Underground Film Journal
More » VOD/DVD News

Netflix Streaming Underground Movies

Eraserhead

A lot of hay has been made lately about the future of Netflix streaming movies over the Internet for its subscribers as opposed to their original business model of being a mail-order DVD rental service. A good recent article on the subject was written by Chuck Tryon, who waded through all the hype and arguments against to try to figure out what impact Internet streaming of movies has on the movie industry.

Well, forget about the industry for the moment. How is Netflix streaming affecting the underground filmmaker?

Personally, I’m not a Netflix subscriber, so wading through their offerings is a bit more difficult for me. However, I was still curious if the company was streaming any underground movies. To find out if they were, I ended up searching a website called Instant Watcher, which is a company independent of Netflix, but uses a Netflix developer API to scan their database to find what movies are available for streaming.

“Underground film,” of course, typically doesn’t have its own category or genre listing on websites like these, so I had to do my best combing through the Instant Watcher title lists searching for films I would categorize myself as “underground.”

For true “underground movies,” such as avant-garde, experimental and very obscure cult flicks, there really isn’t too much available for streaming on Netflix yet. Although, I was able to find a few that I’m listing below. These are mostly films in the “classic” underground vein, although a few are from the ’90s and one as late as 2000. The modern underground filmmaker doesn’t seem to be fairing very well yet in this new frontier.

Also, for the time being, I’m not listing anything that could be categorized as an “underground” horror movie. I’m leaving those for a future post. But, for now, here are the underground films I did find. Click on their picture or title to start streaming!

Maya Deren

The Experimental Films of Maya Deren. Deren is the godmother of the modern American avant-garde film, who influenced a generation not only through her films, but through her highly influential lectures and writings. This collection of all her short films include Meshes of the Afternoon, At Land, Ritual in Transfigured Time and more. Essential viewing for anyone interested in underground film.

13 Most Beautiful

13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Back in the ’60s, Andy Warhol used to make everyone who stopped into his art studio, called The Factory, sit still in front of a 16mm B&W movie camera for the duration of a roll of film. This compilation of 13 of those film studies, put together by Plexifilm, includes Lou Reed, Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedgwick and more, all set to a new score by the band Dean & Britta.

Trash

Trash, Flesh, Heat. One of Andy Warhol’s main collaborators was Paul Morrissey and in the late ’60s and early ’70s they made this trio of trashy flicks starring underground heartthrob Joe Dallesandro in a variety of hustler roles: A junkie, a gigolo and a former child star. The films feature offensive humor, outrageous situations and low-brow good times. Netflix also has another Warhol/Morrissey movie for streaming: Women in Revolt, a spoof on the women’s lib movement that stars almost all drag queens like Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Holly Woodlawn.

My Winnipeg

My Winnipeg. In addition to being a quirky ode to the quirky city of Winnipeg, this is also a pseudo-autobiographical tale written and directed by Guy Maddin, starring Darcy Fehr as the director. Maddin is known for using outdated filmmaking techniques to imitate the cinema of yore, including blackout irises and melodramatic acting. He also startlingly combines fact and fiction that make his films hallucinatory journeys through a history that probably didn’t happen, but you certainly believe they did.

A Sudden Loss of Gravity

A Sudden Loss of Gravity. Todd Verow is certainly one of the most prolific, yet still very unknown, directors in history. He and his company, Bangor Films, have been cranking out idiosyncratic digital video dramas and comedies in Maine since the early ’90s. This feature film, Verow’s sixth, is about a lost generation of teenagers who keep the boredom and insanity away by drinking excessively. If you’re looking for a feel-good, knee-slapping teen comedy like Superbad — then this is the exact opposite of that. Netflix also has another film of Verow’s for streaming: The Once and Future Queen, about a reckless punk femme fatale who lives her life like a runaway train straight for the gutter.

Eraserhead

Eraserhead. Well, what else about David Lynch‘s outrageously surreal first feature film can I say that hasn’t been said before. Dancing, blood-spewing chickens. A woman who lives in the radiator and tap dances on falling brains. A nightmarish and endlessly screeching baby monster who has a head like an aborted lamb fetus. You either haven’t experienced this dark, twisted masterpiece yet — or you need to stream it again right now. Also, you can stream The Short Films of David Lynch, which includes the legendary The Amputee, plus The Alphabet, The Grandmother and more.

Sink Or Swim

Sink Or Swim. When filmmaker Su Friedrich was a little girl, her father taught her how to swim by simply dropping her into the deep end of the pool and letting her have at it. Luckily, she survived to direct this autobiographical documentary that charts the volatile relationship Friedrich had with her dad and how that shaped her into the woman she is today. The film combines home movies, found footage and new footage taken by the filmmaker to paint a complex and very intimate portrait of a unique family.

Four Letter Words

Four Letter Words. I wouldn’t quite call this an “underground” movie, but I saw it at a New Filmmakers screening at the Anthology Film Archives years ago. I really enjoyed it then, so I’m recommending it now. It’s a simple film by Sean Baker, in which a group of fairly immature male high school graduates gather for a reunion party one night. They all may be a little bit older in years, but they’re certainly not on an emotional level. There’s not much plot, there’s not much in terms of character development, but the dialogue rings incredibly true. It’s the kind of film that makes you glad these aren’t your friends. At least, I hope not. (Note: Four Letter Words may not be streaming anymore as of this writing, but it is listed on Instant Watcher if you want to try that route.)

Man With the Movie Camera

Man With the Movie Camera. To end on a classy note, this is Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s classic 1929 documentary that simply documents various street scenes encountered by Vertov in the Soviet Union. Vertov chucked out then-forming notions of narrative filmmaking and just set out to capture life as it was lived. This is a pioneering documentary that helped define what that genre is all about.


Underground Film Feedback (6 comments)

Sorry, no new comments allowed, but please read through our comment archive.

  • A filmmaker says:

    Thanks for the interesting post.
    There are two sides to this issue.
    One is that Netflix should most definitely have (a lot more!) underground and experimental films available.
    The other is that the filmmaker makes squat. Netflix buys a few copies for a flat rate (usually not very much) and from then through eternity, the filmmaker never sees another penny.
    So, yes…in the old days, when things were bought or rented, one made small money because the volume of activity usually wasn’t too great. But now, a gazillion people can stream/see your work, but you don’t make any money from it.
    Is this progress? It is if you want an audience, which we all do. It isn’t if you have to pay the rent, which we all have to do.

  • Thanks for the insightful comment! You are correct about the DVD issue. But, if you click through to Chuck’s article that I linked to in the first paragraph, there might be another financial plan for streaming, where payments accumulate per stream.

    The issue there, of course, is that even then it might be pennies — or fractions of — going to filmmakers, so that’s not a big moneymaker, either.

    However, these are all great issues that probably should be explored in another article.

  • This is a very timely article for me. Primarily because I just switched from the 2 disc per month plan to the streaming only plan on Netflix. I realized that I had 2 discs in my possession that I had for 2 months and hadn’t watched yet, plus for the past year I’ve had a blu-ray player that can stream Netflix.

    as a filmmaker, netflix isn’t a threat to my business plan at all. For the most part, the audience that is going to stream Burning Inside (for example) or rent it through the mail, is not an audience that would pay out cash to buy it on DVD anyway. In fact, I’m more likely to sell a DVD of Burning Inside AFTER someone watches it via Netflix, than if it was never on their service to begin with.

    For example, I just streamed Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterful “Valhalla Rising” the other day (I highly recommend it). If it is available on a Blu Ray with special features I’ll probably pick it up. I would have never known about this movie without it being on Netflix and I certainly would never consider buying it sight unseen.

    However, Netflix is a gatekeeper. as they have grown, they have picked up less and less independent, underground, no-budget type films, and they stream less of these than I would prefer. Burning Inside is not on netflix and was refused by them. I imagine that they have some sort of criteria similar to the VOD companies and BI doesn’t fit into that mold. So it’s just another community that I’m locked out of (like iTunes). Being locked out of that community has a tendency to delegitimize my film. People ask: “Is it on Netflix?” I respond “No.” They think “Why isn’t it on Netflix? Everything is on Netflix. It must really suck.” and that’s one more audience member lost.

  • kalvin says:

    Four Letter Words is not streaming on Netflix Instant.

    • Weird. Four Letter Words is definitely listed on Instant Watcher, but not listed as streaming on the Netflix site. I’m going to leave it up for now, but with a note.

  • Nathan Wrann says:

    An interesting point in the article that you link to (or maybe in an article linked in the article you linked to) is that movies are now considered “disposable” and no longer need to be purchased on hardcopy. What makes this interesting, especially on a discussion board about underground film is that the distribution process of the films isnt what makes them disposable, the content is. Films aren’t “disposable” (one viewing, just for the purpose of viewing) BECAUSE they’re available for streaming or VOD, most films are disposable because they’re mindless junk that don’t require a 2nd or 3rd viewing. I think that a lot of Underground film defies this notion and often demands a 2nd viewing and improves upon subsequent viewings. So where the firs viewing may have come through Netflix streaming, if the movie sticks with the person and forces them to watch it multiple times they may be compelled to buy it.