Saturday, May 5

Streamathon - Underseen Americana

Streamathon - Underseen Americana

Underseen Americana (May 2018)

Preface: This is part of an ongoing blog series of curated movie marathons that are thematically or otherwise tied together. The other common factor tying these films together will be their availability to watch them all from the comfort of your own home on various streaming platforms. The goal is that writing this blog will somehow justify the excessive number of streaming platforms I subscribe to. The films will be found on some combination of NetflixHuluAmazon Prime VideoMubiFilmStruckShudder and/or Fandor. These titles will be available for the month that the blog is published. All of these subscriptions offer free trials so feel free to dive in and follow along… Have fun. Just don’t message me for my login information.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

I’ve done just enough travelling around this country to realize how possible it is to step off of a plane somewhere and into a completely different world. Different regions have different values and tenets and the people that make this up are even more diverse. Cinema, like any other art form, is created through the societal lens. It can and should serve as a window into this world’s lesser seen landscapes. These are some films that celebrate those little corners of our Nation that most will never experience first-hand.

The Stream

45365 (2010)
Directed by Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross – Streaming on Vimeo

The title refers to the zip code of Sidney, Ohio, the small town that the filmmaking brothers grew up in. This is a documentary without any real narrative. It follows a small judicial election, the high school football season and about a half dozen other small day-to-day dealings of the various locals. The filmmakers never interject, just quietly observe. It’s hard to articulate what works so well here and why this film is so engrossing. It is filmed through an obviously affectionate gaze for the community, warts and all. I don’t know if the audience is supposed to share in that affection but it’s impossible not to appreciate the love on display.

Directed by Kogonada – Streaming on Hulu

In case you didn’t know, Columbus, Indiana is a mecca of modern architecture. If you already did know that, you are likely a student of architecture or you’ve seen this film. I made the point last month that Parker Posey is a national treasure. This film seconds that motion with a small but critical performance. Haley Lu Richardson however is somewhat of a revelation.  If you are going to set a film amidst the backdrop of all of these beautiful structures, you better be shooting it with interesting angels and blocking. Cinematographer, Elisha Christian does just that with confidence and grace. This is a melancholy story and the camerawork and score treats its characters and setting with weight and respect.

DOWN BY LAW (1986)
Directed by Jim Jarmusch – Streaming on FilmStruck

The acting trio of John Lurie, Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni probably seems pretty odd for anything other than a Jim Jarmusch film. His specific sensibilities just seem to make it work beautifully. Honestly, I could have picked a number of his films to fit this topic. He has a knack for exploring many of this country’s lesser known settings. In this one, we are treated to the underbelly of New Orleans, Louisiana. The dilapidated motels, back alleys and swamplands are shot in some the most gorgeous and crisp black and white cinematography by Robby Müller. Eighties Arthouse has never looked so good.

Directed by Sean Baker – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

I think this ended up as my favorite film from last year. It tells the story of the impoverished communities that live in the shadows of the happiest place on Earth.  The extended stay motels of Orlando, Florida provide our backdrop for what is ostensibly a heartbreaking story. But to this film’s credit, it never seems to pity its subjects, nor does it glorify them. The film’s heart is in newcomer Brooklynn Prince’s “Moonee” but its soul is found in what may be Willem Dafoe’s best performance ever. And that’s a pretty big deal.

GOOK (2017)
Directed by Justin Chon – Streaming on Netflix

There is no shortage of movies that take place in the City of Angels. This one however, is a few miles and a couple of light years away from “La La Land”. This is a small story taking place in LA’s Koreatown during the Rodney King Riots of ‘92. Written and directed by its star Justin Chon, this film reminds me a lot of the best Spike Lee films from the nineties.  This script is far more mature and well-grounded than what most would expect from a young filmmaker. 

Directed by Kelly Reichardt – Streaming on Amazon Prime Video & Hulu

This is an unfortunately underseen and underappreciated film that tends to get forgotten amongst the nineties American independent movement.  There is really no reason that Kelly Reichardt’s name shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath of Tarantino, Smith or Sayles. The title refers to its location, a strip of the Florida Everglades not typically camera-ready. The story Reichardt tells here is small, quaint, often times funny and absolutely heartbreaking. Most importantly, I feel that this film is comfortably relatable to the large swaths of us that grew up in the less than picturesque landscapes that are rarely seen on the big screen.

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