As someone who writes about movies and TV on a consistent basis, I tend to take a very regimented approach to my media diet. With the surfeit of good new stuff and good newly old stuff to consume, I treat my leisure time with precious care, careful to make sure I’m using it in a productive way. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that everything I watch I feel the urge to write about. But I do want to feel that what I’m watching is edifying in some way, that it’s contributing to my filmic or televisual or greater cultural knowledge—unless it’s airing on MTV, in which case I’m watching it because I can’t help myself (even then, I tend to write about it).
One refuge from the dizzying, anxiety-inducing excess of the new that I feel is nonetheless an entertaining and effective use of my time is FilmStruck, an almost year-old subscription-based streaming service from Turner Classic Movies. Think of it as Netflix for oldies, foreign films and arthouse rarities, the type of movies you’d otherwise find in the occasional screening at well-curated local cinemas or video rental stores, both of which are being forced into early obsolescence. (I still think video stores will, like record stores, stage a comeback as a novelty, popping up in first in Brooklyn or Portland as a twee object of derision before being adopted in hip pockets across the country. But that’s neither here nor there.)
As a 25-year-old, I’m coming at most of these movies for the first time. Some of the classics a precocious young viewer might’ve seen in generations previous—like Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura or Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ or really anything from John Cassavetes—were all new to me, vaguely familiar from miscellaneous articles but ultimately foreign. Many, but certainly not all, of these films are housed in the Criterion Collection, that continually growing compendium of important classic and contemporary films, which jumped over from Hulu when FilmStruck was launched.
Keep in mind, the service is relatively new. The collection is not nearly as vast as Netflix or Amazon, and the search function is still very rudimentary. They haven’t yet adopted algorithms akin to those on Netflix, which recommend movies based on what you’ve watched previously. Depending on how you look at it, that can be a good or bad thing. The categories, too, are somewhat basic, although that can come as a welcome relief; sometimes, I find, the categories on Netflix are strangely, almost unnecessarily specific.
One great aspect of FilmStruck, however, is that it does feel curated, in a way that befits the content library. On a homepage carousel, there are frequently shifting collections, based on a specific director or genre. For example, at the moment, there’s a collection of Punk Films, a collection of films from Greece and a collection of films from “director of the week” Shirley Clarke. If you’re willing to try something you’ve never heard of before, which is part of the appeal of the platform anyway, this can be an extremely fruitful function. I recently explored a “First Films” collection, which rounded up the first films from famous directors, like David Lynch, the Coen brothers and Christopher Nolan, whose low-budget, black-and-white crime drama, Following, offers a fascinating glimpse into the narrative liberties Nolan would take in subsequent films. The experience is not unlike being guided by a supremely knowledgeable critic, who happens to have an endless library of DVDs at his disposal.
So if you’re feeling worn out from trying to keep up on every new show or movie or Netflix original, give FilmStruck a try. It’s a great gateway to film history. Plus, it isn’t conducive to the sort of bingeing you might partake in on other streaming platforms, both because of the pace and density of the films themselves, and the fact that it’s simply not possible to binge ten Godard movies in one sitting.
Please, do not take that as a challenge.