They go by a lot of different names, film society, movie club, cinemateque; the places where you can see films that won’t play the multiplexes and may never even arrive at the local Art House. In Paris, a city that has has more movies showing on any given day than any other city in the world, it might be a hole in the wall on the Champs Elysees, still screening Hollywood Film Noir classics years after their last North American appearance was in a Video store remainder bin.
They are the places where those who love film gather to worship, celebrate or learn the craft.
When I was 15, I joined the Regina Film Society. It was my chance to put on a black turtleneck and act all precocious, angsty and sophisticated. They met every other Sunday night through the winter at the Roxy theatre, a place I’d probably been the previous day, most likely to see an Audie Murphy Western double feature. I loved movies and I believe, back then, it was also the only way you could see one on a Sunday.
Most everybody else was a University type. They had beards and berets and read the British film magazine I’d only seen at the library and knew what words like “Auteur” and “Verite” and “mis-en-scene” actually meant. There was wine and cheese beforehand and everybody was too cool to ask if you were old enough to imbibe. And because it was a film society, there was also nobody saying you couldn’t gaze longingly at all the European boobies.
The film society exposed me to sub-titles, movies from countries I’d never heard of and guys playing chess with death. It allowed me the awesome experience of seeing “Citizen Kane” for the first time and the way it was meant to be seen -- on a gigantic screen. And it took me to places geographically and emotionally that Hollywood had never implied even existed.
Within a few weeks, I realized that people didn’t have to tell stories the way Hollywood did to get under your skin. To this day, there’s a shot in Kineto Shindo’s “Onibaba” that still makes my blood run cold.
Other film makers like Fellini and Truffaut showed me that there was more to life and movies than Hollywood had prepared me to expect.
Today, when pretty much anything is available whenever the fancy strikes, it’s probably hard to understand either the attraction or need of an online version of the Cinematheque.
But that same ease of availability comes with a plethora of material we’re told we “need” to consume to remain cutting edge or simply current and the films that might open us up to new experiences or just change how we think about movies or storytelling get lost in the flood.
Enter “The Auteurs”, a site that’s been in Beta for a while but officially launched last week during the Cannes Film Festival.
The Auteurs is a venue that combines the streaming of both classic and unavailable works of world cinema with an online film community. Here you can not only be stunned by the haunting austerity and back-looping structure of Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri”, you can Twitter it directly to a friend so they can watch it too.
And it’s all free – creating even more hours you don’t have to waste watching endless summer re-runs or vainly searching the shelves of some nearby video store.
And since most of The Auteurs offerings come from the famed Criterion Collection, a simple HDMI cable link from your computer to the television allows you to see these films in their original pristine glory.
The Auteurs even programs theme collections so you can catch up on the works of a specific director, nation or genre.
And what’s more – it’s all free.
What you can watch on “The Auteurs” is limited somewhat by your location with a different menu of available features determined by your IP address. But new films arrive with regularity and the site’s online blog keeps you updated on the distribution agreements that need to be untangled before they can bring a new cinema classic to your computer.
However, there are already dozens available to view, many otherwise impossible to find and most capable of altering what you think movies are or what they can do.
Here you’ll find films with not only unpredictable endings, but beginnings and second acts you didn’t see coming as well. You’ll be introduced to a level of originality and creativity that’ll be in short supply during the FX heavy summer to come. And you’ll learn things about people in faraway places that will change how others may want you to perceive them.
Instead of trolling the web for a couple of appetizers today, visit “The Auteurs” sign up and enjoy a satisfying full course meal prepared somewhere outside your cinematic comfort zone. You’ll be very glad you did.
And enjoy your Sunday.