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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Unstreamable swings through Northwest Film Forum NEXT WEEK with a rare screening of All That Jazz: Save your seat! Let’s hang out!
USA, 1991, 115 min, Dir. David Cronenberg
In a deeply perverted take on the writing process, the main character of David Cronenberg’s adaptation of William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is a sober exterminator who gets hooked on snorting and shooting up roach powder. William Lee (played by Peter Weller a.k.a. RoboCop) is then visited by a large beetle that talks out of his anus-like mouth, telling him to kill his wife as she’s actually an agent for the shadowy “Interzone Incorporated.” Refusing, Lee accidentally murders her anyway then flees for “Interzone,” an unspecified city in North Africa. As he spirals into his substance abuse, his hallucinations become more grotesque—beetles and freaky aliens serve as conspiracy-pushing typewriters that he types paranoid reports on. And, somehow, his literary buds convince him that his scribblings are novel-worthy.
If this all sounds batshit to you, you’d be absolutely correct. Naked Lunch is so surreal and guided by Cronenberg’s inner impulses that narrative and emotional cohesion take a backseat. Which totally works–the gross, erotic body horror of bright pink innards and goo oozing out of weird orifices heightens every scene its in. Though he based the film off of Burroughs’ biography, writings, and novel of the same name, Cronenberg admitted to needing to “throw the book away” to make the movie filmable. I love that this is what he came up with. JAS KEIMIG
Find it in the Directors section, under Cronenberg, David.
THIRD ANTENNA: A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE RADICAL NATURE OF DRAG
USA, 2001, 91 minutes (I think), Dir. Freddie Perry, E.T. Russian, Reno Durham
RuPaul’s Drag Race Emmys have shown that drag can be big-time art, or at least big-time business. But despite its current boom, articulating the history of drag remains tough, especially for local drag scenes. So when I learned about a 2001 documentary that focused on drag in the PNW at the turn of the century—and specifically alternative queens, kings, and nonbinary performers (one queen in the doc described Seattle’s scene as “sloppy freakcore”)—I felt a little electric.
I heard about this doc from Seattle queen Betty Wetter, who heard about it from her friend Elby, who heard about it from Three Dollar Bill Cinema, which screened it in 2016. It was a roundabout process that’s in line with how offline the footage is: Director E.T. Russian confirmed to me that it’s only available on a handful of tapes. Russian has about five copies, and Scarecrow doesn’t have any, so I ponied up and bought a random copy off eBay.
It’s a great mess. It features local performers on record—performing, talking shit about each other, theorizing what they’re doing and why it might be important. Many of the names are familiar to people in drag scenes, like Jackie Hell, Sylvia O’Stayformore, the Bamboo Clan, Ursula Android, and Jackie Lee Duell-Scott. There are clear lines from these freaks to today’s freaks, including the ones now getting Paramount checks. But it’s hard to see that lineage without archives like this, which is why we have to get this thing off VHS tapes and into some more robust archives. CHASE BURNS
No trailer. Let’s do a screening.
USA, 1994-1997, half-hour drama, Creators: Josh Goldstein, Jonathan Prince
The book series on which this show was based came at exactly the right time: Early in the 1980s, when Reagan was on the rise and midcentury nostalgia fueled a rose-colored craving for stories of wholesome lightweight small-town tales. Sweet Valley High has the soul of a successful sitcom from the era of Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, but instead it landed in the middle of the ‘90s when audiences were primed for something a bit more cynical. And yet it managed to hang on for dear life for four seasons of plots like “Jessica doesn’t share everyone’s interest in poetry” and “Todd’s basketball heroics go to his head, jeopardizing his friendships.”
Starring real-life twins Brittany Daniel and Cynthia Daniel (who are still working!), the show was oddly produced by Haim Saban—you know, the Power Rangers guy—and pulled in okie-dokie ratings until it moved from Fox to UPN. Something about that move tanked the audience, and it fizzled out by the end of 1997.
A return to the series has been teased for years—at one point it looked like it might get a feature film, possibly with Diablo Cody’s involvement, and currently there’s an attempt to revive the characters at The CW.
Could such a reboot or revival succeed? Maybe. At its heart, Sweet Valley High’s soul is captured by its name; it was a sweet show, gentle and low-impact. There’s certainly a cohort of television-watchers right now whose tastes are trending to comfort-shows, so now might be a good time to recapture a feeling of the fifties. MATT BAUME
Find it in the Comedy section, under Comedy Television.
Every week, we feature one formerly Unstreamable title that’s now available to watch online. This week let’s get Xmassy with….
USA, 2013, 63 min, Dir Alicia Dwyer
This overlooked doc takes place during a time of heightened anxiety in the US around led in Chinese-made toys, when news headlines were dire: “One third of Chinese toys contain heavy metals,” read The Telegraph. The fears played on rising xenophobia in America—the doc, filmed around 2011, starts off with audio clips of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton yelling about China. Spooky stuff.
Centered on producer Tom Xia, a Chinese-born filmmaker raised in the US working on getting his citizenship, the doc tries to get a white family to commit to spending an entire December without using any Chinese products. “It’s like a diet,” a white mom says. It’s an impossible diet, but one family actually signs up for it, initiating a series of unfortunate events that highlight the China-US codependency. The white family has to get rid of everything—the lightbulbs, the toaster, the Christmas lights. There are tears. Meanwhile, Xia juxtaposes the China-less family against his parents, who are obsessed with having a perfect American Christmas in their new Colonial-style home.
The doc veers into ridiculousness, but its emotional grounding in Xia’s citizenship journey makes it curious and smart. It’s one of my favorites. Big troll energy. CHASE BURNS
Find it in the Documentary section and streaming on Ovid.
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.