BY Richard Austen

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!”

Amazon Prime

La Dolce Vita - available as of 30 May 2020

Federico Fellini’s sister masterpiece to 8 1/2, La Dolce is an unusual kind of film. On surface level, the structure of the film seems quite basic, taking place in chronological order, but there is no connective tissue, and it plays out almost in an episodic fashion. Then you take a look at the Wikipedia and find out that the structure is even weirder than you anticipated.

7 episodes with sub-episodes, an intermezzo, prologue, and epilogue. And that’s just some of what film critics have come up with from the film. Like a lot of films on this month’s list, it will probably take two viewings of the film to really cut into what it’s all about. Perhaps it’s prudent to talk about the ideas of the film rather than the plotting, most of it is incidental anyway. The film is rife with symbolism (Marcello Mastroianni flies a helicopter with a Jesus statue attached to it), ideas about celebrity and bourgeois culture, and the paparazzi. In fact, the very use of the word "paparazzi" in contemporary culture derives from this very film – "paparazzi" suggesting an annoying buzzing insect. The themes surround the idea of the Italian café society, a self-contained world of privilege, ego, and indulgence.

A big hurdle of the film is asking yourself why you should care about any of this, about the characters, about the protagonist’s journey and his relationships. This is something I had to face, and there’s no hard-and-fast way to address it. Maybe everyone’s first watch of the film ends with perplexment and apathy, but coming in with a new mindset, not so much looking into the plotting or narrative, but the connections and emotions of the characters who represent us is a good place to start. This is a film you should come back to every couple of years, with new experiences in life, you’ll have new interpretations, new understandings, and new perceptions of the film that you never could have had before. I think with this film, as well as 8 ½, Fellini above anything else articulated what nobody else could. The ‘good’ life.

“Stay free, available, like me. Never get married. Never choose. Even in love, it's better to be chosen.”

Once Upon a Time in America - available as of 30 May 2020

Sergio Leone’s final masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America stands as a testament to ambitious filmmaking. Ennio Morricone provides a score that is unrivalled, perhaps one of the greatest soundtracks ever created, and it does a lot of the emotional heavy-lifting. Leone in this film creates a nostalgia for a time we never lived, maybe one that never really existed. He presents the Prohibition through a lens in which there is a great beauty and sadness to the friendships between the main characters - a great romanticism of the time, until he hits you with the reality of the world in which the characters inhabit. Leone’s film is certainly heightened and dramatised, but it’s not a simple film. He challenges the viewer’s perception of the characters, especially through the protagonist’s treatment of women throughout the film; perpetrating irredeemable acts so that we as the audience understand the nature of the people that we root for in these types of films. The gangster Robert De Niro plays isn’t the kind of flawed anti-hero of older mob flicks, but instead, he plays very similarly to James Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano, a perpetual liar, and a hypocritical sociopath with a joke of a code.

A key scene in the film is when a young man, Dominic, buys a small cake for a woman, but as he waits for her, he cannot help himself; at first, licking bits of the frosting, hesitating to take the candy cherry, then relinquishing to his weak will, and eating the whole thing. It stands as a good thesis statement for the film.

It’s an epic story, chronicling the friendship of a group of young men during the Prohibition era, and the world of crime.

The run-time of almost four hours may be prohibitive to some, but fear not, the pacing is great, and you won’t feel it at all. The current cut of the film presented on Prime Video is essentially the best version currently available, and any shorter cut is a compromise on the piece of art that Leone has created (I’m still holding out for the six-hour cut). The craftmanship of this film is outstanding. Made in the 1980’s this film has the best, most fully-realised Prohibition recreation you’ll ever see. The cinematography is iconic, and Leone has such a mastery of the zoom, it’s really quite something to behold how he does it, and the gamut of emotions he can convey in such a simple technique. When you’ve finished the film, you’ll remember the very opening act as a fond, distant memory; Leone somehow has a hold of you the entire way through, and when you’ve come out at the end of the epic story, you realise, only one word can encapsulate the film. Saudade.

“I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs.”

Walkabout - available as of 30 May 2020

Nicolas Roeg’s masterful journey through the Australian Outback is, along with Wake in Fright, among the greatest of Australian films made during the 1970’s. Roeg’s exploration of adolescence and juxtaposition of city-dweller life against a harsh life in the desert allows for him to create images of striking beauty.

This is a very heightened kind of a film, appealing more in a visceral sense than in an intellectual or narrative sense; there’s a poetic intensity that inhabits the frames. Jenny Agutter brilliantly plays the naive protagonist of the film, and along with Roeg’s own son, portray two children stranded in the desert, fending for themselves (rather poorly), until they meet a young, friendly Aboriginal man. Relationships develop, a sense of intimacy is always ever-present in the background, and it builds up until the final scenes of the film, with a heartbreaking epiphany of what the Aboriginal boy has done. The score by John Barry (of James Bond fame) is a rich orchestral piece that works excellently with the film, and in the final scene, the song ‘Back to Nature’ works brilliantly set against the poetry of A. E. Houseman.

Walkabout was a hugely controversial film when it was released for two reasons; its on-screen killing of animals and its filming of naked, underage children. Firstly, the killing of animals throughout the film is not on a massive scale, it’s a couple of kangaroos and realistically depicts a traditional Aboriginal practice of hunting. The nudity is perfectly acceptable in this film because it works as an excellent idea about the innocence of the children when in connection with nature, it's not sexual at all, and the film wouldn’t work without it. Roeg is ambitious, takes chances, and doesn’t compromise with this film, that’s why it’s a masterpiece, and that’s why we’re still talking about it 50 years later.

“Into my heart an air that kills, From yon far country blows: What are those blue remembered hills, What spires, what farms are those? That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain, The happy highways where I went, And cannot come again.”


Spartacus - available as of 30 May 2020

Stanley Kubrick famously disowned this film, its creation was mired with competing egos, an extremely long production period, and a fired director, yet somehow Spartacus works amazingly well. Kubrick’s directorial style seems mostly absent in this film, instead, being taken over by the ‘Hollywood Epic’ style of the period (as seen in Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments).

What makes this film stand along-side the great epics of all time is its writing. Dalton Trumbo’s dialogue is precise, grand, and delivers a plethora of memorable quotes. The structure and the plotting of the film are incredibly strong; I tend to find that a lot of older ‘epics’ don’t age very well in this regard, but Trumbo’s deft ability to weave such a compelling web of a narrative is brilliant. The narrative is quite subversive in its plot threads, and its ending is something completely unexpected for a film of its time. Kirk Douglas stars as the titular Spartacus, a slave from birth who is recruited as a gladiator and then leads a slave rebellion against the patricians of Rome: an excellent premise, with good, although only ever cursory explorations of themes of slavery and civil unrest. The acting is really just excellent in this film, full of (as Joey Tribbiani would say) ‘smell-the-fart’ acting; completely overdramatised, and scenes with Laurence Oliver teeter on the edge of the ridiculous. An interesting bit to look out for is during Tony Curtis and Laurence Oliver’s bath scene, the restoration of this controversial scene came without any audio, so Curtis had to record his lines again, and in the place of Oliver, who had since passed, Anthony Hopkins recorded a great Olivier impression! I absolutely adored each actor’s performances in this film, most of all Peter Ustinov, who plays the wonderfully meek and droll Batiatus. Although this is more of a Trumbo/Douglas effort rather than a Kubrick work, the film is one of the great epics of all time, and a must-watch.

“Who wants to fight? An animal can learn to fight. But to say beautiful things, and to make people believe them...”

Kanopy (UNSW)

Mamma Roma - available as of 30 May 2020

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second feature, Mamma Roma is an Italian neo-realist classic. Anna Magnani plays one of the most iconic characters in cinema, and the film is in fact a dedication to Roberto Rosselini’s Rome, Open City, which also features Magnani in a similar role.

Magnani is Mamma Roma, a boisterous, overbearing mother who tries to begin a new life with her son, meanwhile, the son begins to fall in love with a local girl (who Mamma Roma disapproves of). The film is a study of Magnani’s character, her internal strength that she feels when tied to her son, and how it crumbles with her son’s love of someone else. Even being such an early film in Pasolini’s catalogue, his preoccupations with sexual taboos, and thematic crudeness is evident. This film is full of prostitutes, pimps, thieves and ‘hicks’. Instead of what had become in the neorealist movement as the ‘noble’ poor person, only temporarily embarrassed of their riches, Pasolini provides a revealing and touching look at these flawed, characters. A great neorealist piece and a solid work in Pasolini’s canon.


“I know why you wanted it. Fool. At your age, the only woman you need is your mother. Forget about women. You don't have the brains to understand them. They're all tramps! Each worse than the one before. Is that clear?”

SBS on Demand

Playtime - expires July 2020

Jacque’s Tati is like Werner Herzog and his Fitzcarraldo, an insane dreamer whose efforts are mostly unappreciated because of their absurdity, and in Playtime, it’s as if you are revelling in the true dream of a dreamer. Tati constructed (quite literally) a small city as the setting of this film, precise in its architecture of windows and boxes, as if it were really Paris. The failure of the film placed him in debt for the rest of his life, and he would only make one more widely released film after it. There isn’t a narrative in sight with this film, no thread to pull you through it, no protagonists or antagonists, just a setting and a place in time. The city is more a character than any of the recurring people, its vectors and neon signals a source of the ridiculous and the absurd in life. The film is genre-less, as if an alien had made it, only ever making you smile in amusement rather than guffaw from its visual gags. There are so many sight gags and subtle moments in the backgrounds of the picture that the film becomes incredibly dense, and requires multiple viewings to see most of what is going on; maybe on first watch you will become impatient and turn it off, but keep returning to it, and it will definitely become a rewarding experience.

           “How do they say ‘drugstore’ in French?”


Brief Encounter - expires February 2021

One of David Lean’s earliest films, Brief Encounter is a study of style and damned good storytelling. Lean would go on to make the greatest film epic of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, and it’s incredibly interesting to see how Lean could tell such a stripped back story with Brief Encounter, essentially with only three characters and about five sets.

The narrative of the film follows a married woman, Laura Jesson, played exquisitely by Celia Johnson who one day meets a charming man, and falls in love. I’ll concede that although yes, this is a pretty tired cliché at this point, the performances, dialogue, and style of the film are simply wonderful and allow you to overlook the simple premise. The cinematography of the film is flawless, there is a stunning black and white visual style with incredibly lighting, and it has one of the most iconic uses of the canted/Dutch angle cinema history. The scenes between the seemingly platonic lovers are incredibly romantic and touching, and its influence on modern cinema is undeniable, with films such as Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love and Todd Haynes’ Carol liberally borrowing from this film. It’s really no wonder this is seen as one of the great British classics. Don’t let the age of it sway you, this is a lovely film.

“Whatever your dream was, it wasn’t a very happy one, was it?”

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