Welcome to Flavorwire’s “Streaming Cinema Playlist,” an occasional feature where we offer suggestions for supplementary online viewing to a new film, sometimes with the assistance of the filmmakers themselves. This month, we take a look at several films that inspired the great Michel Gondry — both throughout his career and in the making of his new picture Mood Indigo — and we’ll direct you to where you can watch them right now.
Zazie dans le métro
When I asked Gondry about specific influences on Mood Indigo’s look and style, this 1960 film was the first thing he mentioned. “There was this director called Louis Malle who did this movie adapted from a book by a similar type of writer as Vian called Zazie dans le métro – Zazie in the Subway – who uses a lot of practical effects, and it has a stream-of-consciousness element to it.” Zazie is available on DVD and Blu-ray via the Criterion Collection, so it’s part of their Hulu Plus library; you can also stream it for free (with ads) on SnagFilms.
“I thought, of course, of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as well,” Gondry told me, and the influence of both is all over Mood Indigo — particularly the former, whose mechanical ingenuity and physics-bending gags were at their best in this slender, sharp, and pretty-much-perfect 1924 comedy. It’s streaming on Netflix (along with The General, Steamboat Bill Jr., Our Hospitality, and several other Keaton classics), and can be seen in its entirety on YouTube (above).
The Charlie Chaplin Collection
You can watch several of Chaplin’s finest features on Hulu Plus, but for sheer comic inventiveness, it’s tough to beat his early short films, assembled in this haphazard but invaluable Netflix collection. Some of the shorts — particularly the early Keystone efforts — are a bit on the clumsy side (though the film that debuted his “Little Tramp” character, Kid Auto Races at Venice, still holds up), but the later efforts for Mutual (One A.M., The Rink, The Pawnshop) are among the finest comedies ever made.
Singin’ in the Rain
“And I could go to Wizard of Oz or Singing in the Rain,” Gondry said, “where you have a lot of practical effects as well. All those musicals from this very rich era in filmmaking, or like the Busby Berkely choreography – all that had a great influence on me – in general and specifically in Mood Indigo.” Not like we need much of a push to go watch Singin’ in the Rain (it’s streaming on Amazon).
“L’Atalante is a movie by Jean Vigo,” Gondry told Dazed Digital recently, “which was made with very little money in the late ’20s. It’s completely magical. It’s a simple love story on a boat travelling in the Channel, it’s sort of surrealist by with a very simple meaning. The main character Michel Simon is just magical. It’s one of the most magical movies I’ve seen.” It’s part of Hulu Plus’ Criterion collection and is streaming on Amazon.
“Kes,” Gondry told Dazed Digital, “is about a young boy living in a very poor, hard part of England and has no future. Already they go to the education centre at school and they start to discuss the welfare state as they are unlikely to have a job. This kid seems uninterested by everything he studies but then one day the teacher asks them to write about something they like in life. He has this bird he found, a kestrel, which he starts to train. Suddenly this shy boy is beaming and tells a story which is completely above everyone else’s stories. Everyone is completely stunned as he’s been asked to talk about something which is his only interest in life. His teacher starts to visit him and it shows how important it is to give people the opportunity to talk about something they love, or you may miss them completely or never get to know them. It’s a beautiful story. I love Ken Loach so much, his type of cinema doesn’t really exist in France, most movies in France are mostly about the bourgeoise.” It’s streaming on Amazon.
RoboCop/Back to the Future
Lest you think Gondry’s viewing diet is entirely filled with nutritious foreign art-house fare, note that he told a ComicCon crowd in 2010 that his two favorite films are American studio pictures from the 1980s: “My love of movies is in making movies in America with a [studio] system. My archetype of a great movie is RoboCop and Back to the Future. Those are maybe my two favorites. RoboCop definitely is a comic book and Back to the Future is not but the approach is quite close to this universe in Green Hornet. It’s not that far off. There is a spirit that I can understand.” Both RoboCop and Back to the Future are streaming on Amazon.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
And we close out our Gondry playlist with (sadly) his only film currently streaming on Netflix — an inventive documentary of a conversation between Gondry and linguist/author Noam Chomsky, illustrated with animated drawings by the filmmaker himself. “This is a movie that celebrates the life of a great mind,” wrote the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis, “and makes a case for the mind that knows less but keeps on asking.”