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Nine million members, and that for a provider of obscure classics

Nine million members, and that for a provider of obscure classics

Film in the Time of Corona: part 3

No more moaning about my aversion to video on demand (VOD): let’s take a look at another VOD provider. After Picl and Film 1, we focus on MUBI this week.

What is MUBI?

MUBI was set up in 2007 – at the time under the name ‘The Auteurs’ – by Turkish entrepreneur and Stanford alumnus Efe Çakarel. His motivation? Frustration about the fact that he could not watch In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000) online while in a cafe in Tokyo. That anecdote does make it clear where MUBI is coming from: this is a VOD platform for hardcore film enthusiasts, devoted to special artistic films from all over the world. It is therefore more than a platform: this is a worldwide community of film fanatics, with an accompanying website (MUBI Notebook) that provides film news, festival reports and essays.

How does it work?

MUBI has a subscription model: for 9.99 euro per month you are given access to thirty films, of which one disappears every day, to be replaced by a new one. Every film can be viewed through the site for exactly thirty days. This means that you have a modest but varying selection. In addition, you can hire a single film from a small selection in the so-called videotheque for 3.99 euro.

What does their range on offer look like?

MUBI mainly focuses on the past: this is not the place to be if you are looking for recent cinema releases, but for the classics it is. Not ones like The Godfather, Psycho or 2001: A Space Odyssey, but considerably obscure, mostly forgotten film gems. At the time of writing, there were among others: Party (Govind Nihalani, 1984), Calcutta (Louis Malle, 1976), Sun In The Last Days Of The Shogunate (Yūzō Kawashima, 1957) and a retrospective of director Joseph Losey. Never heard of him? That is exactly the idea. You must dare to trust the taste of the film experts who work as curators for this site. In addition to these classic films, there are also a few recent films from the festival circuit.

Judgement of Solomon

MUBI has more than 9.5 million registered members at the moment. Admitted, this is nothing compared to the 167 million Netflix subscribers, but it is remarkably high for a provider of auteurs cinema and obscure classics. MUBI is taken very seriously in the film industry, which is apparent from the fact that the new director of the International Film Festival Rotterdam – the 37-year-old Croatian Vanja Kaludjercic – previously worked for MUBI as head of acquisitions.

Top 3 best films on MUBI (end of March 2020)

1. The Servant – Joseph Losey (1963)

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho recently revealed a list of films that inspired him in his creation of the Oscar-winning Parasite. One of those films is The Servant, the first collaboration between the American director Joseph Losey and the British playwright (and later Nobel Prize winner) Harold Pinter. The plot: a rich, spoilt Londoner hires a new butler, who subsequently abuses his boss’s weaknesses. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

2. Dead Souls – Wang Bing (2018)

Wang Bing is regarded - since his nine-hour documentary Tie Xi Qu: West Of The Tracks (about the decline of an industrial district in the north east of China) – as one of the most important film makers in China, but it has never been possible to see his films in the Netherlands outside the festival circuit. On MUBI – split into three parts and each lasting about three hours – you can see his majestic documentary Dead Souls, about a suppressed chapter from recent Chinese history: the re-education camps in the Gobi Desert.

3. A Countess From Hong Kong – Charles Chaplin (1967)

Can a film flop also be in the top 3? A Countess From Hong Kong was Chaplin’s farewell. He was suddenly working with big film stars – Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren – and in colour. The level of this farce – about a Belarusian countess who dreams of a better life in America – is according to the VPRO not much higher than your average episode of Love Boat, but this is nevertheless the type of rarity why you would want to take out a MUBI subscription.

Mark Vluggen

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