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Recent issues and the current state of play
In what is only his second blog of the year, Slarek outlines why there have been no blogs for the past six months, looks at what has changed with the site in recent years and looks forward to what does and probably does not lay ahead for Cine Outsider.
23 September 2018

A blog. Now there's a rare thing for this site of late. Indeed, after once proclaiming that I'd put a new one up every weekend from that point on, I've since set something of a record by posting none for six months and only one so far this year. So, what happened? Well, quite a bit. I'll try not to waffle too much (never my strong point) but feel the need to clear the air a little before moving forward.

If you read my last few blogs you will doubtless be aware that my commitment to the site has been disrupted over the course of the past three years due to my mother's failing health and the decision made by my sister and I to care for her at home, as was always her wish. As anyone who has done likewise will know, such a commitment swallows up the vast majority of your free time and leaves little left for trivial things like running a web site. For a while, I considered shutting the site down completely, but I soon realised that writing reviews had become less of an encompassing hobby and more a small but important distraction from what was without question the most emotionally and physically difficult period of my life.

Then, just as the Easter weekend of 2018 got under way, my mother lost her long and difficult battle with increasingly poor health and passed away, and I effectively put the site on hold in order to focus on my own grief and the hard practicalities that accompany the loss of a loved one. Both my sister and I emerged from the experience exhausted, emotionally drained and feeling as if we'd somehow lost not just our mother but our primary purpose in life. That the site continued to tick over at all during this period was down primarily to Camus throwing his weight behind a number of reviews that his work schedule barely left time for him to write. During the months that have since passed, both my sister and I have started to come to terms with our loss, but the impact this all-encompassing period had on us and our physical and emotional wellbeing continues. Once again, watching and writing about films has proved a small but still significant emotional lifeboat and a link to past times when this was one of the driving forces of my life.

As things stand now, I should theoretically be in a position to devote more time to the site and expand on our coverage, return to covering festivals and conducting interviews with filmmakers and actors, and even attending a few preview screenings. There have been, however, other complications. A forced day job change has doubled my already sizeable workload, and what began as a small but annoying foot pain just over three years ago has deteriorated to the point where I am effectively incapacitated by it. Five doctors, four specialists and one operation later, not one of these so-called medical experts has been able to provide a useful diagnosis or do anything for the almost constant but strangely variable pain I am in. I am now only able to walk short distances and even that requires the assistance of a set of crutches, ever-present companions that I have chosen to name Pete and Dud. A bit of advice for anyone consigned to using these things long-term, get the ones with the ergonomic hand grips – they're far less of a strain on your hands and arms.

All of this has impacted on my energy levels, and while I theoretically have more free time than I've had in several years, I spend a disproportionate amount of it in a half-asleep daze or catching up on sleep I have to fight off each day at work, which serves as a constant reminder that I'm not a young man anymore and that some of this shit is part of the ageing process. Thus, the increase in review output that I assumed would take place has been slow in coming, though this is partly down to the fact that the releases we tend to cover are resplendent with special features, and it's just not in our nature to just list them and move on as some other more prolific sites are wont to do – give me an Indicator 5-film box set and I'm going to be tied up on that for a full week. It also means that for the first time in a while we won't be covering this year's London Film Festival (although I've just heard from occasional contributor Jerry Whyte who will be in attendance and may throw a couple of reviews our way) – it's been a bit of a struggle to catch the festival screenings for the past couple of years anyway, but hobbling around London on crutches and trying to ignore the searing pain in my foot, being confined to evening screenings that I'll have to fork out for long and expensive train journeys to attend makes the very idea too intimidating at present. I'll see how I get on at something called the Pain Management Clinic (which I've already dubbed The House of Pain) next month, an appointment I've waited six long months for. Ah well, it's not like I was in pain or anything...

Which handily brings me to where the site stands at present and how things have altered for us in recent years. When we changed our name from DVD Outsider to the more inclusive Cine Outsider in 2012, we had five regular writers and it was the steady stream of content they delivered and the prospect of spreading our scope even wider that prompted our decision to switch from being a parochial co.uk site to become a more international .com one. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Things have changed a little since then. Most of our previous contributors have moved on to other endeavours, the written review has lost ground in popularity to its YouTube equivalent, and both Camus and I have work and home commitments to navigate before getting down to the reviews we still enjoy writing. We also have had to acknowledge that the disc releases I initially set up the site to cover are on the decline as streaming and digital services gain ground, and while there are still more than enough out there for us to cover (and I mean that literally – there's no way we could review everything we want to in our customary detail), it does mean that the news stories we used to post each day have become a little thin on the ground, reducing our weekly output further.

It's also worth re-stating here that Outsider was never intended as a commercial venture and we have never taken advertising or set up a Patreon account to fund our endeavours. This does mean that the site provides us with no income (it actually costs me money to run), and we and other contributors have to eat and keep roofs over our heads, which is why I still have to devote so much time to a day job that doesn't pay enough to justify the effort I and my pay-frozen colleagues put in. This has made the site feel even more niche than it did before, and almost makes me wish I could now dump the Cine Outsider name and go for something quirkier that better reflects this small-scale nature of the enterprise as it stands. I also like the idea of reverting to a co.uk site, then I wouldn't get all these wearisome American spam emails for drugs, flight simulators, woodworking plans (honestly), weapons, mad fad foods, medical complaints, conspiracy theories and the approaching apocalypse, or those curious ones I get each day written entirely in Russian. But having already been through one identity change, I'm not sure the hassle of doing it again is justified for what would be no more than a cosmetic alteration.

The site continues to be self-maintained in every respect, which also delivers a small share of headaches. The first incarnation of DVD Outsider was created by me on Dreamweaver CS3, and I've used later versions of that same software to make all of the subsequence changes and updates. I'm not a web designer or an HTML programmer, however, and the current incarnation of Dreamweaver (which I only have access to thanks to a subscription through my day job) has become even more of a professional web author's tool. Thus, when I recently decided to act on something that's been bugging me for some time and simplified the front page, I quickly found myself out of my dept. Having inadvertently turned the menu bar links dark blue, for example, I couldn't for the life of me work out how to make them white again, so ended up changing the colour of the bar on which they sit into a lighter colour instead, and now the front page looks different to every other page on the site. And do we really need to keep several years' worth of old news stories on the site? I can't imagine that anyone has a good reason to access them anymore.

In the light of an expensive copyright hit I took recently for an image used on another site I maintain, I'm also having to carefully scrutinise what pictures I post in our reviews and articles, a problem that could worsen if the EU Copyright Directive becomes law next year. If you don't know about this then you need to read up on it, as if passed on the second reading in January (it recently passed the first stage with a sizeable majority) it could fundamentally impact on the concept of a free and open internet as we know it. There's a strong likelihood that it will heavily restrict what can be posted on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter (Article 13 of the bill is being dubbed "the meme killer") and could also be an absolute gift to money-hungry copyright trolls.

For now, however, we will continue to work away at our reviews and post any news stories we think may be of interest. Currently, we have quite a bit on our collective plate, including upcoming titles from Indicator, Eureka and Arrow, a couple of which have (no surprises here) already missed their release date but will be posted anyway. October is approaching and there are quite a few classic and less well-known horror titles on the horizon, including Indicator's amazing-looking Special Edition Blu-ray release of Night of the Demon, a package whose mountain of special features prompted a startled email yelp from Camus after he unknowingly volunteered to take this one on. I'm also hoping to get back to posting a weekly blog (I already have a small backlog of subjects to cover), and it would be nice to revive the High-5 listings we used to upload on an irregular basis.

So, we're back up and running, adjusting to life changes and what could be the evolution of Blu-ray and DVD from the standard format for home cinema viewing into the sort of specialist market once occupied by laserdiscs, one primarily targeted at film devotees, who will continue to buy them as much for their unique special features and their Limited Edition collectability as for the quality of their transfers. The field may have narrowed a little, but the quality of the releases that do appear from the aforementioned labels and the likes of Criterion, Second Run and Second Sight ensure there's plenty for those who still prefer to own richly featured physical copies of films they love, have never seen or have almost forgotten existed to get excited about on a regular basis.