Netflix, the online streaming service, has been embroiled in controversy for the last several years involving some of its original programming’s ability to be deemed valid as a cinematic achievement. In short, should a project made for online streaming be judged worthy of cinematic awards just because it played briefly in theaters to qualify for award season? It began mostly when Netflix won the Best Picture Oscar last year for the film Roma.
It’s a strange conundrum to be sure but the fact of the matter is the controversy is NOT a new one. Matter of fact, it dates back to the early 1960s.
Not an identical scenario, I grant you that, but pretty similar. Meant to be the first ever TV-movie, director Don Siegel’s remake of The Killers, was made on a shoestring budget (and it shows) and was the brainchild of media mogul, Lew Wasserman. The film’s femme fatale, Angie Dickinson, told me that Wasserman came up with the idea by stating, “Why should we keep doling out good money to the studios for their films when we at the networks can make our own!” She paraphrased it but you get the point.
Good idea, right? It did, of course, catch on in time but this first effort fell victim to bad timing. Just as it was about to go into production, Kennedy was assassinated. With the country still in a state of shock even after the production was finished, the network thought the concept, let alone the name, too violent to air on TV and chose instead to release it in theaters. All of which, including exclusive interviews with most of the cast, can be read about in Lee Marvin Point Blank.
Now, with the Netflix production of The Irishman sure to be up for a slew of awards, including the Oscars, the question again is raised…but once again, not so fast in terms of this being the first time of such an occurrence. When The Killers was released overseas in 1965, the British Academy of Film Awards (BAFTA) named the winner that year for Best Actor in a Foreign Film won for two films: one was Cat Ballou and the other was, that’s right, The Killers. The actor of course was Lee Marvin who gladly accepted, despite his very publicly known dislike of the medium of television.
Netflix controversy? Everything old is new again.
– Dwayne Epstein