The death of FilmStruck creates a void for all film enthusiasts


On Oct. 26, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. announced the shutdown of FilmStruck, a streaming service for classic, foreign, arthouse and other films, to occur on Nov. 29.

The service has been active since November 2016, offering one-of-a-kind streaming access to films from the Criterion Collection, Turner Classic Movies archives and — as of this year — the Warner Bros. archive of films. The service was a boon to cinephiles and those who were willing to try it, offering foundational films, masterclasses, commentaries and other sort of special features that could welcome all forms of film-lovers into the fold.

Sure, there will always be other streaming services, but no other has quite the selection that FilmStruck offered, where, on a whim, any viewer could come across and stream any number of beautiful or classic films such as Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Serving as a solid case study in what made FilmStruck as great as it was, Cherbourg is a beautiful film, the kind movie-viewers of all walks deserve to stumble across. FilmStruck users could have stumbled across it through a highlighted collection of Demy's films, while scrolling through the musical category or by sifting through the entries in the collection “Blue Christmas,” offering a “holly, jolly, melancholy, festive season.” Aside from a rental or purchase, Cherbourg is not available in any other form of streaming.

Cherbourg was released in 1964, packed to the brim with vibrant colors and passionate, melodramatic music. An inspiration for 2016’s La La Land — a good film, but by no means comparable — Cherbourg doesn’t have a single word unsung. As in opera, even questions about regular versus super gasoline or what kind of umbrella to purchase are all delivered via song, written by Demy and composed by Michel Legrand. Cherbourg’s original theatrical trailer, featured as an extra to stream, had no trouble finding music, with an extensive soundtrack to choose from.

In an interview for French TV program Cinépanorama — another special feature available on FilmStruck — Demy is asked, “Why ask people to sing when they have no reason to?” He offers that it’s a natural form of expression to sing and to a follow-up question, he answers, “Why not? It would make life more pleasant.”

Pleasant would be the word to describe the impression of Cherbourg’s world, its story aside. Legrand’s soundtrack often focuses on jazz styles that feel upbeat, as gas station attendants compare evening plans or even as an umbrella store owner describes her financial woes. Colors pop out and should make viewers thankful for the restoration that was performed to bring the visuals back to the way they were meant to be seen in 1964 from their degraded quality over time.

The inhabitants get less of a chance to enjoy the world, though. Guy and Geneviève, played by the charmingly rugged Nino Castelnuovo and the sweet Catherine Deneuve, respectively, are in love, but there’s a lot in their way. Geneviève’s mother disapproves of a marriage between her 17-year-old daughter and the 20-year-old man, who quickly gets shipped off to fight in the Algerian War. Geneviève’s mother, owner of the shop Umbrellas of Cherbourg, is also struggling financially and hoping to find a better match for Geneviève’s future. The stakes may seem low, but Cherbourg plays out as melodrama, where every little bit of emotion is turned into life-or-death situations.

This genre works well for the film, where everything is amplified, heightened significantly. The girl with the platinum blonde hair, so brightly restored, tearfully asks her man to stay, not to leave. They embrace in front of a shockingly pink wall, Legrand’s excellent score swelling full of tragedy.

Everything matters significantly, and the emotions sting so much more because of it. For such a powerful and beautiful film, the kind of emotions that come are worth the pain.

Without FilmStruck, home viewers are at a significant disadvantage for finding films as powerful as Cherbourg, so significant and earth-shattering. The closest service available to those who seek the benefits of FilmStruck is Kanopy, a streaming website free for certain college students and library patrons, which includes a selection of certain Criterion Collection films. Cherbourg is available to request for a college library through Kanopy, but not as a regular streaming pick.

Even with other options, there is no site with a comparable catalog to that of FilmStruck .

It is not melodramatic to consider the death of FilmStruck to be a major loss; such a streaming service was of deeply significant value to anybody who was willing to try something new, to explore the artform of film.

Where else could viewers stumble across such works as F for Fake, Breathless, Cléo from 5 to 7, Stalker, the films of Akira Kurosawa or Pierre Etaix, insight on Abbas Kiarostami’s work with landscape or the 25-movie collection of Zatoichi films? The loss of the service is a loss for all.