The bad news: the novel coronavirus has disrupted life as we know it, and will for the next couple months. But, you’ve gone to the store, you’ve stocked up for the long haul, you’ve washed your hands and you’re social distancing yourself just like you should. Now, it’s just you and the looming thought of having to stay indoors and watch wall-to-wall COVID-19 coverage.
The good news: Never has there been more access to media, information and entertainment, all from your perfectly self-quarantined home, and all available with the click of a button.
We always say a film festival has a little something for everyone, but a festival can’t hold a candle to some of these services. Even better, most offer free trials, anywhere from 14 to 30 days, which ought to help when the cash flow starts to dry up. Not to mention, watching cinema is a profoundly human activity. It opens you up to new experiences and new people, empathetically connects you with a past long forgotten or misremembered. And it’s much safer than binge-watching Food Network and HGTV.
Settle in, you and that couch are about to become very close friends. Enjoy the ride.
The Criterion Channel
Specializing in American classics, powerhouse foreign films and independents galore, The Criterion Channel boasts one of the most eclectic libraries around. Start anywhere, really, but make sure to swing by the Directed by Agnès Varda collection, especially her sensational smash, Cléo From 5 to 7. This year’s Conference on World Affairs was to mark the 25th anniversary of the conference’s signature panel, Ebert Interruptus. Cléo was slated and would have paid tribute to the late great Varda (who died in 2019 at the age of 90). It also would have been the first time a film from a female director was the subject of Interruptus. But, alas, it is not to be. That doesn’t mean you can’t love Varda and Cléo on your own. Heck, host your own Cléo Interruptus. Not quite the same as CWA, but it’ll do in a pinch.
Five more to find: The Life and Death of Col. Blimp; Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters; I Walk Alone; A Hard Day’s Night; Wendy and Lucy
Public libraries are grand, but you can’t go to one right now. You can visit Kanopy, the library’s online streaming service. It’s spectacular, and it’s completely free to use. Just sign up with your library card and dive into a collection so diverse it’s bonkers. From criminally underseen independent gems (The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Bisbee ’17) to nearly lost noir gems (The Man Who Cheated Himself and Woman on the Run). Watch them all, but make sure to carve out time (you have time) for Mark Cousins’ 15-hour documentary, The Story of Film. It’s like mainlining a collegiate-level history of cinema class.
Five more to find: Bill Cunningham New York; The General; Charade; A Ghost Story; Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
Also available through the public library, Hoopla is an excellent resource for audiobooks, e-books, comics and a whole lot more. It also has movies — lots of them. Start with Jafar Panahi’s masterful This Is Not a Film. Focusing on the gaps and intersections of isolation and human interaction, Panahi’s films of the 1990s and 2000s drew ire from the Iranian government. They put the filmmaker under house arrest and banned him from making movies. But abstinence proved impossible for the incarcerated Panahi and This Is Not a Film was his shot across the bow. It will stir your soul, and maybe even your creative juices while spending those days longing for human interaction.
Five more to find: Dial M for Murder, Loving Vincent, A Man Called Ove, The Host, Penguin Highway
Public domain is the cinema’s greatest double-edged sword. With no controlling interests, these movies can be freely traded at low costs, but no one can truly make any money restoring, preserving and properly releasing them to a home market. Enter rarefilmm.com, the cave of forgotten films. Here’s where you’ll find all those titles they wax rhapsodically about on TrailersFromHell.com — and they’re all free.
Start with Moolaadé, a Senegalese drama from director Ousmane Sembene. It’s the story of an African tribe governed by old men and old traditions. But the women outnumber the men, and they’re a heck of a lot smarter. The time for revolt has come. It’s glorious, comical and incredibly prescient.
Five more to find: They Won’t Believe Me; The Big Sky; Getting Straight; Destry Rides Again; Nausicaa
Sign up now, and you’ll get three months of Mubi for $1. Not too shabby. And considering that Mubi is a handpicked streaming service with 30 films to choose from (each day, one title expires, and another is added), it’s quite handy if you’re the type to spend more time trying to decide what to watch than watching whatever it is you settle on.
Where to start? The Last Man on Earth, naturally. Adapted from Richard Matheson’s short story, I Am Legend — arguably one of the greatest short stories ever penned — director Sidney Salkow both managed to pull a measured and pitch-perfect performance from Vincent Price while using desolate urban landscapes to create a genuine sense of emptiness and desolation. These scenes were shot in Rome, which only adds significance to modern-day viewing.
Five more to find: Rosa Luxemburg; Outrage Coda; The Quiet Earth; Guilty Bystander; The Toxic Avenger