Not willing to risk your life to go see Tenet in theaters? Not willing to pay a hundred dollars to watch Indiana Jones for the twentieth time at a drive-in? Want to just stay home and watch something that’s not whatever news just happened?
Well here at the Popula Film Club we’re happy to humbly offer you some streaming options for which you do not have to directly bank out cash to the richest people in the world. In fact, many of these things are free to watch, and even educational! So you’re basically getting paid! This is money in your pocket, plus enlightening and beautiful works of art! You’re welcome!
The Bunker Films (dir. Jenny Perlin, 2020-2021)
via The Kitchen OnScreen (Free)
The World: can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Unless eating canned food in a fluorescent-lit, condo-sized coffin meets your criteria of living, in which case you may be interested in viewing Jenny Perlin’s Bunker Films more as infomercials than documentaries at the fringe.
Two of the three films, Your Friend Milton and Ed of Subterra, are portraits of men already occupying spaces intended to survive the end times. Milton has just left his family in Chicago to start a new life in one of nearly 600 munitions bunkers on a tract of South Dakota ranchland, while Ed is at ease in the 14,000 sq. ft. former missile silo he’s lived in for over twenty years. Closely observed—if in part perhaps a direct result of shooting in confined spaces—these are portraits of people who seem truly at home living where weapons were supposed to go.
In DOUBLEWIDE, though, Perlin looks at Rising S, a Texas-based company that manufactures and installs bonafide underground lairs for those with enough spare change kicking around to afford luxury apocalypse insurance. The film is a bit like watching the raw footage of an HGTV show hosted by Werner Herzog. At one point, before showing off an installation-in-progress, a title card reads: “I’m told not to reveal the location or film outside the bunker.” In the shot immediately following, Perlin kind of does.
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (dir. Chad Freidrichs, 2012)
Via Anthology Film Archives (Free)
The words “unfortunately timely” or “sadly relevant” applied to history-minded documentaries make me think of a critic squirming in a theater seat, just itching to get back to the keyboard and bang out some striking, brilliant connection between Then and Now. While some nonfiction filmmakers underwrite this kind of blurb by using modern newsreels and media figure interviews, in The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, an evergreen work about the rise and fall of St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects, Chad Freidrichs takes a lean, rigorous approach to his subject.
Tracing the compounded failures of architects, policy experts, politicians, suburbanites and city dwellers through archival footage and testimonials, Freidrichs’s film documents the impossibility of creating social housing that works and lasts in the modern world. In eighty minutes he provides constructive criticism through crash courses in urban planning, social psychology, and the postwar reconfiguration of American cities. The film points a lot of fingers but offers no easy answer to the question of exactly who was responsible for the downfall of such a promising public development, ultimately reading more like doctor’s orders than an autopsy.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry (dir. John Woo, 1979)
Via Criterion Channel (Subscription required, trial offered)
For years in Hong Kong, John Woo was typed as a comedy director and prevented from shooting the gangster film of his ambitions. In an effort to break out of this niche, he found himself working on Last Hurrah for Chivalry long after martial arts pictures had fallen out of vogue; he approached the project with his influences on his sleeve. In many ways this was Woo’s dry run for the later smash hit A Better Tomorrow, only by way of his great mentor Chang Cheh.
The film offers set piece after set piece of wild bromantic action, each with its own setting and gimmicks: there’s a bare-knuckle cage match, a boss fight in a candlelit room that turns creatively pyrotechnic, and even a narcoleptic enemy called “Sleeping Sword,” to which Woo once credited the drunkenness of his writers room. It’s an incredibly fun early showing of all the iconic action director’s got to offer–including, naturally, no shortage of slow motion and doves.
Criterion Channel is an online streaming service from the Criterion Collection, which focuses on licensing and preserving “important classic and contemporary films.”
You, The Living (dir. Roy Andersson, 2007)
Via Mubi ($3.99 Rental)
In You, The Living–the second film in a trilogy that does not need to be seen in order or even all together–Roy Andersson brings us life in the Swedish city of Lethe through a series of tenuously-connected vignettes, shot on sets designed mostly from memories of places. In these stories the people seem dead, or as though they’re being dreamed. Their faces are pallid and matte and they populate spaces lifelessly. In one scene, a woman in a nursing home in tears hopelessly begs her senescent mother to recall an event, any event from her own past that will prove she is still something more than a shell of a person. In another, a man stuck in traffic recalls a nightmare in which he is sentenced to death for botching the tablecloth trick at a dinner party.
Andersson’s shots are like Far Side strips sketched by Edward Hopper, bleak and crushing and hopeful and genuinely hilarious all at once. But they’re not just a collection of evocative single-panels: together they form a narrative that runs counter to Sweden’s reputation as a nation of peace and harmony, and serve as a humanist statement against self-loathing. If you like it, good news: Andersson is nothing if not consistent.
MUBI is a curated streaming service that offers hard-to-find films.
The Hitch-Hiker (dir. Ida Lupino, 1953)
via Kino Now ($5 Rental)
“This is the true story of a man and a gun and a car,” begins Ida Lupino’s Hitch-Hiker. “What you will see in the next seventy minutes could have happened to you. For the facts are actual.”
Often hailed as the only film noir directed by a woman, Hitch-Hiker has secured itself a place in the public domain, meaning a fuzzy copy of the picture is not hard to come by. But Kino Lorber’s beautiful new restoration of this classic is well worth the cheap rental: the brutal light of the Nevada desert and chiaroscuro climax on the docks demand to be seen in a resolution greater than 240p. This is post-war realism at its most stripped-down: true crime produced independently on a nothing budget.
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.
Please send your recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, POPULA FILM CLUB.