Our local cinephile, Gregory, came to us with this fantastic list of Film & TV literature to get us out of the (seemingly) endless void of streaming options available to us right now. He’ll do the de-cluttering, all you have to do is pick a place to start! Let’s begin!
Home streaming and quarantining are getting along like a house on fire right now. Usually, I’m a die-hard video store guy, but even I cannot deny that home streaming was designed perfectly for this social distancing situation we are all finding ourselves in at the moment. I’ve spent plenty of nights doing my best “Tony Soprano eating ice cream” impression on my couch while scrolling through endless amounts of streaming content options. And the truth is there’s just too much content available to us and it’s preposterous to attempt to watch it all!
So, at this point you’ve probably re-watched The Office for the twelfth time. Or Joe Exotic has become Joe Banal. Or you’ve found yourself looking at title after title after title on your preferred streaming site and now your eyes are fried from staring at the screen for the length of a movie! So, here are a few recommendations that’ll help guide your streaming experience. These titles will take you off the crowded path of Netflix, may expand your knowledge of film and TV, all the while helping you cut to the bone of some seriously good material that is more than just content.
Roger Ebert’s Great Movies series
As a professed cinema lover of all kinds, I pride myself on my knowledge of the medium and the joy I’ve gotten out of the rich history of it all. When someone asks me where to begin with their own cinema education, I always point to the late Ebert’s essays on the best of the best that cinema has to offer as a starting tool. Paired with The Criterion Channel, these essays will take you through classic Hollywood cinema from musicals to film noir to Technicolor melodramas. He also covers the greatest hits from the canon of foreign language art cinema as well as The New Hollywood
cinema and blockbusters. Each essay Ebert elaborates on what makes these movies important to the history of the entertainment medium as well as the effect they had on him as a viewer. These nostalgic pieces show just why Ebert is still the only film critic to win The Pulitzer Prize. A good place to start here is with City Lights or Seven Samurai.
House of Psychotic Women by Kier-la Janisse
If you know me, then you know I’m a rabid fan of horror flicks (I co-host the staff Halloween Movie Marathon every year). Now, I love this genre from the most unnerving offerings to the bygone sleaze-fests, to the schlocktastic so-bad-they’re-good flicks. Growing up as a product of the video store era, I think it’s a shame that so many have disappeared in the world of streaming. We’ve even lost one of our last local pillars of this culture during the quarantine (RIP Vulcan Video, you will be gone but not forgotten).
Thankfully, we have the great minds at Shudder to get our horror fixes. But go one step further and snag what may be the GOAT of horror cinema examination: Janisse’s treatise on some of the darkest films in the horror genre, tackling subjects of assault, mental breakdowns, and repression and how they are both exploited and spotlighted in cinema. This isn’t an introduction to the genre as a whole, so you won’t find your basic-ass horror films here. This is Janisse coming to terms with her own experiences with assault and finding how the art of cinema tackles the subject of violence and women. Sleep during the day and stay up all night with flicks like Audition and All the Colors of the Dark.
This one is off the beaten path for many TV viewers. But The Venture Bros. is the most slept on show of the last two decades. In addition to being one of the best coffee table books around, it has episode-by-episode discussions with the creators, the ins-and-outs of every pop-culture reference, breakdowns of design concepts, and spreads of each gorgeously painted backdrop. The show is free to stream on Adult Swim right now, so set your TV to stun and start with the classic first episode, Dia de los Dangerous!
This series is great for our film director obsessed culture.
If you’ve ever wanted to work your way through a director’s filmography, look no further than The University Press of Mississippi series. Featuring big names like Steven Spielburg and Martin Scorsese or art house darlings like Mike Leigh and David Lynch or towering giants of cinema like Agnes Varda and Ingmar Bergman, these interview collections are a great guide to get you through bodies of works and read the director’s thoughts behind them. My personal recommendations are the Jean-Luc Godard or Andrei Tarkovsky interviews and catch the flicks on The Criterion Channel.
Last, but certainly not least, it’s time to talk about The Sopranos. With the release of the Talking Sopranos podcast and the fact that the show is free right now on Hulu, it’s about time for everyone to watch or re-watch the best show in television history. Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz, two of television’s most revered critics (Sepinwall was one of the first journalists to cover the show), dropped The Sopranos Sessions last year, an episode by episode guide to the show written without spoilers so the book can be appreciated by seasoned viewers as well as first-timers alike. These pages are filled with just as many insightful nuances as the show itself: probing the performances, the metaphors, the music cues, and the psychological depth of its characters. As one a narrative-heavy show, there is nowhere to start but at the first time Tony visits Dr. Melfi in episode one. And if you’ve already been through The Sessions and want something similar, grab Zoller Seitz’s similarly structured Mad Men Carousel.
Ultimately, yeah, our lives have all descended into a monotonous bog at the moment, but our streaming choices don’t also have to feel the same way. I hope everyone is staying safe and sane during this time. And even though some great streaming choices won’t change our ice cream consumption right now, hopefully these titles will keep our streaming choices engaging.
These titles and more are all available to order from BookPeople today.
Gregory is a sales floor manager and heads the Internet Orders department at BookPeople. He’s quick with book, film, and TV recs, enjoys a good cup black coffee, and enjoys spending time with his dog, Rhodes.