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A couple of months ago, I wrote about the steady if unglamorous rise of YouTube as a viable home-viewing outlet beyond the realm of viral videos and self-help tutorials, mainly on pleasingly casual, unmonitored terms – a treasure trove of vintage cinema, for example, for those willing to do the digging. But I mentioned that the video behemoth’s first subscription streaming service was on its way to the UK, and here it is, sooner than expected. YouTube Premium (renamed from YouTube Red) launched here last month, offering three-month free trials to tempt viewers into a £12-per-month plan.
At double the cost of a basic Netflix subscription, that’s a pretty steep rate, though it’s not quite an equivalent package. A YouTube Premium subscription includes access to their new music streaming service, YouTube Music, which integrates their music video library with an audio-oriented app not significantly different from those offered by Spotify or Apple Music. If you’re covered in that regard, the selling point of YouTube Premium – aside from ad-free access to their regular service, a bonus but hardly a prize – is their new catalogue of original film and television content.
On that basis, well, your mileage may vary, but they’re not challenging Netflix just yet. Unsurprisingly enough, it’s a predominantly youth-targeted selection, so if your pulse isn’t set racing by comedies built around existing YouTube stars, a fan documentary on pop singer Demi Lovato, and a series spin-off from the Step Up dance film franchise – that, to be fair, I’m absolutely on board with – maybe hold your fire before adding yet another service to your teetering pile of direct debit payments.
That said, it’s early days, and there are already signs of a broader remit to come, extending to more mature or prestigious fare. An outlier in their current library is Kedi, Turkish film-maker Ceyda Torun’s beguiling, cult-fostering documentary ode to Turkey’s street cats, to which YouTube acquired exclusive streaming rights. It’s a witty, canny move on their part, given that Torun’s film is essentially the longest, artiest cat video of all time, but also one that portends future astute purchases from the arthouse circuit. The slick, Doug Liman-produced sci-fi series Impulse further clues us in to their Netflix-style ambitions, while their biggest coup was announced last week: Get Out director Jordan Peele’s upcoming fantasy-comedy series Weird City will land on YouTube Premium next year.
In the meantime, old-fashioned, no-cost YouTube surfing is yielding some fresh rewards. Retrospective is a new channel on the site dedicated to vintage cinema, with an emphasis on British titles. It’s off to a modest start, with seven films available to view, but a fresh one is uploaded every week, and their selections thus far are pleasingly unpredictable.
Some picks (such as the stiff Julie Andrews-Omar Sharif romance The Tamarind Seed) are perhaps justly obscure, but it’s a delight to see Fanny by Gaslight, a lush, once-racy, still-sinuous Gainsborough melodrama from 1944, in the mix, as well as genuinely fascinating novelty in Eagle’s Wing. American-set but UK-made, it’s a sparse plains western made in 1979 in apparent atmospheric thrall to Terrence Malick, yet with a stately British sensibility. It’s a menu motley enough to keep you checking as to what’s coming next. And it’s free, of course – which, whatever the future for Premium holds, remains YouTube’s original charm.
New to streaming & DVD this week
Netflix is having a rich run of original films; it seems this is the new normal. Fresh from winning top honours at the Edinburgh international film festival last week, Matt Palmer’s smashing, sweaty-palmed Scots twist on Deliverance goes straight to streaming. Seek it out.
Lean on Pete
(Curzon Artificial Eye, 15)
Britain’s Andrew Haigh crosses the Atlantic at no cost to his clear-eyed humanism in this gorgeous, hard-edged heartbreaker of a boy-and-his-horse story.
Underseen in cinemas, Warwick Thornton’s superb outback western deserves a larger audience. Ravishingly shot, its taut, revisionist racial politics are far from pretty.
If it’s sleek trash you’re after, however, this cold, nasty, vodka-on-the-rocks spy thriller does the job. Its Hollywood view on Russian espionage is ludicrous, of course, but Jennifer Lawrence’s star quality freezes it together.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Is YouTube Premium worth paying for? | Film