Thousands of films have been made that haven’t been seen in years: they remain locked away in studio vaults. With the advent of streaming and on-demand services, they’re starting to figure out ways to release more and more of these films to the public.

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DISCUSSION

The linked article is more optimistic than the preservationists and film historians I have spoken to about the prospects for gaining access to the vaults. Restoration is an expensive process given the niche audience for many of the films we’re talking about.

While streaming has opened up new kinds of access, especially for viewers outside of major cities, the range of available films is smaller now than it was when 16 mm libraries were still circulating, and probably smaller than the grainy pan-and-scanned VHS era.

And the ease of streaming does not encourage very much exploration compared to a good video store or an archive theater. The interfaces push viewers toward a fairly small number of titles, displayed in virtually every genre category, while the endless scrolling gives the impression of a deeper archive than what is actually there. These services probably curb nascent curiosity about film history.