Streaming Suggestions is a month-by-month series of recommendations for film lovers and those interested in expanding their horizons.
While I assume most readers will have at least one of the popular streaming services, I understand that some don’t, so I have also included excellent free services such as Kanopy (UNSW) and SBS on Demand.
Raging Bull - available as of 30 May 2020
One of the greatest films of all time, Raging Bull represents the second masterpiece collaboration between Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas), Paul Schrader (First Reformed) and Robert De Niro (Meet the Fockers). This is prime Scorsese; boundless creative vision combined with slick, effective storytelling. Just how Scorsese filmed the boxing scenes is ingenious, creating a physically larger ring in order to allow more fluid camera takes from the perspective of the boxer; because Scorsese had disliked previous boxing fights in films always being from the spectator’s perspective rather than the fighters’. The fight scenes are some of the best ever made, with an extremely theatrical sensibility, and bring an intimacy to LaMotta’s battles. The narrative of the film follows Jake LaMotta’s rise to fame and tragic, self-destructive downfall, to becoming a pathetic, down-beat comedian. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time editor really shows that she’s one of the greats with this film, it’s a great film to see even just for its masterful editing. This is a film you need to see more than once, and when you do, you’ll find that each frame becomes imbued with a beautiful brutality and profoundness.
“You didn't get me down, Ray.”
Persona - available as of 30 May 2020
At once Ingmar Bergman’s most accessible film, but also his most impenetrable. Persona is a demonstration of Truffaut’s idea that film is indeed “a ribbon of dreams”. Bergman creates an impossible jigsaw puzzle of a film, film historians have tried to come up with coherent interpretations of the narrative and themes, but none have seemed to realise the full picture. Maybe there isn’t one. It’s this air of mystery and ambiguity that haunts the very frames of the film. The narrative of the film follows a young nurse entrusted with the care of a well-known actress who is seemingly mute. They move into a cottage, and a strange feeling overcomes the nurse: that she is almost becoming the actress. It’s a wonderful idea, but the narrative never really concludes, there’s no ‘true’ climax, and the film doesn’t care about being narratively satisfying. I think Pauline Kael is correct in her comments on the film, in that ‘it is not so much what the film is about but the quality and intensity of the image’. The film is replete with Freudian and Jungian ideas that can be psychoanalysed any which way but there’s no true answer (this may be why psychoanalysis seems to have more clout in the realm of literary and filmic criticism than it does in real psychology). Films are a highly constructed medium, but I find a yearning to find the absolute meaning of them, a futile venture; mystery, ambiguity, and meaninglessness is what allows feeling and emotion to thrive in pieces like Persona. It’s very first scene begins with puzzling, striking images; a nail struck into a hand, with obvious religious connotations, a boy trying to sleep but his bedsheets are too short, and a hand touching the screen of the film. What do these images mean? Is Bergman the boy? Is the boy a substitute for the audience? Who knows, there is no answer. That is the beauty of the film.
“You know what I thought after I saw a film of yours one night? When I got home and looked in the mirror, I thought, "We look alike." Don't get me wrong. You're much more beautiful. But we're alike somehow. I think I could turn into you if I really tried.”
Bay of Angels - available as of 30 May 2020
Jacques Demy was one of the main directors associated with the French New Wave, however I don’t think his heart was in the same place as Jean-Luc Godard or François Truffaut. Demy’s films are deceptively simplistic, their subject matters never quite as intellectual, but the emotion, style and storytelling was where Demy excelled. Bay of Angels represents a solid early picture for Demy before he really went ham and made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort (two of the greatest musicals ever made). Bay of Angels follows a young man’s spiral into gambling addiction as he falls in love with a mysterious woman, played by the fantastic Jeanne Moreau. Michel Legrand’s thumping score is at times intrusive, but propels the film forward and helps with the pacing. Not exactly a masterwork, but an excellent introductory film to Demy’s canon and a good entry point for French New Wave cinema.
“One chip is enough to make me happy. As for the rest…”
Fitzcarraldo - available as of 30 May 2020
One of the most dangerous film productions ever undergone, Fitzcarraldo is Werner Herzog at his maddest and most brilliant. Klaus Kinski stars as Fitzcarraldo, a dreamer, someone who is the placeholder for Herzog’s own dreams. Fitzcarraldo wishes to create an opera in the jungle, and to have Enrico Caruso be in it. In order for this to happen, he reasons he must become a rubber baron and believes it is his destiny to drag a steamboat up a steep hill to an inaccessible area of unexploited rubber trees. Why not disassemble the boat and reassemble it on the other side? Why not have lots of small boats? Why not just build a canal?
Because the central conceit, image, and metaphor of the film would be destroyed, dreams are beautiful and worth fighting for, in spite of reality. The very image of that steamboat being pulled up the hill is one of the most powerful in cinema. The production of the film is as fascinating as the film itself, spawning an incredible documentary about the making of the film, aptly named, Burden of Dreams; yes, they did pull an actual steamboat up a steep hill, and yes, they had it crashing into cliffs down some rapids in the Amazon. Further anecdotes include natives offering to kill Kinski for Herzog because he had become such a tyrant during the filming, and a man sawing his own foot off after being bitten by a snake. And that was just what happened behind the camera. The story itself works as an excellent parable and an astonishing accomplishment. Werner Herzog is a madman and a true soldier of cinema, willing to risk everything for a stupid dream, but what would the world be like if we didn’t have people like him?
“To Fitzcarraldo, the Conquistador of the Useless!”