Home Viewing: A Guide to the Guides

Jean-Pierre Léaud in François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959)

Throughout most of the western world, the coronavirus crisis is going to get worse before it gets better, but let’s allow ourselves a brief, very cautiously optimistic glance at the first light faintly beaming from what we hope will turn out to be the end of the tunnel. In the New York Times, Javier C. Hernández is reporting that, for the first time since this crisis began three months ago, China is now seeing “no new local infections.” And as Rebecca Davis reports for Variety, a small number of the country’s movie theaters are “experimenting with soft re-openings.” Yang Yang, who programs the Broadway Cinematheque in Beijing, tells her that “every province and region is at a different stage of epidemic prevention, so the requirements for re-opening will vary. It’s more likely that over a period of time, cinemas will slowly, progressively re-open.”

The virus has only begun to run its deadly course in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world, and it will be weeks, or more likely months, before most theaters can even begin to consider such experiments. Empire is running a heartfelt plea from director Edgar Wright to all who are able to support our local cinemas during the shutdown. “Why not buy a membership for yourself, or for someone close to you,” he suggests. “Buy some gift cards. Donate where you can. Consider, if you can afford to, not asking for your unlimited subscription to be refunded. Yes, you may not be able to go back in the coming months, but you’ll feel better for having helped now than if you later found your local church of cinema had been forced to close for good.”

As noted in Tuesday’s overview of the immediate impact of the crisis, cinephiles are now relying on home viewing to satiate our desires—no, our needs!—and critics have been drawing up lists of recommendations. Naturally, we hope you’ll be turning to the Criterion Channel as one of your go-to streaming services, and there are two guides to the selection out there that complement each other perfectly. At Vulture, Brian Tallerico has updated his annotated list of “one masterpiece each from fifty illustrious directors.” Here’s where you’ll be reminded of those essential titles you’ve been meaning to catch up with for years, and even better, Tallerico has added to each entry a simple list of all the other films by the same director currently on the Channel. Right at the top of his list, for example, you’ll find his notes on François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959) followed by a string of over a dozen more Truffaut films that’s meant to, as he puts it, “encourage completists.”

The other list comes from contributors to Slant who recommend twenty-five “underrated movie gems” on the Channel. Whether or not you’ll get around to watching them all, the list serves as a succinct and informed series of introductions to the work of such too-often-overlooked filmmakers as Larisa Shepitko, animator Suzan Pitt, Oscar Micheaux, Heinosuke Gosho, Arturo Ripstein, Karel Kachyňa, and Robert Downey Sr.

A few more guides have caught our eye:

  • The New Yorker’s Richard Brody writes about five “comfort movies” that have “the settled and solid quality of classics (despite the narrow assumptions on which such classicism is based)—movies serious enough for the mood, compelling enough to provide ready distraction, and confident enough to look beyond the troubles that they evoke.”
  • Time’s Stephanie Zacharek focuses on Hollywood classics made during the Great Depression and offers “just a tiny sampling of movies that helped people in the United States, and elsewhere, get through one of the our most emotionally debilitating eras.”
  • The Belgian site Sabzian has been wandering way off the beaten path and has put together a guide to resources around the world currently streaming experimental work, documentaries, and short films.
  • One of the latest episodes of the “At Home” series from the Film Comment Podcast features a “comfort recipe” for a dish to savor while watching Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) or Guy Maddin’s 2017 remake, The Green Fog.
  • Curators and producers at New York’s Museum of Modern Art have come up with a dizzyingly eclectic round of suggestions.
  • Recommendations from the staff writers at RogerEbert.com range from Michelangelo Antonioni through The Barbara Stanwyck Show to a twenty-hour docuseries.

Meantime, the editorial team at Little White Liesis going the extra mile with the launch of its “Movie Matchmaking Service.” Drop them an email “with details of what sort of film you’re in the mood for,” and one of the magazine’s writers will reply “with a suggestion of something that fits the bill.”

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