The online film streaming service FilmStruck is shutting down by the end of November. In the accounts that I’ve read so far, no explanation for the site’s closure has been offered beyond mention that FilmStruck was a “niche” product with no place in the WarnerMedia-AT&T merger. No one has suggested the site didn’t make any money. Rather, it seems nothing in the entertainment industry has the right to live if it can’t be scaled. This blunt message is why so many of its subscribers took the news of its closing so personally.
Many avid movie fans have been critical of the idea of streaming services. Once your subscription ends, the texts vanish. If you want a personal archive of films, they advise, you need to buy disks. “Never trust streaming,” Richard Brody warns us, “Own or lose.” Today movies are either film stock or data. The choices between them are as much moral as aesthetic. More than any other streaming service, FilmStruck approached the model of the repertory theater, with its thematic programming and careful projection of films on their original medium. The site was a curated archive, but an incomplete one. I discovered several directors I’d never seen before. When Seijun Suzuki died recently, FilmStruck was ready with a selection of his best films. I saw Pierre Etaix, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Takeshi Kitano for the first time. I finally got access to Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water and Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner.
However, exploring Lubitsch’s work isn’t much easier on FilmStruck than any other service. Nicholas Ray is currently represented by a single film, The Lusty Men. There are no films from the French silent avant-garde available or much from the French New Wave, not to mention the West German cinema of the 1960’s or African cinema from any period. Recent American independent filmmaking is poorly represented. The same for recent international cinema. FilmStruck would be the perfect vehicle for Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour. And don’t get me started on the shortcomings of its streaming technology.
So FilmStruck wasn’t without its frustrations, but it will certainly be missed, at least in the shory term. The Criterion Collection figures to resurface in another streaming service. TCM is already major media asset, so it may also reappear as soon as the proper programming can be put together around it. What will really be lost is the frame around which FilmStruck put its films, making its catalog seem larger and more interesting than it would have been using a Netflix-style algorithm.
FilmStruck won’t do a final collection of films you must see before it dies, but below are some suggestions for FilmStruck films you should see before the service dies.
The New York Times’ Reporters’ Recommendations
- Wong Kar-wai, In the Mood for Love: Beautifully shot, this story could only happen in its particular place and time.
- Vera Chytilová, Daisies: Insouciant and endlessly inventive, it might be the exact opposite of a film you would imagine coming from behind the Iron Curtain.
- Jean Vigo, Zero for Conduct: Sums up the Dadaesque spirit of the French silent cinema and points to the Poetic Realism of 1930’s French cinema.
- Seijun Suzuki, Branded to Kill: Lurid and psychedelic, a gangster movie like no other, except maybe the next film.
- Jean-Pierre Melville, Le samouraï: Made by a Frenchman who understands, and loves, the tropes of American crime movies.
Suggestions from Twitter
- Lina Wertmüller, The Seduction of Mimi
- Ousmane Sembène, Xala
- Yasujiro Ozu, Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
- Satyajit Ray, Three Daughters
- Mai Zetterling, Scrubbers
- Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Moses & Aaron
- Pierre Etaix, As Long as You’ve Got Your Health
- George Cukor, The Women
- Gillian Armstrong, My Brilliant Career
- Frank Borzage, History Is Made at Night
- Ernst Lubitsch, Cluny Brown
- Tony Richardson, A Taste of Honey
- Claire Denis, Nenette et Boni