Two-Thirds of a Documentary, or: What Kind of Trickery is This?

NetFlix has had some trouble recently. Maybe you’ve heard about it.

The root of this seems to be that they made a very unpopular decision and executed it poorly. I’m an optimist, however, and do believe that they will pull it together and rebound, maybe a bit chastened, but mostly all right.

That said, I had a run-in with them over the summer that I now see as a clear and ominous foreboding.

Here’s how it went down:

My wife and I are low-level (read: kind of lazy) Kennedy enthusiasts. We don’t particularly go out of our way to read anything about them but we are very excited to come across just about any documentary or, even better, movie about them. A claim has recently been made that a whole generation’s knowledge of the assassination has been informed by Oliver Stone’s 1991 film JFK. Yup, that’s us.

Anyway, while browsing the streaming documentary offerings on Netflix this summer, we came across one from 1988: The Men Who Killed Kennedy. It was a six-parter, each part approximately an hour. The plan was to watch one episode per night.

(As an aside, what we saw of this – more on that later – proposed some things that I never heard before, but, for the most part was completely supportive of the theories proposed in Stone’s movie. In fact, there were parts when the talking heads in the documentary delivered dialogue from the movie word-for-word – or, really, vice versa; the movie came out in 1991. Did the director use this as a prime source while making his film? I might know if I had enough ambition to check the end credits of JFK or actually do a little research, but I don’t. Suffice to say, the documentary did not change my opinion that Tommy Lee Jones was clearly involved. Back to the point . . .)

When we finished part four of the documentary, I clicked on part five. I had no intent of watching it at that time; I just wanted to read the description. And the description was, “Available on Disc Only.” The same for part six.

I’d been toughened up over time by having had the majority of movies that I searched for not be available for streaming. I could handle it (even when I came across such irrationalities as Iron Man 2 being available, but the first Iron Man not). But to have only four parts of a six-part documentary series borders on deliberate cruelty. I’m glad that I happened to realize this prior to sitting down for part five. If it weren’t available when I had actually planned on watching it, I would have pouted for a full minute or more before deciding to see if Freaks and Geeks was playing on IFC.

Now that we all pay for streaming movies and home-delivered discs separately, this situation would be absolutely ridiculous. NetFlix seems to have avoided this by having removed (at my last check) all parts of The Men Who Killed Kennedy from its streaming options.

And that’s my story.

As I said, what was a minor inconvenience to me then (I could have just gotten the remaining parts by mail), obviously turned out to be a harbinger of dark, dark times for the Netflix-subscribing population.

I’m sorry I didn’t mention it to you all sooner.

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