The world of streaming can be a mountingly expensive one for film buffs. Subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Mubi, Now TV and the BFI Player, say, may seem modest impositions on their own, but gather a bouquet of them for maximum accessibility – after all, none is sufficiently comprehensive to act as a one-stop virtual video store – and the monthly debit adds up rather alarmingly. Are you watching enough to get your money’s worth? And doesn’t that very question rather take the joy out of cinephilia?
For that reason, the no-strings freedom of pay-per-view streaming outlets can be rather comforting: the linear simplicity of choosing a film, paying for it and watching it is hard to beat, after all. I’ve been late in getting to Chili, a pay-per-view service that launched in the UK over the summer, having already made substantial European advances since originating in Italy six years ago. “No subscription. Forever” is its blunt marketing slogan, which sets the no-nonsense tone for the rest of the site, from its plain, tidy black-and-white design to the bare-bones copy in its catalogue. (It’s a site altogether unthreatening to wary technophobes – so much so that they still offer DVDs and Blu-rays for purchase.)
At first glance, I didn’t see much advantage to Chili over numerous equivalent services. Its homepage leads with a thorough selection of new releases available everywhere from iTunes to YouTube: you’re certainly no worse off watching Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again or Leave No Trace here than anywhere else, but it’s hardly a unique selling point.
Cut a little deeper, however, and Chili starts to reveal its heat, chiefly in one of the better-stocked libraries of classic cinema on the mainstream streaming scene. As I’ve written before, the depletion of Netflix’s back catalogue and the demise of Filmstruck – to which the Criterion Collection has announced an imminent solution, though more on that when it arrives next year – has left those with more vintage tastes a little short of options. Clicking the “Pre-1960” filter on Chili’s otherwise rather randomly arranged film catalogue, however, yields more than 350 titles, many of them rather enticing.
Walter Pidgeon and Barbara Stanwyck in Executive Suite, 1954. Photograph: Getty Images
Many are readily available standards – sundry Hitchcocks, for example, or Singin’ in the Rain – but less expected treasures abound. Take Executive Suite, one of the least heralded great films of mid-century Hollywood: a salty, incisive 1954 drama of corporate warfare that fascinatingly blends a Golden Age cast (William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, et al) with film-making then rather radical in its stark, cynical realism. (Mad Men fans are advised to seek it out.) It’s available for just £2.50, as are most of the tastiest older offerings, among them Elia Kazan’s humid, once-scandalous Tennessee Williams black comedy Baby Doll, the tough, undervalued women’s prison drama Caged, or the irresistibly lush Garbo vehicle Camille.
American fare predominates, though Louis Malle’s elegantly thorny, Jeanne Moreau-led adultery drama The Lovers is a steal at £1.50. The selection diversifies a bit in their 1960s-70s section, where Wim Wenders, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ken Russell works are tucked between a strong New Hollywood selection: Richard Lester’s acerbic, kaleidoscopic summer-of-love romance Petulia was a typically pleasing find.
In its current state, Chili could do more to steer film lovers through its catalogue: aside from the aforementioned divisions by decade, the only filtering system works rather vaguely by genre, with not so much as a “world cinema” division among the available options. That makes it especially hard to find the less obvious gold nuggets in its contemporary collection, but they’re there: the gorgeous Irish folk ode Song of Granite is a surprising find, while I was particularly glad to stumble across Novitiate, Maggie Betts’s superb examination of faith, doubt and abuse in a Tennessee convent in the 1960s, with a monumental performance by Melissa Leo as a morally ruptured Mother Superior. Chili has some housekeeping to do yet, but there’s promise here – and no ties binding you once you feel it’s been fulfilled.
New to streaming & DVD this week
Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Photograph: Universal Pictures
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
The plot barely stretches from A to B (or B to A) in this extended Abba karaoke video, but a cameo by a Fernando-booming Cher alone is enough to make this a perky improvement on the 2008 smash.
(Warner Bros, 15)
Full of intriguing narrative corridors that lead largely to locked doors, Drew Pearce’s peculiar dystopian noir set in a decaying criminal hospital offers Jodie Foster – as an agitated, hard-drinking chief nurse – an eccentric comeback role.
(Anime Ltd, 12)
Loopy even by the standards of festival-approved anime, this psychedelic blend of sci-fi and teen romance alternates tangled storytelling with suitably coruscating spectacle.
Escape From New York
Rather apt that this spiffy Blu-ray reissue of John Carpenter’s landmark sci-punk romp – remember when 1997 was the future? – is out in the same week as Hotel Artemis, since the latter is clearly, understandably in thrall to it.
(Studio Soho, 12)
A notable debut for British writer-director Leanne Welham, studying the hardscrabble life of an HIV-positive single mother in rural Tanzania with clear-eyed, unsentimental compassion.