Unstreamable is a weekly column that finds films and TV shows you can't watch on major streaming services in the United States. This week: Eternal life rests at the bottom of Tampa Bay in Cocoon; racial power structures are flipped in White Man's Burden; Mae West gets a little naughty in I'm No Angel; and a horny, alcoholic, bisexual writer has violent visions in The 4th Man.
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USA, 1985, 117 minutes, Dir. Ron Howard
Ron Howard's 1985 sentimental sci-fi blockbuster Cocoon follows a group of senior citizens who break into their neighbor's pool and discover magical eggs in the bottom of it. Set in St. Petersburg, Florida, these are the type of old people who would now vote for Trump and threaten to shoot you if you stole their magical eggs. But it's 1985 and the Fox News hypocrisy would not set in for another decade. These looters get their eggs and they learn what the dolphins in Tampa Bay have apparently known for millenniums: These alien eggs, which have gathered power for ~10,000 years at the bottom of Tampa Bay, give you eternal life. They also make you horny. Lots of old-people fucking in this film.
Having grown up in St. Pete, I was raised among retired snowbirds who felt they were living out Cocoon's promise. I'm sure they thought "there's some magic in the Tampa Bay" while buying up all the coastal property and fucking. What puzzles me about Cocoon isn't the magic eggs or the squeaky dolphins or the hot little alien bodies, but why the aliens were so chill when these burnt senior citizens stole their 10,000-year-old ancestors' energy. If you came back to Earth to retrieve your ancestors only to find out Wilford Brimley stole their mana, would you be chill about it?! I wouldn't!! CHASE BURNS
France | USA, 1995, 89 minutes, Dir. Desmond Nakano
Films or televisions shows based on "What If?" scenarios—What if the Nazis won World War II? What if gender roles were flipped? What if Africa colonized Europe?—start from a creatively impoverished place. What begins as an exercise in trying to examine power structures often turns into a giant wankfest. Which brings us to White Man's Burden.
The film "imagines" an alternative "universe" where the white people are the Black people and the Black people are the white people. This universe looks like regular America. Sure, white people are the ones who populate "the inner city" while Black people live in wealthy neighborhoods. But nothing else in the visual language of White Man's Burden hints at this alternative history. How would a society with Black people as the elites look fundamentally different than one constructed by whites? What would the buildings look like? The clothes? The family structures? The film is not curious about this at all.
While flipping this racial dynamic is meant to demonstrate the ills of racism, White Man's Burden still centers whiteness. Your sympathy is meant to lie with the white characters, not the Black ones. Not even Harry Belafonte's natural onscreen charm, or John Travolta's diligently maintained hairline, could save this film. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1933, 87 minutes, Dir. Wesley Ruggles
I'm No Angel is a rare Mae West film that didn't undergo a bunch of censorship. So you get to see West be super sexy, which means West does a few shimmies, says some polite-but-saucy shit, and performs a low-energy burlesque dance where she holds up a sheet and—without energy—goes, "Ooo. Ooo." It's funny. West comes across as a mix between Betty Boop and Roseanne Barr. (Boop was actually modeled after West.)
Mae West wrote the story and screenplay for I'm No Angel, which co-stars Cary Grant and went on to become Paramount's biggest film of 1933. It was released directly after She Done Him Wrong, also starring Grant and West.
While West's story doesn't make much sense, the gowns are spectacular, the one-liners and winks are good, and Cary Grant is tall. West famously took credit for discovering Grant, but that wasn't true. Grant had starred in Blonde Venus with Marlene Dietrich in 1932, and he resented West for taking the credit. Some real Old Hollywood fag hag drama. CHASE BURNS
The Netherlands, 1983, 103 minutes, Dir. Paul Verhoeven
The 4th Man is delightfully gory and full of style. The scene where Gerard gets sucked off by Herman inside of a tomb as he realizes Christine is responsible for her three ex-husbands untimely deaths is iconic—to me. The power she has! While some could say Gerard contributes to the stereotype of bi people being inherently lecherous, unhinged, and just generally untrustworthy, I, for one, am happy for the representation.
The film was Verhoeven's last in his homeland before he set sail for Hollywood a year later. I think it lays a lot of the groundwork for the campy and wild films he'd make here in the states. He's even called The 4th Man a spiritual prequel to Basic Instinct. Both of those films have hot blondes, confused bisexuals, and erotic suspense, so it makes sense. JASMYNE KEIMIG