Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Bootlegs: What to do? Part I

In a recent Answer Man column on Roger Ebert’s site, a reader raised an interesting point regarding bootlegs that got me thinking:

Q. After reading Jake Ochoa's question about Satyajit Ray's "The Apu Trilogy" and your comment about it being a hard-to-find masterpiece, I of course had to find it and see it. I don't know your feelings on file-sharing, but the entire trilogy is readily available on file-sharing sites such as [site names deleted]. I am tempted to defend file-sharing in this circumstance, but I'll only go so far as to say that this is a good option for those interested in seeing it, even if the video quality isn't terribly good.
Aaron Martin-Colby, Saunderstown, R.I.

A. It sure isn't, and the original U.S. videotapes are only good to fair. You can buy a DVD boxed set from for about $85 and watch it on one of those all-zone DVD machines, which start as low as $60. Kino, Facets or Criterion, are you listening?

I empathise with the bind that the North American fans of Satyajit Ray have found themselves in. But my dilemma goes deeper (doesn’t it always). Apart from blockbusters with simultaneous openings in 10, 000 cinemas globally, Turkey tends to get most films much later than their US releases. The wait is around 6 months for a studio film, and, if they are lucky enough to get a cinema release, independent films might take the better part of a year to make it to this side of the world. The same is true for TV shows, with the more popular fare tending to take 8-12 months to make it on Turkish telly, and the rest a good while longer. I am not an advocate of bootlegs, and I don’t understand how people can watch a movie recorded on a mobile phone! Still, there are grey areas, and I am not sure how to handle them.

The main reason I thought of the above question, and the issue in general, is tomorrow’s Season 4 premiere of Lost on ABC. Coming off the heels of an excellent season finale (in fact, the last 10 episodes were the best since the first season’s Exodus: Part II – and the way the show managed to find its form after such a lackluster first half to the season, not to mention the dreadful second season, is beyond comprehension), and thanks to the ongoing writer’s strike (which, according to reports, might very well end tomorrow), there is not another single TV event about which I am more excited. The show is hugely popular in this country as well, and the 4th season will debut here on 27th February. In the age of the interwebs, that is a very long time to wait. Keeping spoiler free will be impossible until then, and however much I try to stay away from news or reviews, there is bound to be that one arsehole behind me on the check-out lane going on about the awesomeness of the season premiere that I won’t help overhearing. It seems the best way out for a pop-culture whore like yours truly is filesharing sites.

But I don’t want to do that, and that’s not just because I have no idea how bit torrents or other file sharing sites work. Still, it wouldn’t be too hard to get my hands on a bootleg version, be it from friends, or from dodgy DVD stores about town. Aside: there is a large shopping mall in a fairly busy part of Istanbul, the second floor of which is filled to the brim with DVD shops flooding with bootlegs. Their conspicuousness extends beyond bravery to achieve a sort of Zen-like defiance against authority.

It’s a problem nowadays that various pop culture events have become so big that, thanks mainly to the internet, anyone trying to keep spoiler free will find it extremely hard to do so. An example is The Sopranos’ finale: even though I still hadn’t seen any of the sixth season, it was impossible to stay away from all the buzz that was raging around the interwebs once the finale had aired. I still haven’t seen the episode, but I have read all about it, seen clips on YouTube, and partaken in enough discussions that the actual experience of seeing the episode now seems bizarrely like a footnote (or an afterthought) to the event itself. Being part of a global information network means to take part in things as they are happening now. It seems perverse for any pop-culture event to become a real-time global phenomenon, such as Lost and all the bells and whistles that go with it, yet strictly insisting on national boundaries with regards to the latest product, which, in this case, is the season premiere.

More on this tomorrow.