Hey guys! and welcome to the Popula Netflix Corner. New this week on the site: a travel show about wellness and the environment hosted by Zac Efron himself! Amazing! Also in the Netflix world: BlackRock, Inc. still owns over 18 million shares, and they’re still the world’s largest investors in coal plant development. Did you know they’ve been called the “biggest driver of climate destruction on the planet”?
Just joking around, gang! We do not do that here. The Popula Film Club was founded for the express purpose of providing you with excellent streaming alternatives to nefarious sites like Netflix.
Originally, I was inspired by the fresh release of a dubiously-categorized “documentary” to fashion my debut at the Film Club around the highbrow theme of what does and does not constitute “non-fiction,” notions of the true and the false, etc. But then I realized a couple of other films I love, which have little or nothing to do with my lofty thematic ambitions, are available on non-plutocratic streaming services worth supporting. So now the theme of this week is just that all of these movies are really good.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (dir. Bill and Turner Ross, 2020)
via Film at Lincoln Center ($10 rental)
A slice-of-life bar culture film challenges independent filmmakers to answer the burning question: Who can most effectively recreate the boozy intimacy between regulars of a dive in order to become the crown prince of SXSW?
Ross and Bill Turner are the latest entrants into the fray with their new film Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, a bluesy bar-napkin portrait of the last day in the life of a Las Vegas-local watering hole called Roaring 20s. In this stylish, carefully observed film, a group of melancholic characters filters in and out, and the cameras follow as they share their stories, laugh, cry, argue, dance, hug, fight, and pass out.
Roaring 20s is not actually in Las Vegas, and is in fact still open; much of the critical discussion surrounding the film has focused on its qualifications (or otherwise) as a “documentary film.” But the Turner brothers don’t seem too fussed about genre purity. As Bill Ross recently told The Guardian, “Everything’s a fucking documentary.” Perhaps it’s best to just think about Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets as a successful experiment in deist filmmaking.
Film at Lincoln Center is a New York City-based film society offering new releases in their virtual cinema through Altavod, an online platform designed to give filmmakers direct control of distribution.
In Jackson Heights (dir. Frederick Wiseman, 2015)
via Kanopy (subscription required, through university or public libraries)
Frederick Wiseman, exactly unlike the Turner Brothers, absolutely refuses to interfere with his surroundings. The legendary filmmaker’s much-discussed methods boil down to 1) going to a place, 2) staying there for a good long time, while 3) quietly filming literally everything, before 4) trying to put some of the footage together in a way that evokes how it really was.
Wiseman’s not so much concerned with events or individuals as with institutions: in the past he’s lent his attention to the operations of psychiatric hospitals, police departments, trauma wards, juvenile courts, ballet schools, boxing gyms, etc. He’s made over forty diorama-like documentaries this way.
Jackson Heights in Queens, NY, is often described as “the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in the world.” 167 languages are spoken between the 110,000 people who live there. In Jackson Heights is eight weeks’ worth of footage shot there and condensed into three hours. It’s not only one of the finest films about America ever made, but about community anywhere. It should be packaged up with all of Wiseman’s other work, printed on a golden record, and blasted off into space in hot pursuit of all that other stuff we chose in the 70s to show what life is like on Earth to whoever else is out there.
Kanopy is a streaming service that offers free films through partnerships with universities and public libraries.
Election & Election 2 (dir. Johnnie To, 2005 & 2006)
via MUBI (subscription required, trial offered)
Sure, it’s lonely at the top—but maybe what’s more important is that there’s no such thing as a legitimate way of getting there. In these classic gangster films, director Johnnie To is less concerned with the crime and more with the organization.
Election portrays a mad dash to power between rival gang members in search of the dragon-headed baton that traditionally signifies leadership; meanwhile, the organization’s elders try to maintain dignity among the ranks, as the cops can only hope to keep a lid on things from a safe distance. As with any mob movie worth its salt, twists and turns and false allegiances abound. In the equally dynamic and suspenseful Election 2, a would-be figurehead tries to orchestrate change from the inside, to arrive at a less bloody but somehow even bleaker conclusion than the original.
Unusually for the genre, both films are mostly devoid of firearms and all their easy potential energy. Instead, everyone carries cleavers, needles, and hammers, in case you forgot how much more interesting on-screen dirty work is when a character has to really put his back into it.
MUBI is a streaming service offering hard-to-find films.
Leningrad Cowboys Go America (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, 1989)
via Criterion Channel (subscription required, trial offered)
This week I happened across a video of Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, in which he is plainly drunk and unhappy at some kind of festival, but generously sitting for a spontaneous interview with two starstruck cinephiliac teenagers asking bad questions, which I found inspiring. This reminded me of my favorite film of Kaurismäki’s, Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
This quirky, pretty, pleasant film follows the Leningrad Cowboys, a Soviet polka band invented for the picture, as their selfish child of a manager takes them from Siberia to America in order to play absurd concerts and find success. Once there, the stoic bunch find themselves on a road trip through the South, during which they familiarize themselves with regional musics, fashions, boozes and jails.
Criterion Channel is an online streaming service from the Criterion Collection, which focuses on licensing and preserving “important classic and contemporary films.”
Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (dir. Shirley Clarke, 1963)
via Internet Archive (Free)
More than a documentary! Simulate hanging out with someone else’s grandfather by watching Shirley Clarke’s Academy Award-winning film, Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World.
In this film that will remind you of falling asleep in school when the lights were turned off for the projector to be used, Shirley Clarke—working completely out of her element here, by not being particularly innovating or exciting—follows multiple Pulitzer-winning poet and Congressional Gold Medal recipient Robert Frost at the end of his life, as he speaks to a couple of student groups and goes about his day at his home in Ripton, Vermont, making coffee, petting dogs, and talking about growing up on a farm.
A completely lovely forty minutes; I’ve seen this film in its entirety two or three times. However I would also like to attest to its usefulness as a sleep aid: The warm underlying static in the audio track mixed with Frost’s calm, congested narration makes for natural ASMR. When using medicinally, I usually give out at about the thirty-minute mark, around when he starts collecting crabapples in a wheelbarrow to throw at the tree stump.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library whose humble goal is to “provide universal access to all knowledge.”
The Popula Film Club brings you worthwhile options to stream, chosen with a view to quality, and to withholding as much money as possible from the oligarchs and monopolists of Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and the like.
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