United States, 1971, 80 min, Dir. Nelson Lyon
It's a sexy romp that constantly breaks the fourth wall and includes dreamy, hilarious side plots to get lost into. Telephone Book was a critical and financial failure when it first came out, but lived on as an underseen cult film (that apparently inspired Last Tango in Paris) until distributor Vinegar Syndrome restored and rereleased it in 2013. In the producer's commentary, Bloch said that, despite their best efforts, the film received an "X" rating in large part due to Len Glasser's very explicit (and explosive) cartoon sequence that closes the movie—you must see it. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1972, 93 min, Dir. John Waters
I should apologize for waiting so long to bring up that Pink Flamingos is Unstreamable. In my defense, I didn't know. I honestly thought it was in the Criterion Collection.*
The first time I saw Pink Flamingos was also the first time I met John Waters. (I wrote about it here.) I guess it's funny I even thought this would be available to stream, which is a testament to Waters' current place in pop culture but an erasure of the film's smut. In one scene, Divine gets poppers and a pig's head for her birthday. They all do drugs, and then a performer flexes his prolapsed anus in rhythm to "Surfin' Bird." The police come, but Divine kills them with a meat cleaver and eats them. Everyone, even the murdered people, seems to be having fun.
Things are burned, blowjobs are given, penises are cut off, people are convicted of "assholism," and, finally, after more murder, Divine concludes the rampage by finding a little dog, watching it shit, and then eating it. For a gay kid who grew up mouthy, femme, and poor, that shit-eating grin gave me permission to relish in the freedom of being a reject. CHASE BURNS
*UPDATE: Flamingos is available via Criterion, just on... laserdisc.
France | West Germany, 1981, 124 min, Dir. Andrzej Zulawski
There's a profound emptiness pervading the film. The streets, restaurants, subway stations, and apartment buildings of West Berlin seem completely devoid of people save for Anna and Mark. This emptiness—and camera operator Andrzej J. Jaroszewicz's dynamic Steadicam work—makes the couple's demonic marital breakdown the surreal center of a cold, blue-twinged universe located along the Berlin Wall.
And, my god, Adjani gives one of the most disturbing performances ever as Anna. A big moment for cinema. Possession (and Anna) will stay with me for a long time. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1992, 93 minutes, Dir. Katt Shea
This culty erotic thriller received enough negative criticism from ignorant men when New Line Cinema released it in 1992, so I won't waste time confronting its apparent problems. I'll just write from my wicked little heart: I love Poison Ivy—but of course I love Poison Ivy, because I love the color red, and I love lots of rain in a movie, and I love horny melodrama. Director Katt Shea stuffs Poison Ivy with all three.
A teenaged Drew Barrymore plays Ivy, a poisonous teen and powerful slut. She befriends a weird girl named Sylvie (played by Sara Gilbert), and they begin a lesbianesque relationship. Not quite lesbian. But almost. Ivy quickly moves in with Sylvie (why? just because) and her parents, who own a pink castle. Sylvie's father is a Danny Westneat-like editorialist, and Sylvie's mom is bedridden and hot. Ivy turns on the entire family, eventually murders one of them, fucks another, and spends the rest of the film tormenting the third.
Singer SZA named a song after Barrymore, and specifically Barrymore's performance in Poison Ivy. Let's close this blurb with SZA's take on the movie: “She was fucking up families and being weird, but she really just wanted to be loved. She was lashing out because she was lonely and pissed that her life was like this. I felt that.” I felt that, too. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1994, 85 min, Dir. Ayoka Chenzira
But while Just Another Girl confronts weightier issues like abortion, Alma's Rainbow is lighter, concentrated on puberty's beginning stages. The film follows Rainbow (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) as she rebels against her mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), which starts after her sexy Aunt Ruby (Mizan Kirby), a performer, unexpectedly camps out with the family for a while. Though it doesn't necessarily break the mold in terms of plot, the characters (and their bright costumes) are what give it life.
The film gives as much attention to the relationship between Alma and Ruby as it does to Rainbow. The result is a film that unspools the complex relationships between two generations of women—it's fucking refreshing. Watching Alma's Rainbow today makes me wish I had access to it as a teen when I was craving stories featuring fully-fleshed out awkward Black girls. I'm just glad I found it now.
Italy | France | Germany, 1994, 105 minutes, Dir. Michele Soavi
Which one of you assholes knew about Dellamorte Dellamore and didn't tell me about it?! I wish I'd learned of this film years ago, and so now I'm paying it forward by demanding you watch this if you've got a thing for 1) daddy-fop Rupert Everett, 2) schlocky Italian horror, and/or 3) a horned-up zombie Anna Falchi.
The basic premise here is that Everett plays a cemetery custodian with a slight problem: the dead keep coming back to life. They die for good pretty easily—Everett's character just needs to chop their heads in two—but it's still a pain in the ass. The film starts out as a zombie flick, and then it's a softcore porno, and then it's a serial killer flick, and then it's existential surrealism. Just roll with it and be happy you still have a head.
The film is an excellent entry point into the world of director Michele Soavi, known for being Dario Argento's longtime assistant and collaborator. Their styles occasionally overlap, but Soavi is much funnier while still keeping it sexy, bloody, and Italian. US audiences would love this film if it were easier to find. Scarecrow has multiple copies, and someone else had checked out one of them when I last visited. People want it!! CHASE BURNS
Canada, 1996, 100 min, Dir. David Cronenberg
Based off a J.G. Ballard novel of the same name, Crash follows James Ballard (James Spader!), a film producer in a sexually unfulfilling and open relationship with his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). When Ballard gets into a gruesome car crash, he and Catherine slowly become involved with a group of car crash survivors who have eroticized their accidents and the injuries sustained during them. They get wet over car crashes.
Together they grab each other's genitals and watch car crash simulations. Take pictures of bodies in twisted metal along the highway. Fuck each other's leg wounds. Their desire seems to be as mechanical as the vehicles they get hard for, but instead of thinking of their crashes as traumatic events, the group sees them as the pinnacle of eroticism. Slamming into another vehicle is one of the most intense feelings one can experience and survive, after all. "The car crash is a fertilizing rather than a destructive event," says Vaughan (Elias Koteas), the pack's de facto ringleader. And you know what, I almost believe him.
USA, 1996, 108 minutes, Dir. Spike Lee
Though featuring classic Lee-missteps—a bloated third act, heavy moralizing around Black women's sexualities—the real lynchpin in Girl 6 is Randle. As Girl 6, she's alluring yet innocent; in control, but a little tumultuous; dreamy and clever. She can convincingly slip into any character at work: the girl next door, the dominatrix, the housewife. In daydream sequences, Randle also embodies other iconic Black roles, from Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones to Pam Grier in Foxy Brown. Girl 6 was Randle's major vehicle, and, in a just world, she'd be booked and busy after it. It's more than a little ironic that a movie about the misogyny Black women face in the film industry wasn't enough to launch Randle. It breaks my heart.
Also of note: major cameos by Naomi Campbell as phone sex operator Girl 75, Madonna as a strip club manager, and Lee's mortal enemy Quentin Tarantino as a pervy white director casting Black actresses for "the greatest romantic African American film ever made—directed by me of course!" (Lee and Tarantino would have a falling out a year later with the release of Jackie Brown). The movie's soundtrack is wall-to-wall Prince songs, which adds a huge dollop of sex to the scenes and bolsters the film's perspective. Prince is also the likely reason why Girl 6 is so damn hard to find online. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1999, 120 min, Dir. Robert Townsend
Lewis says the whole movie was inspired by a Shirley Bassey documentary called Have Voice, Will Travel (I haven't seen it, but it's on the list), where the great diva hyperbolically tells her own legend—until the camera cuts to her crew, who go, as Lewis describes it, "Well, no, it didn't... quite happen like that, Ms. Bassey." That tension, between the overblown diva and her crew, underlines much of the jokes in Jackie's Back.
In her What's the Tee episode, Lewis says her audiobook producers never let her be "JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!!" only "Jenifer Lewis"—meaning she had to tone it down. In Jackie's Back, we get full JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! JENIFER LEWIS!! CHASE BURNS
Japan, 2004, 143 minutes, Dir. Katsuhito Ishii
Director Katsuhito Ishii has said his Cannes-opening film The Taste of Tea "isn't too deep." But if you watch the film's gorgeous and trippy and gentle trailer, you'll probably have a lot of questions. Like, why is a big girl haunting that little girl? And why is a train coming out of that teen's forehead? "It could be something or nothing," Ishii says. "Refreshing is what I'd call it." That framing is the best way to watch this psychedelic opus: It "could be something or nothing." Take it as it comes. Let the big moments hit you and then leave you.
Jasmyne and I have talked a lot about how it's much easier to write short blurbs for things we kind of like or don't really like than things we really like, because a 200-word limit makes it hard to capture a big thought. I really, really like this film; it's something I want to carry around with me and replay in my head. Fortunately, my favorite distribution company, Third Window Films, just released the film on Blu-ray, which gives me an excuse to write something a little longer. Someone email me a reminder so I don't forget. In the meantime, let the trailer fill your head with trains and sunsets. CHASE BURNS
Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ 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. We don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.