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Auteurist Guide to Hulu Plus

Here are some directors of note whose films are viewable on Hulu Plus’s Criterion channel. Avid home mediaphiles will note massive discrepancies between what Criterion has released on take-home-from-the-store media (laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray) and what you can watch on Hulu Plus:

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Streamageddon: 3.8% Less Bad Than We Thought

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In a purge of catalog titles so epic it caught the attention of the likes of Gothamist, et al, Netflix seemed to hollow out their library of “old movies.” Since the day before what was dubbed, variously, as “Streamageddon” and “Netflixocalypse,” I compiled a list of films, limited to directors of some renown, drawn from, approximately, the first century of cinema. I also made a list of essential/well-regarded auteurs not represented on Netflix, with annotations to let you know which of Netflix’s competitors (Hulu or Warner Archive Instant) offered at least one of his or her feature films.

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Filmmakers Missing from Netflix Instant

Pretty self-explanatory. I put a little note next to the name if at least one of their features is found on Warner Archive (WA) or Hulu (H):

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Auteurist Guide to Warner Archive Instant

Warner Archive Instant is second only to Hulu in target-marketing to cinephiles. Hopefully they will continue to add more quality features – more Lang, more Joseph H. Lewis, Ford, Aldrich, and so on. Here are some key filmmakers represented as of this afternoon:

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Auteurist Guide to Netflix, or Houses Built on Shifting Sands

This list has been updated following “Streamageddon” aka “Netflixocalypse,” or whatever you want to call the great purge of 5/1/2013, when nearly 2,000 titles were withdrawn from streaming on Netflix Instant. Most of the casualties were catalog titles.

Withdrawn titles are struck-through. If I noticed a new title, it’s in bold.

Update 5/2: A few titles have been renewed. They’re in bold, as well. So, at this point, bold means it’s new to my attention following the 5/1 wipe. Some bold titles are entirely new, whereas some were wiped and put back in what I can only assume is due to some revolving-door legal compliance.

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Dario Argento (An Introduction)

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As his one-time collaborator Sergio Leone had already done with the western, giallo icon Dario Argento rehabilitated a depressed genre (horror) using new and improved tools available to European filmmakers in what was, at the time, a fairly new set of industry conditions created by international co-production fever. With continuing advances in production technology (camera, grip, electrical, film stock, lighting, lenses), and their particular specialty, post-production sound, a handful of Italians grew to prominence by taking the long way around the Bergman and Antonioni-dominated arthouse.

Both heir to, and progenitor of, the horror-slasher-splatter mode, Argento’s work is chock-a-block with extravagant set pieces of graphic violence committed against defenseless (usually female) characters, by a perpetrator who remains unknown to the audience, as well as the journalist/detective/busybody protagonist, until the final moments. He would feed inspiration into major American genre films like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, for which he served as a kind of uncle and midwife, and (indirectly) De Palma’s Dressed to Kill. It was the peculiar qualities of Argento’s style that set him apart: with 2nd-rate scripts that were made even stranger through the disharmony of wall-to-wall dubbing (however meticulous), his movies integrated baroque color filters and production design with soundtracks that relied on rock and creepy synth arrangements in equal measure.

Instead of trying to improve on or mitigate the absurdities of a given premise, Argento would double down: in Phenomena, after Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) witnesses a gruesome (and typically ornate, glass-involved) murder, she falls through a crumbling stone balcony, dangling by her torn nightgown from an exposed nail. She’s then hit by a car; rescued and/or possibly manhandled by the car’s German occupants; thrown from it into the woods; rescued by a monkey. This early sequence only hints at the strangeness still to come. Hand Argento a conventional movie, he would be lost at sea. Somehow, the perfect storm of his predilections (nubile maidens put to the tricked-up sword, or the straight razor; an irrelevant limpness of narrative; shock colors and gothic design schemes) gives him sustenance. 

What to see?

Top Tier:

Also Essential:

  • Phenomena (1985) [Blu-ray]
  • Inferno (1980) [Blu-ray]
  • Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) [DVD]
  • The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971) [Blu-ray]
  • The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) [Blu-ray]

Of Interest / Possibly of Interest:

  • Two Evil Eyes: “The Black Cat” (1990) [Blu-ray]
  • Opera (1987) [DVD]
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Hal Ashby (An Introduction)

ashbyWhen you talk about Hal Ashby “the auteur,” the elephant in the room is always going to be his decline and unemployability through the 1980s, brought on by heavy drug use; he passed away in 1988, at the age of 59. During the 1970s, however, following a transition from editor to director that was likely accelerated by his Academy Award for In the Heat of the Night, Ashby helmed many of the decade’s most notable films. His elusive style (or, perhaps, a highly deceptive non-style), characterized by restraint, allows scenes to develop naturally at a respectful distance. He doesn’t push with the camera, often composing and blocking inside telephoto-constrained spaces. It’s no surprise that the editing of his best movies is equally intelligent and sensitive.

What to see?

Essential Viewing:

Of Interest / Possibly of Interest:

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George Armitage (An Introduction)

armitageA more inscrutable major figure in  contemporary American cinema is hard to imagine. One of the less-heralded, but more vital, beneficiaries of Roger Corman’s tutelage at New World Pictures, George Armitage has only directed seven pictures to date, from Private Duty Nurses (1971) to The Big Bounce (2004), and only three since 1980. In broad strokes, Armitage’s direction sometimes resembles the madcap, freewheeling style of the early work of another Corman disciple, Jonathan Demme, except that the controls are tweaked to produce a giddy, anarchy-loving state in the viewer, of a manner that makes Demme’s Citizen’s Band and Crazy Mama seem comparatively sedate. A closer spiritual relative might be John Landis – at least, the John Landis who made Into the Night; we’ve tumbled into some warped part of the moral superstructure, everything is slightly corrupted, beginning with the geometry. That Armitage’s heroes are often misfits and outlaws seems only appropriate – it’s all they can do to keep up with the dissolution and entropy around them.

What to see?

Top Tier:

  • Miami Blues (1990) [DVD]

Also Essential:

  • The Big Bounce (2004) [DVD]
  • Grosse Point Blank (1997) [Blu-ray]
  • Hot Rod (1979)
  • Vigilante Force (1976) [DVD]
  • Hit Man (1972) [DVD]

Of Interest / Possibly of Interest:

  • Private Duty Nurses (1971) [DVD]
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Michelangelo Antonioni (An Introduction)

antonioniLike Bergman, the commentary that surrounds the work of Michelangelo Antonioni, itself substantial enough to fill a library, often threatens to smother the fact that there’s a subject even to be discussed in the first place. Coming to grips with Antonioni’s art is often an exercise in dialing down a lot of white noise, as opposed to (in the case of a less frequently attended artist) discerning shapes from obscurity.

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