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5. Annals of Culture: Why are good movies worth stealing? A very brief, semi-autobiographical history of soft-core movie piracy.

I’d really like to watch Michael Tolkin and Leslie Greifs’ new miniseries The Offer on Paramount+. The problem is I don’t have a Paramount+ streaming account, and am short of cash right now and basically can’t afford it. So What should I do? What I’ve always done. Based on television history, and considering Netflix’ recent gripe about password sharing, I’d get away with theft if I wanted to. But the question is this; based on the sheer number of law abiding citizens who choose to steal programming, could it truly be a crime? Does it really shock the conscience so much to share a password? If grandma borrows aunt Bessie’s Amazon prime password to watch Zero Zero Zero should we not allow this? Some say yes. I disagree.

As for my tastes it is without debate The Offer, the new Paramount+ series about infighting and obstacles which plagued production of The Godfather Part 1 is a must see. Yet as Network and Streaming entertainment go, and facing the end of My Brilliant Friend and Better Call Saul, I am left in a mild existential quandary; wait for my paid streaming services to dish out new exciting programs, buy new streaming services, or pirate them from other steaming networks.

Back in 2009, church Pastors were known to pre-absolve their congregations of theft, if the spoils were used to feed their own families. Times were tough then, and they’re getting hard again. Where are money strapped victims of inflation (and with Quantitative Easing we are victims) going to turn these days for great entertainment? We all need the great things movies bring to our lives, almost as we need the bread on our tables. These needs are different for us all, whether it’s a story, a movie star’s physique and good looks, or special effects. Often but now always, it’s the music for me. I first saw Eminem in Eight Mile at my mothers condo in Forrest Hills Queens. There were no commercials and oddly it was in black and white.

Let’s face it as well, between the revolution of DVD’s, then streaming, and finally COVID theaters are not what they used to be. There is no longer the awesome feeling of seeing your movie idol, ten foot tall and God like on the silver screen, able to hold your complete undivided attention for about two hours. It’s not as if I didn’t sneak into one movie after leaving another and get two for one back in the day, but since celluloid sized movie stars have shrunken down to television size, I feel less affinity for parting with hard earned money to see them look only like television stars of a bygone era; small and not at all God like.

So let’s look at what’s out there for a moment. JOE vs CAROLE on Netflix is a series based on the Tiger King, also on Netflix (which I streamed fair and square). So this is obviously lacking; a straight up rehash of Tiger King, only with a script and much better-looking actors. Most of us who saw Tiger King enjoyed it, and were both fascinated but still eager for the show to end due to the persistent personal tragedies plaguing almost every character on the show. If Joe’s bipolar rants weren’t enough, or his casual firing of of military grade weapons on his property, perhaps it was his boyfriend who ‘accidentally’ put a bullet in his own head while the cameras rolled that had turned me off to another serving of this dish. Not to bash the show too much, but the unnerving contrast of Carole Baskin’s cool, ‘laws of attraction’ type lifestyle against the backdrop of a wealthy M.I.A. ex-husband did lend some intrigue. In any event, I’m not sure who pushed the idea forward for JOE vs CAROLE but then I would have guessed not many brilliant ideas were coming down the pipeline then at Netflix. Reading about Netflix and it’s stock price problems, my guess was confirmed.

What about forsaking this racket and just watching regular, network television? On NBC, The Thing About Pam, a black comedy about the Pamela Hupp murders starring screen legend Renee Zellweger, is decent. The problem being, to all the young types reading this, by Network TV I mean ‘free TV’. For those so young they are unfamiliar with television history, network stations (NBC) existed when TV’s were just cathode ray shooting light boxes with a thirteen station dial.

My point was going to be, network shows are free so by definition they aren’t worth stealing. Yet today Network television is not exactly free, as it is included with basic cable packages. I should really ask my wife about the details regarding cable packages, and what is gratis (if anything) and what is paid for. All I know is that when I watch The Thing About Pam it’s on Peacock and there are no commercials, and Peacock comes from NBC ‘Proud as a Peacock’, which was their ad campaign. So if it’s NBC, there should be commercials but there are not. Another issue: if Peacock is just NBC, where did the commercials go? But YouTube has commercials, so are Peacock commercials On Youtube now? I like YouTube, and have my own channel, but it doesn’t have commercials. Is all this really a confusing mess, or am I just too old to understand? My wife is ten years younger than me, and I’m sure if I ask her about all this she’ll have the answer. Then again, maybe she’ll insist I do something more constructive with my time than blog, like take out the garbage. Maybe I’ll just leave her alone.

Speaking of cable packages, why would a sensible person subject themselves to continued monthly cable bill hikes? I mean, with HBO, NETFLIX, MLB, ESPN, and the channels my kids watch my cable bill was $306 last month! That’s about half the price of a new flat screen! HULU. DISNEY and Paramount+ be damned…should I just keep adding these streaming options and paying the higher price? If the trend continues wouldn’t I eventually sacrifice amenities such as gulp…alcohol for this? I shudder to consider it.

Not at all my friends. Ask anyone, particularly anyone from the late 20th century who has ever seen a movie at home without paying for it, and you’ll learn something; where there’s determination to watch something out of financial reach, i.e. free , there’s an alternative avenue.

The first thing that comes to mind to me with mention of anything ‘Godfather’ is music. Specifically Nino Rota’s familiar and beautiful composition, ‘The Love Theme’. But back to The Offer and its seductive allure. What actually brought my attention to this new series while not music was an excellently written, though not fully complimentary review in the Wall Street Journal by Arts writer John Anderson. Fortunately, in summation of the series he dove into some of the true curiosities and trivia surrounding my all-time favorite movie. Some I knew, but some I did not. I know if I fail to watch The Offer for free, I will have at least read a fine summary of it. After reading the article I was clued into what I would get if I purchased Paramount+ , and conversely what I would not get if I did not subscribe.

The existence of a means to steal streaming begs a serious question: if crime is innately bad, why is everyone I know who steals movies a good person? As for Netflix, if they are complaining of theft on a mass scale, then why don’t they figure out how to arrest these ‘bad’ people. It is actually interesting so many would commit this type of crime just to watch a movie, great, mediocre, even pornographic. Why go through all this trouble? What makes movies a worthwhile booty. Netflix even blamed its collapsing stock price on the phenomenon of shared membership. This is the subject of a recent article.

I had an interesting experience recently. I saw an ad for a movie streaming on Hulu and thought I had to see it. So I got on my phone and ordered Hulu just to watch Adrian Lynes’ Deepwater starring Good Will Hunting legend Ben Affleck. Sound familiar? Satisfied after the movie, I was still on the hook for $7/month for my guilty pleasure. On the hook, that is until I overcome inertia, pick up my smart phone, and cancel Hulu.

This is like, as Mike Corleone put it, getting ‘mixed up in the rackets. Might this be where cable companies recoup all that value stolen through piracy? Through those auto deducted steaming services we forget about after a fling with our favorite new stream (Deepwater in my case)? You’d have to study the numbers and maybe ask some suit in a boardroom as I honestly do not know

Despite my said misgivings about even petty criminality I thought about plunking down my money and streaming Paramount+ just for The Offer, but I did not. The Hulu stream left me on the hook for $7/month. ‘On the hook’ that is until I overcame inertia, pick up my smart phone, and cancel Hulu.

Might this be where cable companies recoup all that monetary value stolen through piracy? When people like me just neglect to cancel a streaming service after we’ve gotten out rocks off, so to speak. You’d have to ask some suit in a boardroom, I do not know.

The Offer’ from Paramount+ takes on possibly the greatest film of all time, The Godfather

We’ve established that a series based on one of the greatest movies ever is a winner in my book, and I will watch it, by hook or by crook. But let’s analyze briefly what motivates someone to watch and admire, therefore feel they are entitled to steal a movie in the first place.

I’m a musician, so the soundtrack is always important to me. Afterall, cinema is sight and sound. Listening to the first few musical notes of The Godfather Part 1, when the scene moves from a black screen to the face of vengeful undertaker Amerigo Bonasera, the moments’ gravity is undeniable. It’s unchallengeable to me by any other movie introduction ever. But rather than making my point by comparing the score of Godfather Part 1 to some lesser film and obliterating it, I’ve chosen a substitute film with a great score. As for mediocre to good movies, let’s use Running with Scissors (2006) as an example. A watchable movie, there is still a scene in it which particularly irritates me. For my substitute film with a great score, I have chosen Alexander Paynes’ romantic comedy Sideways (2004).

This 2004 gem starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church is adopted from Rex Pickett’s novel of the same name, and is about two low scruple, wine guzzlers on a romp through Santa Barbara Valley, California. Jack (Thomas Jaden Church) is about to take the marital plunge so lies and lays his way through every opportunity presented. Meanwhile, Miles (Paul Giammatti) retains some semblance of conscience and restraint, up to a point. After Jack’s vacation fling Stephanie (Sandra Oh) discovers his skullduggery and bashes his nose to a pulp with her motorcycle helmet, Miles covers for him and tells his generically beautiful fiancé they had a small car accident. Throughout this melee the bouncy tempo of Rolfe Kent’s jazzy soundtrack keeps the film moving. On the other hand Running with Scissors a dark comedy starring Annette Benning, Evan Rachal Wood and a host of other stars never quite nails the mood of the movie down. Why? In my opinion, this is due to its score, or misuse of it. Whereas the Sideways soundtrack stuck in my mind after watching it so, I actually bought it, I recall The Running with Scissors score with a sense of dread.

Okay, not all movie soundtracks are the same. Yet the scene which irritates me so in Running with Scissors reduces itself to something of an MTV video. While the two main characters mindlessly slash apart a ceiling and romp around like mindless idiots, a decent song plays for which I have no recollection. I believe this negative perception of the movie I have is due to the that stupid scene and it’s misuse of a decent song. Think about that statement: a song for which I have no recollection! Cinema is sight and sound. What does that indicate if I could not recall a song played in the movie?

We can also consider the work of composer John Williams for Star Wars, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, two other great movies. What I’m postulating is that the the superiority of These two movies may be highly influenced by their soundtracks. After commoditization of the soundtracks by John Williams’ Star Wars and the Rolfe Kents’ Sideways, it’s possible soundtracks may have even been sold to people who did not pay to see these movies, i.e., by people who pirated them.

After a beating by his girlfriend, Jack (Thomas Haden Church) is driven by Miles (Paul Giamatti) to a hospital. Meanwhile, Evan Rachel Wood and Joseph Cross destroy a ceiling for no apparent reason.

How about judging a movie to be great because it has a rising star, or a fresh director? Surely Reservoir Dogs from Quentin Tarantino or Spinal Tap, Easy Rider, or Mad Max. Not likely. A point being, the fact that they were debuts by a great director does not make them great in themselves. I feel point out that as an original soundtrack contributes, qualities like solid dialogue, talented actors, great costumes, and scenes which blend different genres of suspense, horror, awareness to the moral nature of the universe, all with an occasional comic relief (“leave the gun…take the cannolis”) also qualify it to be great.

Then there are invisible attributes, like the behind-the-scenes chaos which we never saw, but become as much of the films lore as the actual film. A resident of New York City, albeit a young one at the time of the films production, I have heard many of the stories surrounding the making of Godfather part 1. This includes Al Pacino (Sonny Pacino to my late uncle that new him in elementary school) nearly passing on the role, Francis Coppola’s refusal to meet with real organized crime figures, Frank Sinatra’s objection to the Johnny Fontaine character, and that Gianni Russo, the actor who played Carlo Rizzi’s had a true connection to organized crime. Russo stayed in his memoir he made love to Marilyn Monroe. I imagine, if he bragged about it on set, it may have motivated James Caan’s too convincing beat down of him in one of the films most famous scenes; prelude to causeway killing scene. Monroe of course had passed away by then, but suppose Caan’s fascination with the actress may had been unsentimental? Just look at their faces as they fight may hint at a love triangle gone terribly wrong.

Jealousy over Russos’ tryst with Monroe manifests in a too convincing fight scene

Some other tidbits mentioned in the WSJ article include corrupt former tough guy Congressman Mario Biaggis’ insistence the film not be made, the time pressures experienced by the script writers, and of course, Barry Lapidus, a studio functionary, undermining the film at every possible moment. I was really looking forward to seeing a recreation of Marlon Brando played by actor Justin Chambers as he stuffed cotton balls in his mouth in a moment of brilliant inspiration. Notably, despite Brando’s genius, while doing Street Car Named Desire for the theatre, there were apparently problems. To some who worked with him, he was a grating, workplace psychopath who made his own hours, blocked scenes on his own, and drove professional, though less distinguished actors Jessica Tandy and Karl Malden completely nuts.

I digress, so back to my premise: is theft of streaming acceptable? When Hulu introduced the original film Deepwater my wife and I discussed it for about ten seconds before I purchased a Hulu subscription. John Ortiz, an unrecognized talent who has appeared in many good films, also has a Hulu show but we really bought Hulu to watch this particular movie. I had read Patricia Highsmith’s book years ago and had to watch the adaptation.

So now we have Hulu, pay $7 per month, and are only really looking forward to Mr. Ortiz’ show. For our family, streaming all started with Netflix, followed by purchase of a Roku stick, then HBO Max which I bought at a discount off the HBO website. Initially the Roku stick which cost thirty dollars allowed me to forego my cable providers’ HBO Max price of $50 more. In the end none of it mattered because weeks later my cable company provided HBO max with the other HBO channels in my package. I’m going to talk to my accountant about whether this is some kind of loss for me in the end. The calculus is just too much.

Is this that what it has come to? We are all ‘stealing the stream now’? Not at all, it’s actually the way things have always been.

I live in a cul de sac with about 8 neighbors, none of which are police officers, but all streamers. What would prevent me from say, creating a system in which we divide up the steam-able stations, and all share passwords, being careful not to log in at the exact moment our neighbor does? This system would assure we could all use one password per channel and if questioned could claim we are all tight neighbors, and share passwords when we visit each other.

Ultimately, The list of movies I’ve watched for free throughout my life is long. When I was a little kid growing up in the Bronx, like every kid in America at the time, we had thirteen channels, not all of which had actual stations. While some kids had HBO, inventive persons like myself would wire or stream a black and white version through our VCR box by playing with the frequency dials on the VCR machine. After college, my friend had a ‘descrambler’ which could get programs and channels for free, well for only the price of the box. And yes, like in my neighborhood growing up, cop neighbors were not welcome into our homes while we pirated. I should state This behavior of mine never included the copying of rented DVD’s, a very common practice until technological changes in DVD production made it so difficult. But not that difficult, as I know of a well respected, engineering executive who was the go to guy for years on the DVD copying technique. His name is… ha, ha, ever heard of Omertà? I have.

Deepwater, A bright, sexy movie, features Vic (Ben Affleck) watching in horror as Melinda (Ana de Armas), his sultry, sex pot ‘wife’ commits an affair (one of many) in full view of him. This leads to serial murders by Vic, which is arguably the best therapy for this deranged, though very attractive couple.

As long as there has been a paid option for television, HBO, Cable, The Spice Channel in the case of my roommate and I, televised programming has been stolen. Despite having no criminal record, good credit, and even no unpaid parking tickets, I have engaged in soft core movie piracy and thought little of it. Not because I wanted to hurt anyone’s profit margins, but for personal reasons.

What would the Don think of soft core movie piracy? I have an idea.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but ever since I sat down with my Dad decades ago and watched Godfather Part 1, my favorite scene has always been the infamous restaurant shooting, of which I created a song on Soundcloud called I’m a Start a Vendetta, inspired by the scenes’ particular horror. My father encouraged me to study how the banality of a simple dinner could turn deadly so fast, and how greatly politics could change in the pull of a trigger.

So maybe streaming theft is not as American as apple pie, or as New York as a cannoli, but it maybe an important means for some people to experience the magic of movies who might not otherwise be able to. And maybe I’m not answering the question as much as dancing around it.

What I can say is G1 not only characterized the intricacy of warfare and ambition but illuminated other things I needed to understand. For instance, I learned how delicate a soul can be, and how the hunted can become the hunter. It’s a cliche but true. Perhaps tue film illustrated that in life all you really need is that well hidden advantage, like the one Mike Corleone possessed, I.E., a gun hidden in a toilet, and the sense of when to use it.

You know what kind of toilet I’m talking about, the one with the chain? If you haven’t seen G1 yet turn off YouTube right now and stream. Free or stolen, it doesn’t matter in the end.

The Editorial Staff at Mitten-Maid

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