Unstreamable is a weekly column that recommends films and TV shows you can't find on major streaming services in the United States. This week: loads are blown in Happiness; we revisit the first major U.S. film to deal with the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion; a drunk but brilliant jazz musician charms a Frenchman in 'Round Midnight; and Joan Collins is a boss ass bitch in The Bitch. Read our other recommendations here.
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USA, 1998, 134 min, Dir. Todd Solondz
There is a mass shooting dream sequence not even twenty minutes into Happiness and it is, by far, the least offensive thing to happen in its two hour runtime. Directed by Todd Solondz—the fucked up and brilliant mind behind Welcome to the Dollhouse—this film deals with incest, pedophilia, genital mutilation, murder, sexual assault, fucking-without-feelings, puberty, depression, suicide, gayness, infidelity, domestic abuse, scabs, the mechanics of masturbation, and cum. A LOT of cum. Though sometimes hard to watch, Solondz makes it work. There's no pretentious posturing or pontificating. Rather, he sets these emotions in extremely dull settings, like suburban New Jersey or a sad apartment building.
His characters—including the sexually dysfunctional and grotesque Allen, played to perfection by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman—are so blisteringly banal, so obscenely regular, that their inappropriate and frightening emotions make sense. The world of Happiness is a bit off-kilter, which creates distance between you and the film. But if you look closer, you might get a glimpse of your own pathetic desires and contradictions.
I should also note that, like Kids, Happiness was extremely controversial at the time of its release (*cough* pedophilia). It was refused from participation at Sundance and dropped from its original distributor. It was eventually picked up by Good Machine, an independent film company, which created a new distribution arm in order to release the film. The company ended up merging with Focus Features in 2002, so perhaps this film got lost in the mix. JASMYNE KEIMIG
US, 1989, 96 min, Dir. Norman René
Thirty years ago, Longtime Companion premiered in the United States. It was the first major film to deal with the AIDS epidemic and remains a forceful and passionate look at a group of friends supporting each other as they battle the virus. It grossed $4.6 million at the box office, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and won a Golden Globe for the same category. The film was simultaneously ahead of its time and a decade too late, as the virus started ravaging the gay community in the early '80s. Frustratingly, Longtime Companion is unstreamable and out of print.
There are earlier U.S. films that confronted AIDS but didn't get a wide release: Buddies (1985) is credited as being the first film to deal with AIDS, although Bill Sherwood's extraordinary Parting Glances (1986), starring a young Steve Buscemi, comes to my mind first. Parting Glances and Longtime Companion are similar in many respects: Both focus on well-off white gay men living in or around New York City in the '80s, both value a "queer chosen family" over gay couples, and both of the films' directors died of AIDS complications a few years after their respective premieres. But unlike Parting Glances, which you can watch on Kanopy for free via the Seattle Public Library, Longtime Companion is almost lost to time. Thankfully, Yahoo Movies conducted an invaluable oral history with the surviving cast and crew in 2015, but we need to get this film back in the popular consciousness. CHASE BURNS
USA | France, 1986, 133 min, Dir. Bertrand Tavernier
Though I think Dale sometimes has a whiff of an inscrutable Magical Negro, Gordon plays him with so much charm and empathy that he becomes fully fleshed out. And, by God, the music. This is where the film really shines. Though a bit plotless, 'Round Midnight is a delightful snapshot of the Paris jazz scene in the '50s. And there's even a young Martin Scorsese who makes an appearance. I think he's kinda hot! JASMYNE KEIMIG
UK, 1979, 89 min, Dir. Gerry O'Hara
The Bitch is not going to be everyone's cup of tea—no film is—but The Bitch is a true relic for lovers of Camp. Its premise is simple, sorta: Joan Collins is a bitch. And a disco icon. That's the plot, as I remember it. The rest is just a straightforward, gay-friendly, coke-fueled fever dance through scenes of Collins being a motherfucking MILF. In one scene, she drops her big fur coat to seduce a man named Ricky, although she hardly ever works to seduce. The men just come, one after another. In the next scene, she's tits out and asking her bed-partner if he's ever played backgammon in bed. He hasn't. So they do. More furs. More diamonds. More erotic mirrors. In the subsequent sex scene, disco whirls and sheets fly. The sex is so glam. Another sex scene, and then a puppy. More disco! More dancing! Now, they're all making out in a pool. These Brits think they're so sexy. Can you guess what happens next? She gets money and then goes to the disco! Watch the trailer! Buy me the soundtrack! CHASE BURNS