Welcome to Hidden Films! My name is Sam Weisberg. I’m a contributing movie reviewer/writer for Village Voice and Screen Comment and have submitted stories to The L Magazine, Movieline and Bright Lights Film Journal.
Launched in 2011, Hidden Films began as an in-depth guide to films not available on Netflix, which was then the most reliable streaming movie service around. That year was also, as far as I can tell, the last year that consumers still relied heavily on DVDs for movie viewing, and Netflix boasted a vast catalogue of mail-order DVDs. For a movie to not be available in either streaming or DVD format on Netflix meant that it could probably be designated as “rare,” “obscure” or at the very least somewhat difficult to find. My goal was to search out these films, review them, and if possible interview their creators.
Since then, the world of home movie viewing has faced overwhelming changes. Amazon, Hulu, YouTube and countless other web sites and cable companies now have vast streaming offerings. If you can’t find a movie on Netflix, chances are it is available via another service. Immediately, with the click of a “play” button and a cheap rental charge (typically $1 to $3), right on your laptop or iPad or (groan) iPhone. These alternate options not only apply to movies that don’t pop up in Netflix searches, but also to the movies Netflix obnoxiously designates as “saved”–that is, they were available for either DVD or streaming access at one point, but are not for the foreseeable future (most likely due to licensing issues).
In reaction to changing times, Netflix split itself up into two websites: a DVD mail-order site and a streaming site, stating that the revenue streams for these two business models were too different to intertwine. Around the same time, to my everlasting chagrin, a huge population of movie lovers began tossing out their DVD players and hard-earned DVD collections, ostensibly to “make space,” but mainly in hopes that every movie they’ve ever wanted to watch will magically be available via streaming. Naturally, this is a very tall order. Movie streaming is still a relatively new phenomenon, with a complex set of studio licensing agreements attached to each movie (hence, why streaming movies frequently “expire” from Netflix or Amazon after a given time, and are then either picked up by a rival streaming site, or dropped entirely, relegated once again to DVD-only format).
These impatient movie fans (the opposite of Luddites) go on to complain about the inefficiency/lackluster offerings of streaming services. Suggest that there is still, ahem, an enormous collection of DVDs available on Netflix to meet their needs (somehow, that DVD mail order site is still making some money, or it’d have gone bust by now), or that maybe they should hold on to their DVD player or EVEN (God Forbid!) their dusty, stored-in-the-attic VHS player, to be able to watch the thousands of movies that are not permanently viewable via streaming, and you get met with stares ranging from blank to hostile.
Well, this site represents my turning a blind eye to those stares. Let the heathens limit their movie experience to their shoddy, unreliable Apple TV streaming service! Don’t get me wrong: I don’t shun such technology and it’s a great option for a lazy night. I just argue that there is still room in the world (and likely one’s living room) for many, many mediums through which to watch a movie. I not only held onto my analog systems of yesteryear, but still attend (gasp!) shows at actual movie theaters, as I do NOT take it for granted that New York City (where I live) is a wonderland of repertory cinemas showing heaps of rare, often never-screened material. I bought a European DVD/VHS player to be able to watch imports that would otherwise be impossible to access in the States. I scour vintage video stores for movies that, mysteriously, received a VHS release but never DVD. I go to college libraries to watch really rare stuff at consoles. When I’m feeling like a real homebody, I sneak around for third party sites no one’s heard of that just may be streaming lesser-known films. And sometimes–because I love meeting filmmakers anyway–I reach out to the directors themselves, who are often happy to receive attention, and nice enough to send me copies of or links to their films! (In short: it takes a lot for me to give up on searching for a film.)
These are the ways in which I have been able to watch and report on films I designate as rare or obscure or hard-to-find–or “hidden.” In the past seven years, I’ve seen great movies, awful movies, so-bad-they’re-great movies. But I’ve learned that behind even a bad movie is usually a smart, well-rounded, passionate individual with great stories to tell, who did something I decidedly didn’t: made a movie!! It has been my pleasure to meet such people and watch their films and profile them for your reading delight.
So this is no longer a movie blog centered on films that fell off Netflix’s radar. Thank hell it isn’t, because by now that figure grows exponentially every year. I also have gotten married and have a one-year-old daughter and still have a day job as a financial reporter and write freelance film reviews here and there, and free time is sparse. So I now expand my definition of “hidden films” to those not available on Netflix (DVD or streaming) or any popular streaming service (Hulu, Amazon, etc.) If a film is truly only available in analog format, and was somehow excluded from Netflix’s library, I will designate that as worthy of coverage.
This is still a site for nerds like me, obsessive nerds, movie detective nerds, whose lust for finding “lost” movies is insatiable. My idea for Hidden Films came about after I compiled a list of roughly 5,000 movies that intrigued me while plumbing through the Internet Movie Database’s list of every movie ever made, and then discovered how many of these are off the grid. They range from straight-to-video slasher pics to film school projects to thirty-minute silent films from as far back as 1898. I have accumulated a great number of such films via purchases from e-Bay, Amazon, iOffer and various third party/DVD-R sites, and am slowly selling off the ones I have no need to watch ever again. But there’s a great many that I keep and cherish and show to friends.
Before I had children, I had time to travel to Pittsburgh and Rochester to watch some of these movies at archival libraries, and in the future, I hope my search will take me to random corners of the globe (which will satisfy two of my diseases: cinephilia and wanderlust!)
I hope you enjoy Hidden Films, that it gives you many campy and/or insightful nights of movie-watching, and I welcome any and all suggestions from readers about additional rare films I should seek out.