Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Cinephile Business: Streaming, Lists

Thanks to Jaime Christley — who has just fired up a new blog called thefilmsaurus — I recently discovered Hulu Plus. It’s been common knowledge for a while that Hulu features hundreds of Criterion titles that you can stream to your TV. But I’ve also learned that:

(1) Several terrific films not yet put out by Criterion on DVD are available for streaming there, for example: Bitter Rice, Remorques, a half-dozen Naruse films, Welles’ The Immortal Story, etc.

(2) Even better: a large number of titles are streaming in HD.

A quick scan reveals that Japanese cinema is particularly abundant. There are a dozen films by Mizoguchi (most on HD) including The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, The Life of Oharu, Utamaro and his Five Women, and The 47 Ronin; 17 by Ozu (more than half on HD); 9 by Oshima (nearly all on HD); and over a dozen by Naruse. Suzuki, Imamura, Shimizu and Teshigahara are also represented. And Kurosawa is the most generously available of all, with around 25 titles.

All of Rohmer’s “Six Moral Tales” are on HD, as are three great Bressons (Au Hasard Balthazar, Mouchette, A Man Escaped), ditto Buñuel (Simon of the Desert, The Exterminating Angel, Viridiana) and Ophuls (Le Plaisir, La Ronde, Lola Montes).

* * *

Of late, I’ve been confining new DVD purchases to non-region-1 titles. Recent acquisitions in that department include: A Man Vanishes (Imamura, 1967), Before the Revolution (Bertolucci, 1964), Sparrow (Johnnie To, 2008), Our Beloved Month of August (Gomes, 2008), Deep End (Skolimowski, 1970), The Hunter (Pitts, 2010), On Tour (Amalric, 2010), The Banishment (Zviagintsev, 2007), Red Psalm (Jansco, 1972), I for India (Suri, 2005), Up the Junction (Collinson, 1968), De bruit et de fureur (Brisseau, 1988), and vol. 1 of the new Humphrey Jennings collection.

I won't be traveling to and from India this winter, so I'm hoping to have time on my hands to make my way through most of these over the holidays.

* * *

In Tim Palmer’s recent and interesting book Brutal Intimacy: Analyzing Contemporary French Cinema, there is an appendix devoted to a list, prepared by the great French film critic Alain Bergala, of “The 156 Films You Must Have Seen.” It was created as a guide for entering students of the French film school La Fémis. Each filmmaker (with just a couple of exceptions) is represented by only one work.

Bergala writes that these are neither “best” films nor his favorite films; instead he believes them to be the most productive for a contemporary beginner. As with all lists, he reminds us that it is highly contingent and unstable, a starting point for debate and multiplication.

I’m linking to the list at Google Books; the last page of the list is missing, so I’m recording below the films on that absent page:

André Téchiné Wild Reeds (1994)
Jacques Tourneur Cat People (1942)
François Truffaut Stolen Kisses (Baisers Volés, 1968)
Tsui Hark Once upon a Time in China (1991)
Johan van der Keuken De Platte Jungle (1978)
Agnès Varda Vagabond (Sans toit ni loi, 1984)
Paul Vecchiali Drugstore Romance (Corps à coeur, 1979)
Dziga Vertov Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
King Vidor Duel in the Sun (1946)
Jean Vigo L'Atalante (1934)
Luchino Visconti The Leopard (1963)
Raoul Walsh High Sierra (1941)
Orson Welles The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Wim Wenders Kings of the Road (1976)
Billy Wilder Kiss Me Stupid (1964)
William Wyler The Children's Hour (1962)
Valerio Zurlini Family Portrait (1962)

* * *

Your thoughts on streaming films or on Alain Bergala's list above? I'd love to hear them.

* * *

A few links:

-- There's one film and filmmaker on Bergala's list that I'd never heard of: Paul Vecchiali's Drugstore Romance (Corps à coeur, 1979). I notice a Vecchiali box set on sale at Amazon France but alas, without subtitles.

-- Two interviews with Chantal Akerman on her new film Almayer's Folly: by Darren Hughes at MUBI; and Michael Guillen at Fandor.

-- At Catherine Grant's place: A recently updated list of open access film e-books.

-- Caboose has a new project called "Planetary Projection" in which film projectionists around the world are invited to describe their work.

-- (via Cinetrix) Sergey Levchin's account at Senses of Cinema, "I Was a Captive Audience at the 57th Flaherty Seminar."

-- At his blog Journey by Frame, Trevor Link has been running a series of posts on Joe Swanberg's movies.

-- Cynthia Lugo on color and Derek Jarman's book Chroma.

-- James Benning's Landscape Suicide and American Dreams (lost and found) are now on DVD thanks to the Edition Filmmuseum.

-- I just learned that J. Hoberman and Yvette Biro have their own websites.

pic: Almayer's Folly (Chantal Akerman, 2011)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good list. Happy to see Tsui Hark in there (I'd go with Peking Opera Blues instead of Once Upon a Time in China, even if The Blade is my top choice in Tsui works). And I'll always pick Once Upon a Time in the West over The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

November 02, 2011 10:57 AM  
Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

Paul Vecchiali is very worth a look. Great underrated filmmaker. I'm pretty sure one can find Corps à Coeur on the web.

November 02, 2011 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Unfortunately I cannot stream anything on Hulu, being outside of the US. And I really want to see the episodes of Zalman King's CHROMIUMBLUE.COM that were not released on DVD and are available on the website!

November 02, 2011 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Of late, I’ve been confining new DVD purchases to non-region-2 titles. Recent acquisitions in that department include: Back Door to Hell (Monte Hellman, 1964), Armand Gatti Collection (1975-77), Cairo Station (Youssef Chahine, 1958), Touki Bouki (Djibril Diop Mambety, 1973), Dead By Midnight (Jim McBride, 1997), The Penalty (Wallace Worsley, 1920), road To Nowhere (Hellman, 2010), Iguana (Hellman, 1988), and Two Actresses (Xie Jin, 1965).

November 02, 2011 11:09 AM  
Blogger Michael Guillen said...

Great post, Girish. You know I often think of you when I watch Criterion titles on Hulu Plus on my big-ass SmartTV and your prescient entries on internet cinephilia. Moving away from San Francisco meant I had to relinquish the in-cinema press screenings and opt for streaming. I approached it reluctantly but between Dave Kehr's guidance and now this very helpful overview, I no longer feel deprived. It's a whole new way for me to appreciate the moving image. I've been stunned by the amount of Japanese titles available. My only complaint is that I haven't found an easy way to navigate through the Hulu Plus menu bar. Any tips?

November 02, 2011 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Yusef sayed said...

Correction: The Armand Gatti set is Region 2, but it's from France, not the UK. This is the first release on Nicole Brenez and Dominique Paini's subsidiary of Editions Montparnasse and everyone should check it out!

November 02, 2011 11:32 AM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

You might be shocked by the news that I actually bought a R1 DVD. It's for an upcoming piece on another website on, gasp, a Hollywood film.

Some of those streaming titles are scheduled for DVD release in 2012 from what is rumored. One that I am interested in is by Umetsugu Inoue. His Shaw Brothers musicals are available on R3, but there's nothing of his Japanese films. I saw a couple brief clips from his version of Black Lizard, starring Machiko Kyo, which seems closer in spirit to Rampo's book.

November 02, 2011 11:34 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - I think Corps à coeur is a masterpiece. It's one of the few Vecchiali films that had a commercial run in the US, beck in 1984 under the title Drugstore Romance. Few Anglophones have seen many of Vecchiali films, but I believe that the DVD version of Corps à coeur that comes in the French box set with Rosa la Rose, fille publique (another very fine film) and 1983's En haut des marches might have English subs: I know that these films were broadcast in recent years with subtitles. Certainly all of these films, as well as 1974's Femmes Femmes, can be found in subtitled versions with a little effort. In my experience, Vecchiali's films vary quite a lot in tone and approach.

November 02, 2011 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

Thanks for the tip on the Yvette Biro site, Girish. I've been meaning to pick up TURBULENCE AND FLOW for a while now. Might finally do so now.

November 02, 2011 11:36 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Rossellini's Socrates, Nihonmatsu's The X From Outer Space, and Menzies' Things to Come are available on Criterion Hulu...if you haven't seen them I recommend them!

November 02, 2011 11:47 AM  
Anonymous gabe klinger said...

I'll go ahead and say I think it's a pretty conservative list, even with the intended aim neatly stated in the introduction. Impossible to say what's good or not good for students; the canon must be shown but not necessarily as a starting point--it's not how we experience film history, so why force it on students in such a prescribed way? Also, did I miss something or are the first couple decades of cinema missing? Also, there's really only one important Latin American film represented, which shows a blindness on Bergala's part... and nothing from Bollywood??... Anyway, just skimmed the list quickly, so maybe I'm wrong. But see, I'm revealing already some of the basic problems with such lists...

November 02, 2011 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

That is a fantastic list, but, as opposed to Bergala, I do consider many of the titles to be among my favourite films: Not sure I've ever seen Abel Ferrara on a list recently! and WEST OF THE TRACKS. Coincidentally, many of the films I've seen in the past week are on there: SUSPIRIA, CAIRO STATION, THE GENERAL, VERTIGO,

November 02, 2011 11:50 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Bergala's been very interested in how to teach cinema. I sadly haven't read any of his books on the subject, but he's got a few, some of them textbooks on film aesthetics, some of them small essays on showing films at school. It's a very interesting area, and I think that history remains (as far as I know) to be written: the history of film education, not just film studies at university, but attempts to teach film in school, to use film for education in different periods (Night and Fog is probably the film that has played in French schools the most in history, but beyond that?)...

November 02, 2011 11:53 AM  
Anonymous Yusef Sayed said...

"Also, did I miss something or are the first couple decades of cinema missing?"

You're almost right Gabe, aside from the mention of Melies, the Lumiere brothers, Griffith.

Of course, better representation of all of the countries with a history of filmmaking should be continually encouraged, but someone who is new to film could do a lot worse than to be given that list as a starting point.

November 02, 2011 12:03 PM  
Anonymous Gus said...

Did that region 1 version of Kramer's Ice & Milestones ever see the light of day? It was supposed to be released in October but I can't find a link to confirm that anywhere.

November 02, 2011 12:07 PM  
Blogger Jim Gerow said...

I love my Hulu Plus. Besides the many Japanese titles, they have Fassbinder's World on a Wire, Borzage's History Is Made at Night and some Matarazzo melodramas that didn't make it onto the recent Eclipse set. Michael, the onscreen menu for Hulu is quite cumbersome to use. I access my account online where searching is much easier, and add titles to my queue from there. Then the next time I log in on the TV, the additions to my queue are there for easy access.

November 02, 2011 12:34 PM  
Blogger Jaime said...

Hey Girish, I'm getting a lot of traffic from your generous link, thanks for that!

Since I started unexamined/essentials (which is now transitioning to thefilmsaurus) at the beginning of last year, I guess I bought into the idea of the canon as a teaching tool, especially for the autodidacts among us. (Starting with me.)

What I wanted to do, also, was challenge some accepted notions of how the canon is constructed, starting with its supposed size. What sets my project apart from 101 or 1,001 "films to see before you die," or whatever, is that I just kept adding and adding and never stopping. As I see it, the canon should be unwieldy in size, with ill-defined edges.

Type of media and country of origin are two more criteria that need to be obliterated and rebuilt from scratch. I've scarcely scratched the surface with video/experimental/a-g but already my project has about 1,000,000% more from that field than the AFI's tragic lists, or the IMDb 250, or what have you. As for country of origin, again, barely started, but thanks to the patronage of folks like Noel Vera and Bilge Ebiri, I can set people up with a handful of canonical Filipino or Turkish films, respectively.

Blogs like yours, Girish, are an enormous help. Your students are very fortunate - I hope they realize that!

November 02, 2011 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Peter Nellhaus said...

Asia Pacific Films now allows streaming for individual films in addition to their monthly subscription. I wrote about the films from the Thai Film Foundation last February, which I was able to get on DVD. Most of the films at that site are relatively recent, but the Thai films represent some classic work, especially the influential Black Silk.

November 02, 2011 1:24 PM  
Blogger Ryland Walker Knight said...

I second the World on a Wire recommendation; that's why I joined Hulu Plus. Also for the Renoir Stage & Spectacle trilogy.

Haven't bought a disc in forever. Last one was probably the Brakhage Blu Ray.

November 02, 2011 6:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for so many great suggestions and ideas!

I shall reply in more detail tomorrow: I'm off to bed to catch an early flight to go to Philadelphia (my first trip there) for a conference. Shall log in once I'm in Philly. Cheers.

November 02, 2011 10:31 PM  
Anonymous Trevor Link said...

Thanks for the mention, Girish!

Definitely intrigued by streaming. I've been somewhat of a curmudgeon about it because of my slow internet connection, making streaming tedious and HD streaming impossible. I recently watched Swanberg's Uncle Kent on Netflix streaming, because it isn't available elsewhere. But recently, my girlfriend has been watching a lot of Korean dramas/soap operas on Netflix streaming, which points to what I find most interesting about the medium. That there are 10 or more of these dramas is the sort of random phenomenon that makes streaming interesting. I've also recently become completely infatuated with K-pop (Korean pop music), and YouTube has an enormous amount of K-pop music videos (in HD), out of proportion to what one would expect. What's interesting is how many more people in the West might now find out about this stuff than ever before. It's a completely new model for cultural exchange. There's never really been a mainstream medium of distribution in the past that exposed Americans to foreign TV shows. (There are, of course, bootleg DVDs, which are fairly easy to come by if you know where to look--I've casually watched snatches of Vietnamese and Cambodian soap operas at my girlfriend's father's house.)

Now this only relates indirectly to cinema, but you can see the potential. In fact, take a look at Gabe's note above that this list doesn't have many Latin American films. When we talk about "the best films" we necessarily talk about only what we know. I think we tend to have the unavoidable, albeit unfortunate, notion that if we haven't heard about a film or music culture in another country, then it can't really be that good or important. The obstacles are access and distribution, and it's really interesting how when those shift, the agreed-upon "best films" shift in proportion. When I was a teenager (late 1990s/early 2000s), I learned about film from books at the library. I learned about music on the internet, but not so much film, initially. When I finally started using the internet for that, I noticed that a lot of films that were being talked about as great or important were ones I never saw mentioned in those books, and the shift had a lot to do with access, with what had recently become available on DVD.

I really enjoy Jaime's work with Unexamined Essentials/The Filmsaurus; he's set out to create something comprehensive without being authoritative. His lists for each year are too vast for anyone to have seen everything. I read someone describe the shift in film culture ("new cinephilia," if you will) as the shift from a culture of scarcity to one of abundance. Personally, I'd like to see film culture move away from an authoritative stance regarding what's "best" and instead cultivate a more exploratory and personal approach. In this culture of abundance, anyone can learn the "curriculum" of the most important films and watch them, and that's great, but it sometimes leads to cultural ossification: the abundance of knowledge leads to reification/objectification. With more knowledge, some only hug the center more. I dislike the attitude some have today that liking the "good" films (having "correct" taste) somehow ennobles you as culturally superior. It's an easy, "checklist" approach. I like the open-ended approach of the list above; this abundance of knowledge and access should help us explore, making more "wrong" choices and "errors" of taste, rather than assisting us in living up to the monolithic standards everyone can now learn by the time they leave their teenage years. I'd like to see more of these "mistakes," and I think the way streaming gives us new kinds of access (not always the "best" films but often outcasts Netflix considers junk that they put up to add variety and breadth) is an important piece of the puzzle.

November 03, 2011 10:46 AM  
Blogger Michael Guillen said...

Jim, thanks for the tip! That's moreorless what I do with Netflix but I hadn't put two and two together to do it for Hulu Plus. Thanks for helping me pass the math test.

November 04, 2011 1:24 AM  
Blogger Fredrik said...

That was in different ways a refreshing list! I liked that Minnelli was represented by Brigadoon and Welles by The Magnificent Ambersons. Not because they are my favourite Minnelli-film and Welles-film, but because they are not most lists default choices. But of course any such list is always a starting point, not an end point. I wrote a piece on film canon last year and did a list, a very short one at that, as a such a starting point:

Now I feel inclined to do more lists, of both favourite films and favourite filmmakers. To be continued...

November 05, 2011 2:58 PM  
Anonymous cynthia said...

gthanks for the shout-out, girish! And I love Bergala's list, which brings up another interesting dilemma: If you had to choose one essential film to represent a director's work, what would it be? This would be tough to do for genre-hoppers like Ozon and Soderbergh. And though I consider many of the films on Bergala's list essential, if I were strictly limited to one film per director, I would pick different films.

November 06, 2011 1:56 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, all, for so many great suggestions and ideas.

Dan, I found this thread at A_FILM_BY in which you started a discussion of Paul Vecchiali several years ago, and it further whetted my appetite.

Gus, I notice that the Kramer MILESTONES/ICE is offered for sale at Amazon for $27, and is releasing December 6. I'm looking forward to it too.

Jaime, "unwieldy in size, with ill-defined edges" sound like great criteria for any canon.

Trevor, I'm going to have to hunt me down some K-pop.

Cynthia, love your blog, as everyone else does!

Yusef, thank you for the tip on ChromiumBlue; and Peter, for telling me about BLACK SILK.

Re: Bergala's list, I think its conventionality might be defended from one point of view: with a few exceptions (like Minnelli's BRIGADOON, Rivette's GANG OF FOUR) it is intended to initiate new, incoming film school students into films and filmmakers they will frequently hear brought up in conversations around them -- by their faculty, visiting filmmakers, in books and articles they read, etc. Thus this list has, primarily, I think, a highly pragmatic function. But it would be nice to see Bergala create a second list as an adjunct to the first -- an UN-conventional, open-minded, globally minded list -- something along the lines of Zach Campbell's counter-canon (which was intended as a riposte to Paul Schrader's very conventional canon in a issue of Film Comment). That would be great.

November 06, 2011 11:15 AM  
Blogger Jaime said...

Thanks Trevor, Girish! Trevor, I thank you for identifying one of the goals of my project, as coming across as comprehensive without being authoritative. Well, perhaps "authoritative" but not in a way that's limiting and pedantic?

FYI - I hear a lot of criticism being leveled at Netflix these days, regarding its failures in stocking catalog titles and representing foreign cinema. This is, for the most part, a fair cop: Netflix has made deliberate and cynical exclusions of catalog titles and such. However, two pluses:

1) Netflix Instant has an astonishing array of B-movies that were either never available on home video (DVD or tape), or not in any official capacity. These can be readily identified by the fact that their thumbnails don't come from cover art, but from a film frame. These titles range from major auteurist masterpieces (Ophuls's CAUGHT) to 59-minute westerns, UK melodramas, and so forth. Naturally you want to be wary of post-'53 titles if they should be in widescreen but aren't. Also, the quality of materials varies quite a bit from title to title.

What's great about this development is that even cinephiles who've been in the game for decades can treat Netflix Instant like the undiscovered country that it once was, before home video (through and including Blu-ray) confused available art with worthwhile art.

2) Korean cinema - and TV! If you're into the big auteurs, you might think the shelves are pretty bare, but if you just want to dive in and swim, there's a ton of Korean movies and TV shows to explore. South Korea seems to be one of the best-represented Asian countries on Instant.

November 07, 2011 8:55 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

I've yet to check out Hulu Plus; I'm definitely intrigued. Though I remain chiefly, as far as home viewing is concerned, a renter of physical DVDs and a downloader of torrents, I wanted to second Jaime's observation about Instant's vast collection of English-language B-films.

Admittedly, though, I'd rather have Naruse...

November 08, 2011 9:04 PM  
Blogger Jaime said...

"can treat Netflix Instant like the undiscovered country that it once was"

Ergh - I hope people were able to autocorrect this flub in their minds. Meant to indicate cinema as the undiscovered country, etc.

November 09, 2011 10:06 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

It looks like Ray's The Savage Innocents has been added to Netflix instant, for anyone who doesn't own the MoC disc, which is reason enough to get a subscription.

November 14, 2011 6:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

And Ray's RUN FOR COVER, I notice, is also on Instant...

November 15, 2011 8:32 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Actually I just discovered today that both RUN FOR COVER and THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS are being released on DVD by Olive Films in 2012.

November 18, 2011 12:32 PM  
Blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky said...

Man, that Olive Films line-up is something else. Rock-a-Bye Baby? Who's Minding the Store? My Son John!? Important stuff -- more important, one could easily argue, than much of Criterion's recent slate...

November 19, 2011 3:06 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Absolutely, Ignatiy, I agree.

BTW, I discovered it through this handy Twitter page called "ClassicFlix."

November 19, 2011 10:19 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I also agree with Ignatiy. This gets back to the greater conversation about lists/canons. Over the last year or so it seems Criterion has taken a 'safe' route, releasing films that are already available or commonly canonized, and going overboard with their own sequences of hierarchies. Honestly, I think Eclipse and the rarities to surface on Hulu are far more interesting than their spine numbers.

November 21, 2011 12:36 AM  
Blogger celinejulie said...

I have seen only two films by Vecchiali: DRUGSTORE ROMANCE and VICTOR SCHOELCHER, L'ABOLITION (1998), and I like them very much. I'm glad to know that some of his films might be available now with English subtitles.

I also noticed that Miguel Marias listed five films by Vecchiali in his Senses of Cinema's list of 2010. I envy him a lot that he had a chance to see these films.

Scott Foundas wrote a little bit about Vecchiali in the article: THE WAVE WITH NO NAME: SERGE BOZON AND COMPANY in Film Comment, March/April 2011, because "the axis of filmmakers that exerts the most direct influence on Bozon and company is another group of largely overlooked French directors, ..., known informally by the name of the production company that produced many of their films: Paul Vecchiali's Les Films Diagonale.

Foundas also wrote that Vecchiali produced the films SIMONE BARBES OU LA VERTU (1980, Marie-Claude Treilhou) and LE THÉÂTRE DES MATIÈRES (1977, Jean-Claude Biette). I hope that one day I have a chance to see the retrospectives of Vecchiali and Biette.

November 21, 2011 12:07 PM  
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January 18, 2012 11:06 AM  

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