As a rule of thumb, viewing a movie in a large dark room with a large white screen where an ever-changing stream of moving pictures is being projected is the best way to experience film. Of course, this isn’t always possible. Some films only play in the big city; some towns don’t boast a movie palace befitting the name; and even for cinema’s olympians, it’s usually only on special occasions that even their canonical films get screened. It’s nothing compared to viewing art films and video installations, which generally only make darkened appearances in galleries and museums, or to banned and censored works like In the Realm of the Senses, which after over three decades, is still not viewable uncensored in Japan.
The good news is that movies are increasingly taking up positions in the ether of the internet, in little corners and crooks; some legal, others quite under the table. This goes far beyond Netflix, which we’re all well aware of and know has an excellent selection. The fact is, there’s a time and a place for the internet’s phantom cinematheque — solving problems of access, like the Act of Killing being made free to stream and screen anywhere in Indonesia (where, because of its revealing portrait of national elites, it will not receive a traditional release in Indonesia) or housing the more than 800 Criterion Collection titles on Hulu Plus. For those times, a list to help guide you in the wide world of internet viewing:
The general idea is that Hulu is to television as Nexflix is to film. This is increasingly not the case as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are quickly proving Netflix to be a television innovator while the Criterion Collection’s partnership with Hulu is a stupendous cache of film by even Netflix’s standards. Discovering that Shoot the Piano Player, Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, WR: Mysteries of the Organism, The Spirit of the Beehive, and Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe are available to stream and view at home is a joy and convenience I rank with learning to love the Netflix sea change. It’s not the whole Criterion experience, but for $7.99 a month, it’s an deal worth the smallm compromise.
In the same vein, but for a little less change ($4.99 a month, to be exact) there’s also Mubi, a curated, evolving collection of thirty films — one new film introduced every day, each lasting for thirty days. As of today, this means, the “online cinematheque” is bringing you Manoel de Oliveira’s Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, Bill Ross IV’s Tchoupitoulas, Jacques Ricard’s Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinémathèque and many other inspired selections of acclaimed, lesser known, or hard to come by movies. A little curation does the movies good. Just don’t slouch or the movies will be gone.
For the cinephile on the cheap, there’s Snagfilms. Thousands of film — the inimitable Night of the Living Dead, D.W. Griffith’s towering landmark of early cinema Intolerance, Haneke’s original, sneering Funny Games, the delightful Bill Cunningham New York—are available free to stream, all at good quality. A very fair price for what is a pretty admirable list of films.
YouTube’s high quality, diligent competitor recently rolled out a new feature on its website: Vimeo On Demand. The new service allows artists and creators, nearly all of them independent, to put their work up for users to digitally rent or own. Price vary from $3 to rent and $7 and up to own. So far, On Demand’s names and titles may not be the most famous or familiar, but it’s an exciting and optimistic model, and works like A Teacher, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, and Oxyana have received acclaim and notice on the festive circuit. Surely sometime to check into now and in the future.
Speaking of YouTube, there’s more movies there than you might have guessed, even for those who already know you can come by a slew. How long, due to copyright matters, they’ll remain is another matter. The real surprise, though, is the number art films and videos rubbing tubes with cat videos and Justin Bieber. Over at Flavorwire, Reid Singer put together a great list of art films viewable on the internet, with most of them appearing on YouTube. For example: Chris Burden getting shot (aka “Shoot”), Andy Warhol’s Blowjob, Kiss, and Eat, and most/all of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, which otherwise is only available at rare live screenings, bootleg editions, and $500,000, very special editions.
For an all art’s dedicated, neat database of film and video, ditch YouTube’s anarchy for Ubu. Sun Ra, Marina Abramović, Andrea Fraser, and Steve Reich are all there — so it’s still weird, uncanny, and fantastic, if not totally comprehensive. Fraser has only two videos, for example. But just look at the list of names. It’s more than enough to keep you busy and thinking.
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There’s the list. There are, of course, other places — Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Crackle, among them — and I won’t begrudge you visiting them, though they are importantly different. Just remember, as with nearly all things: consume with moderation; don’t neglect the fibre of your visual diet, the movie theatre; get out every now and then to the light of day. Enjoy the movies.
Editor’s note: As a commenter on our Facebook page pointed out, there are many other resources for watching indie films online, including www.fandor.com. We’d also recommend the National Film Board of Canada’s excellent site for NFB-funded flicks, www.nfb.ca.