Welcome to “FilmStruck,” or, what was that movie I always meant to watch?
Thanks to its five-year partnership with the Criterion Collection, Hulu used to be my go-to streaming service for classic, international and hard-to-find movies. It was a godsend while working on film class papers in college because it meant I could replay Jean Renoir scenes to my heart’s content, all from the convenience of my own bed. Still, the highbrow Criterion content always seemed like an awkward presence on a platform geared more towards replaying cable hits like “The Mindy Project” and the “Daily Show.”
Enter FilmStruck, a joint venture between Criterion and Turner Classic Movies. Launched last November, the streaming service markets itself as a cinephile’s internet paradise, or at least a place to catch Film 101 online. Like Sundance and IFC channels of yore, it aims to bring independent movie theater culture to your own home, but this time with greater choice and the instant gratification of VOD.
The catalogue features big international names ranging from Kurasawa to Kiarostami, but also more recent titles such as Pelo Malo and Blue is the Warmest Color. The curated thematic spotlights read like an art-house cinema series, whether it’s a tribute to the director Wim Wenders, or a celebration of films from contemporary Iran. I was just saying to someone that I know very few films that deal with the Troubles; FilmStruck neatly provided me with “A Movie History of the IRA.”
I bought my FilmStruck subscription in December and it’s become one of my favorite ways to spend a few free hours--because, really, who can begrudge you for killing time in the name of culture? Yes, the Film 101 powerhouses like Fellini, Godard and Renoir are all there, but I’ve been pleased to find the works of some of their less-celebrated contemporaries such as Jean Vigo, Marcel Carné and Vittorio de Sica.
Some of the films’ availability comes with an expiration date, and I do wish FilmStruck provided better notice of these time limits (I recently missed my chance to watch The Grifters.) It will also probably take some time for major international hits like Elle and A Man Called Ove to make their way into the library, although the presence of The Great Beauty is certainly promising.
Here are a few films I’ve recently caught on FilmStruck:
The Man Who Knew Too Much - Alfred Hitchcock, 1934
Very early Hitchcock, and a little scrappy per the standards of his later work. I particularly appreciated the ski resort scenes, a setting Hitchcock would return to later with Spellbound.
Two English Girls - François Truffaut, 1971
Truffaut’s dreamy recreation of fin-de-siècle France. The love-triangle dynamic mirrors Jules et Jim down to the repetition of certain lines (“I’ve always loved the nape of your neck, the only part of you I could look at without being seen”), yet the film succeeds as a standalone work. A very clear influence on Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.
Beauty and the Beast - Jean Cocteau, 1946
The classic French fable comes with some serious psychological baggage, and Cocteau does not shy away from it; his Belle et la Bête explores obsession, bestiality and captivity. At the end, we wish the prince had stayed a beast--and so does Belle, it seems. Also nice to see Cocteau never dropped the statues with moving eyes thing even when Surrealism was long over.
The Conformist - Bernardo Bertolucci, 1971
This was one of those films where I felt the need to watch it again as soon as it was over. Bertolucci asks us what can drive an otherwise reasonable person towards Fascism, while providing no concrete answers. A young Dominique Sanda has the face of a Tamara de Lempicka portrait, but the real star of the film is the cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. His vision of 1930s Europe is a perfect fusion of sumptuousness and geometry, and each shot is a mini-masterpiece.