At the movies · Notes from West London

Farewell LoveFilm

More than once on these pages I have referred to the “movies by post” service that helped me to catch up with scores of films. Many of them were part of my “Oscars Project”, to watch all the major Academy Award winners of my lifetime (Best Picture, Best Director and the four awards for acting). Having got there I went further back, as far as 1947, and have now seen 70 years’ worth of major Oscar winners.

The “movies by post” service in question was called LoveFilm, or “LOVEFILM By Post”, part of Amazon. As of last month it is no longer available here in the UK. Often on these pages I allude to things instead of naming them. This is partly because I am looking ahead. Twenty years from now how many people will remember what LoveFilm was? Probably not many, and I don’t want to have to insert footnotes or explain in some other way what a phrase or brand represented at a fixed moment in the 21st century. For the same reason I refer to recording TV programmes on our “multi-channel box” rather than specifying which provider we use. Some formats and abbreviations shouldn’t need explanation even twenty years from now (VCR, VHS, DVD, CD and so on), but maybe in a hundred years’ time they will be as obscure as some of the incidents alluded to in Victorian novels. If you read books like “Jane Eyre” or “Vanity Fair”, or any of Dickens’ works, you will probably need footnotes to understand references that would have been clear to the books’ original readers.

I was also reluctant to name the specific “movies by post” service in case some of my words were perceived as critical of the company, or of anyone involved with it. I’m pretty sure that none of my comments could be interpreted that way, but some corporate entities have become so sensitive about how they are portrayed that it seemed sensible to minimize any opportunities for people to take offence. But how would it work now? LoveFilm is no longer trading in the UK, so could they (or rather “they”) still take offence if I were to write detrimental things about the company and the service they provided? We’ll never know, because I’m not going to do it.

My decision to sign up for LoveFilm was prompted by a special promotion at the end of 2011, something like three months of free “unlimited” DVDs by post. “Unlimited” in this case meant renting up to two DVDs at a time, with a turnaround of at least two days between sending the movie(s) back to them and receiving the replacement(s) in the post. After the free trial period it was £9.99 per month, which reduced to £4 per month for a while as an unannounced special offer to Prime users. At some point it went back up to £9.99. Back in 2011 there were a few companies offering a similar service, among them Tesco, Blockbuster and Netflix. Many of us still rented physical discs in favour of streaming content, but streaming has become much more prevalent in the last six years. I chose LoveFilm ahead of the other providers because of the free trial period and because it seemed to have a wider range of films than the others. A consumer piece in a weekend paper suggested that one of the other services had as much choice as the DVD shelf in your local charity shop, and that also influenced my decision. Naturally I am not going to tell you which competitor company was being described in these unfavourable terms.

As with most subscription services, such as gym membership or sports channels on satellite TV, my usage varied dramatically over the years. There were times when I would watch both DVDs in a day and mail them back in time for the following morning’s collection. There were other times when several months would elapse between receiving a film and sending it back. The biggest gap was five months, between sending back “The Danish Girl” (Best Supporting Actor award for Alicia Vikander) in February this year and finally watching and returning “Rocky Balboa” in July. The Rocky movie was fun, but it took us five months to make time to watch it. This kind of information was recorded in my LoveFilm history, which I copied, as simple web text, before the service was closed down on 31 October. It’s no longer available on my Amazon page so I’m glad to have my own record for reference.

In the last few weeks that LoveFilm was operational (and it was free – there were no more payments after September) I caught up with all of the most recent Oscar winners (“Moonlight”, “La La Land”, “Manchester by the Sea”, “Fences”) and the Debra Winger double bill that I wrote about here. I mailed those last two movies back to the FreePost address on 30 October so that they would arrive on the day that the service ended, expecting never to hear from them again. However, on 1 November two more DVDs arrived, including the Marlon Brando movie “The Chase”, which I wrote about here. I wondered if we were in some kind of DVD Twilight Zone, continuing to receive free movies from my Watch List through a computer glitch, or maybe through a rogue employee who didn’t know what to do with the thousands of movies that had previously been available. It doesn’t look like that. Having sent back those last two discs I have heard nothing more from them.

So, farewell LoveFilm. I don’t know how I will catch up with next year’s Oscar winners. Maybe I’ll have to go to the cinema, as in pre-VHS days. At current prices six trips to a local picture house equates to at least nine months of unlimited LoveFilm discs, or 22 months at its discounted price. Or maybe I’ll wait for them to appear on the DVD shelf of my local charity shop.

 

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