Even before the shelter-in-place shutdown, I hadn’t been inside a movie theater much at all in 2020. Part of the reason for that was simply that I was seeing quite a lot of really good stuff via streaming, disc and the occasional preview screener. Of course, with the theaters closed, “going to the movies” is now entirely a matter of DVD, BluRay and streaming.
For devoted film buffs, serious and otherwise, that’s been an unexpectedly good thing so far; with the commercial blockbusters put on hold, there’s a much greater array of art films, foreign language gems, low-budget indies and enduring classics within easy reach of anybody anywhere who wants to see them.
A local example is the “Virtual Screening Room” on the Pageant Theatre’s website which has already brought us a dozen or so really interesting new films, as well as a return visit of one of the year’s very best, the antic Beanpole from Russia. I’ve been especially impressed with Bacurau, the politically volatile “neo-western” from Brazil; The Whistlers, a dark-humored and stingingly quirky police story from Romania; the Polish Corpus Christi, in which an incarcerated gang banger is mistaken for a young priest and proves outrageously effective in his impersonation; and Sorry We Missed You, Ken Loach’s wrenchingly earnest portrayal of the plight of a “gig worker” and his family, from the UK.
Film reviewers everywhere are providing tips and recommendations on streaming sites and particularly noteworthy films. My favored go-to sources for reviews and information when the theaters are open—The New York Times and The New Yorker—have been admirably energetic in their reviews of streaming sources and specific films. The heroic efforts of Richard Brody in this regard (in The New Yorker’s weekly online edition) have been especially noteworthy.
I haven’t yet gotten around to following Times critic Manohla Dargis into the wonderland of early cinema (with titles going all the way back to the late 19th century) available for streaming through the website of the Library of Congress film archive. But I have had the distinctive pleasure of finding The Texan (1930, with Gary Cooper and Fay Wray) turning up on one of the Starz western channels.
This hybrid western/south of the border romance, based on an O Henry short story, had been out of circulation for most of the last 90 years, but now we can see for ourselves (on Starz and Amazon Prime) that it’s one of the enduringly vibrant films of the early 1930s and that it’s fully worthy of keeping company with such early western standouts as The Virginian (1929, also with Cooper) and In Old Arizona (1928, and also based on an O Henry story).