored by Step Brothers composer Jon Brion, an extra I've always wanted to listen to--is under "Very long wait."

The writer of the KQED piece was particularly sore about being unable to rent from Netflix Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as research for a film essay and having to play detective to track down a copy of the Melvin Van Peebles joint (he ended up getting a copy at a local public library). A Consumerist.com post compiled similar complaints from Netflix customers about being forced to wait for films that, in the age of the mom-and-pop video store before Netflix helped kill it off, were far easier to access than they are today as titles in Netflix's DVD/Blu-ray library.

'If Harrison Ford's earring was a movie, it'd be Grudge Match.'--Jenny Johnson
A screen grab of a piece of my own Netflix queue

One complainer who was quoted in the Consumerist post has found a clever way to trick Netflix into shipping him a "Very long wait" title. The same thing happened to me recently when I was trying to rent Bong Joon-ho films as research for a piece I wrote about Snowpiercer, and a delay in a Netflix distribution center's access to Memories of Murder resulted in me receiving both Bong's later film Mother, which was the second title at the top of my queue, and Memories of Murder in my mailbox at the same time, a nice break from the one-disc-at-a-time shipping plan I currently subscribe to.

"I place the 'very long wait' DVDs are [sic] at top, the 'short wait' items below that, and then all available items," wrote the shrewd Consumerist reader. "Netflix will often apologize for the delay and send a second disc from the available list to assuage what they assume is my broken heart."

There you go. That's your most effective option for triumphing over "Very long wait," aside from going to the public library to find an older film Netflix is keeping away from you--or if you're a San Franciscan, going to one of the city's few surviving video stores. Or maybe just break into a Netflix employee's house and steal one of his DVDs. They don't care about DVDs anymore anyway.


Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song may be hard to find, but its Van Peebles/Earth, Wind & Fire soundtrack isn't. "Sweetback's Theme" by EWF isn't currently in rotation on AFOS, but it ought to be.

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