Happy Independence Day, America. We’re celebrating the long weekend with a movie playlist from different alt streaming services you might have missed. Whether you need a break from the charred meats, explosions, and day-drinking on the beach, or you prefer a quiet holiday at home, these are the films you can watch right now for free or extremely cheap — and most services offer a free trial. Dig into these documentaries, sexploitation films, musicals, and more.
Bill Cunningham New York (2010)
The recently departed New York icon Bill Cunningham could always be found riding his bike through the city, armed with a 35mm camera. The photographer’s candid street photos became a mainstay of the New York Times’ Style section for nearly 40 years. Director Richard Press’ documentary takes audiences inside Cunningham’s humble apartment and reveals why Cunningham was worthy of the “living landmark” designation.
The Beaches of Agnès (2008)
Agnès Varda, “grandmother of the French new wave,” is featured in Fandor’s Spotlight on Women Filmmakers series. The Beaches of Agnès is a playful, but poignant examination of the director’s life on her 80th birthday. From Roger Ebert’s heartfelt essay on Varda:
In The Beaches of Agnes, there is a sequence in which all of her children and grandchildren, dressed in white, perform a slow ballet on the beach, and Varda dances behind them, dressed all in black. And that’s all I need to say about that. Many times when we see her in the film, she is walking backwards, as the film itself walks backwards through her life, and as she perhaps sees herself receding from our view. But her films will not recede, and neither will Varda.
The Shallows director Jaume Collet-Serra is a guest curator this week on Shudder, an all-horror streaming service. His recommendations include Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, about a man who becomes trapped in a nightmarish time loop. “Timecrimes isn’t just fun to puzzle through, it also asks the audience to consider whether we really want to look closely at the person we used to be, even just earlier in the day,” writes critic Noel Murray.
Exploitation.TV is a unique streaming service from the folks behind Vinegar Syndrome, the distribution company and film archive working to preserve classic sex films and more. The curators recommend watching Mister F this week, which sounds like a sleazier version of Tinder (if you can believe that): “Mister F’s Dating service can find you just the right love partner, if you have the cash to afford it. In this sexploitation film we see the ins and outs of his dating service, which match’s the sexiest woman looking to fulfill your every need.”
Spotlight on Ken Burns
Watch a must-see collection of work by filmmaker Ken Burns, including his Peabody winner The Central Park Five, about the harrowing effects of systemic racism, and the PBS documentary Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, about three radio pioneers in America.
The Decline of Western Civilization
Penelope Spheeris’ vivid portrait of the punk rock scene in Los Angeles during the late 1970s and early 1980s alternates between concert footage and interviews with notable bands (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Germs, and more). Spheeris also shines a spotlight on the oft ignored women of punk. From our interview with the filmmaker:
I remember [punk] being the time when, all of a sudden, it’s OK that a girl wears combat boots and shaves her head. It doesn’t have to be Playboy beautiful in order to be cool. That’s what I remember most. Yes, there were moments, as there are in all slices of society where women are treated badly.
Humanoids from the Deep (1980)
Roger Corman, affectionately known as King of the Bs, is the legendary producer and director who gave cinema’s biggest icons their start — including Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. He launched his own YouTube subscription channel where you can watch the Corman-produced B-version of Jaws, called Humanoids from the Deep. It’s part nasty exploitation film, part ’50s/’60s monster movie throwback, part social commentary — if you don’t mind wading through the slimy creatures who attack nubile bodies on the beach, and we don’t.
From TCM on the 1937 musical romantic drama Maytime, about an opera star’s manager, who tries to stop her romance with a penniless singer:
Singer-actress Jeanette MacDonald gave much of the credit for the success of MGM’s Maytime (1937), one of her biggest hits with frequent co-star Nelson Eddy and her personal favorite among her movies, to director Robert Z. Leonard. ‘He was not only one of the ablest directors but one who, being a singer himself, was deft and sympathetic in his handling of the musical phases of the story,’ MacDonald once said. ‘He didn’t believe in the iron-handed technique. Mr. Leonard always kept us pliable and spontaneous.’ Leonard, who had sung with the California Light Opera Company before entering films as an actor in 1907, directed two other films starring MacDonald and Eddy, The Girl of the Golden West (1938) and New Moon (1940); and two other MacDonald vehicles, The Firefly (1937) and Broadway Serenade (1939).