Unstreamable is a column that recommends movies and TV shows you can’t watch on major streaming services in the United States. We publish every Wednesday.
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UK, 1970, 81 min, Dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg
The Beatles’ rooftop concert is lore so thick it’s saturated decades. In January 1969, the band got on top of their label’s rooftop in central London, performed a 42-minute set until the cops came and told them to hush, and then that was that. They never performed in public as a group again. Director Michael Lindsay-Hogg captured it in his unstreamable 1970 documentary, Let It Be. Peter Jackson excavated it in much, much longer detail in his much-discussed almost-eight-hour-long Disney+ documentary, The Beatles: Get Back.
Those documentaries are about that rooftop concert but they’re also about the end of the Beatles, so it maybe fits that their most interesting parts involve Yoko Ono. These docs communicate with each other—and stubbornly, fantastically, Ono sits at the center of that conversation. “In [Get Back], McCartney politely complains that his songwriting with Lennon is disrupted by Ono’s omnipresence,” writes Amanda Hess in her NY Times piece, “The Sublime Spectacle of Yoko Ono Disrupting the Beatles.” “Ono simply never leaves… Instead she seems engaged in a kind of passive resistance, defying all expectations of women who enter the realm of rock genius.”
Regrettably, Ono should really take up more space in Lindsay-Hogg’s original documentary, which the Observer rightly called a “bore” in 1970. “Shot without any design, clumsily edited, uninformative and naive,” the writer went on, and I agree. The doc is sacred rock footage, now fossilized under even more amber thanks to Jackson’s retelling, but I found myself drifting whenever Ono’s off-screen. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Music section under Beatles.
USA , 2001, 97 min, Dir. Sandi Dubowski
Trembling Before G-d is a kind of heartbreaking watch. The documentary follows several queer Orthodox Jews that have to contend with their community’s hostile attitudes toward gays and their own desire to live as they truly want. Throughout the film we hear from a variety of people living the queer Orthodox experience. A devotedly religious gay man who came out to his family but after decades is still advised to live a life without companionship. A lesbian couple who counseled other closeted Orthodox lesbians on how to make it through the day. Another older gay man who has not been practicing for over a quarter-century but still yearns to be in contact with his ultra-religious family. The pulsing thrum through all these people is their desire to live a life alongside God despite being told that their existence is blasphemous.
The documentary took over six years to film as director Sandi DuBowski—himself a gay Conservative Jew—spoke to hundreds of queer Orthodox Jews, though only a few were comfortable talking about their experiences on camera. But that’s not to say that Trembling Before G-d is all extremely dark. Rather, there are moments of levity mixed in with the talking head interviews. (“Why would a man want to put another man’s schmecky in his mouth?” says one man as he recounts an honest conversation with his rabbi, lol). While there are certain elements of the film that I felt needed to be fleshed out more, Trembling Before G-d is an intimate portrait of queer life and love in the Orthodox community.
Also h/t to both New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum and former Stranger staffer Annie Wagner for the heads up! JAS KEIMIG
Find this in the Drama section on the LGBT shelf.
Canada, 1976-1984, sketch comedy episodes ranging from 30 to 90 minutes, developed by Bernard Sahlins and Andrew Alexander
Music rights strike again: Despite being a wildly popular comedy series through the 1970s and 80s, full episodes of SCTV are hard to come by since the show tended just to grab whatever recorded song happened to tickle their fancy. Because it’s so hard to (legally) show in its entirety, the program’s contribution to popular culture is often unfairly overlooked. But get a load of that cast: Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Harold Ramis, Andrea Martin, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy, Eugene Levy, Martin Short, and many more.
The show began as an outgrowth from the Second City comedy troupe, which was looking for a way to expand into television. The concept is that each episode is a collection of sketches aired by the world’s smallest television station, providing lots of opportunities for low-budget spoofs and parodies. The entire project has a sort of duct-taped together quality, down to its schedule; for years, it was nigh-impossible to predict when an episode would pop up. Nevertheless, it was nominated for over a dozen Emmy awards (winning one for best writing in an oddly contentious ceremony during which presenter Milton Berle mingled ominously with the writers, making snide remarks). It also launched the careers of some of the most beloved comedians of the last forty years. If you’re a fan of Schitt’s Creek, you have SCTV to thank for pairing Eugene Levy with Catherine O’Hara.
Be Many of the show’s best skits remain tucked away in obscurity due to goofy episode run-times and licensing restrictions but are well worth seeking out. There are also periodic reunions, which capture most of the original’s magic—but the greatest pleasure of the show was catching it at a bizarre time on a fuzzy UHF broadcast and wondering if anyone else on Earth was seeing what you were seeing. MATT BAUME
Find it in the Foreign section under Canadian TV.
Every week we feature on formerly unstreamable movie that’s now on streaming platforms.
USA, 1994, 141 minutes, Dir. James Cameron
True Lies has some things going for it. OK, really one thing and that thing is the scene of Jamie Lee Curtis as a once meek housewife stripping for someone she thinks is an arms dealer—but turns out to be her secret super spy husband played by Arnold Schwarzenegger testing his wife’s fidelity—in a way that is sexy but also really goofy. OK. OK. There are actually two things and that second thing is Tia Carrere playing a hot and evil antiques dealer that (spoiler) dies in a fiery explosion. The rest? A Cameronian slog of epic proportions featuring a lot of complicated action scenes, bombs, and racist portrayals of people from the Middle East, all led by Schwarzenegger whose charm dulled with the new millennium. The film was and is immensely popular, and despite it being one of the highest grossing movies, it often darts on and off streaming services. Director James Cameron had even planned a sequel, but when 9/11 happened the project was shelved indefinitely (though he is, apparently, coming out with a McG-directed TV series based on the film in the future). JAS KEIMIG
Available for rental on DVD at Scarecrow Video and to stream on Hulu.
Looking for more? Browse our big list of 350+ hard-to-find movies over on The Stranger.
The fine print: Unstreamable means we couldn’t find it on Netflix, Hulu, Shudder, Disney+, or any of the other hundreds of streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn’t find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. Yes, we know you can find many things online illegally, but we don’t consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.