Fandor is a streaming service like Netflix, but it’s definitely not for the average, everyday movie fan. If you see one movie a year, and it involves superheroes or has “Hunger” or “Games” in the title, then you shouldn’t bother. But if you have ever witnessed the unspooling of a scratchy print at a repertory theater; driven across town to find an obscure VHS tape at a local video store; or hunted online for rare, bootleg DVDs of some 1960s exploitation movie or an unreleased Taiwanese movie from the 1990s; then you should know about Fandor.
Fandor, essentially, is a treasure chest for hardcore movie buffs; folks who, instead of blood, have celluloid in their veins. Combing through the site’s inventory, which claims more than 5000 titles currently online, is like going to a massive used bookstore. You may not find anything specific, but a glance in just about any direction will reveal some amazing gem, punctuated with excited sounds of “oh, wow!” Having a hard time finding Claire Denis’ 2001 vampire film Trouble Every Day on DVD? It’s on Fandor. Thinking about revisiting Ringo Lam’s 1992 Hong Kong action flick Full Contact? It’s on Fandor.
Launched in 2011, Fandor was never intended as a direct competitor of Netflix’s, but rather a supplement, or an “indie” version of Netflix. Though the official number probably goes up and down depending on the month, Fandor has claimed that some 80 percent of its movies are not available on Netflix. The price is comparable, too; movie fans can choose to pay a flat fee of $10 a month, each month, or they can plunk down $90 for a year’s membership, which equals a discounted $7.50 per month.
Last year, the site negotiated a deal with Hulu to stream a handful of Criterion Collection titles each month. The films are shown for a very limited time— a matter of days—so it pays to check the site every day and schedule your viewings. Recently, clicking on the “classic” tab brought up Sergei Eisenstein’s two-part Ivan the Terrible as the most popular title in that category. But it won’t be there long. Other recent picks included Robert Bressons’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953).
Additionally, Fandor has recently offered day-and-date releases for new films like Ramon Zürcher’s The Strange Little Cat and Rob Nilsson’s A Bridge to the Border.
Spending about an hour on the site brings up a long list of strikingly disparate and wide-ranging films. The site has a large selection of Werner Herzog films, including the great Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), plus Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970), Eric Rohmer’sThe Marquise of O (1976), Federico Fellini’s The Clowns (1970), Luis Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or (1930), and Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild (1991).
More recent, highly recommended arthouse movies include Boy, The Color Wheel, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,Meek’s Cutoff, The White Meadows, A Time for Drunken Horses, Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl, Alamar, Silent Light, Lake Tahoe, Road to Nowhere, Starlet, and the Oscar-winning Ida. The site stretches back to the silent days, with selections from D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Fritz Lang; this includes features and two-reel shorts as well. Even The Great Train Robbery (1903) is here, as well as films by Melies and the Lumiere brothers going back to 1895.
The site includes many great experimental films, such as Orson Welles’ Hearts of Age (1934), Jean Genet’s Un Chant d’Amour (1950), Peter Greenaway’s The Falls (1980), Charles Lane’s Sidewalk Stories (1989), Craig Baldwin’s Tribulation 99 (1992), Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Teknolust (2002), Jenni Olson’s beautiful The Joy of Life (2005), and Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin (2008).
If you’re in a not-so-serious mood, Fandor offers a surprising number of fun exploitation, drive-in, and “B” movie classics, starting with a large batch of films by the great Italian horror master Mario Bava. Other examples that pop up: Ishiro Honda’s Destroy All Monsters (1968), Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (1971), Radley Metzger’s Score (1974), Lewis Jackson’s Christmas Evil (1980), Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980), David Markey’s Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (1984), Frank Henelotter’s Brain Damage (1988) and Frankenhooker (1990), Monte Hellman’s Iguana (1988), Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak (1995), and even “B” Westerns like Allan Dwan’s Silver Lode (1954) and Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966).
The site offers plenty of documentaries, but these run a bit more toward the obscure. Probably the most famous example is Nick Broomfield’s Biggie & Tupac, and the late, great Albert Maysles is represented with several of his lesser-known titles. Likewise, the site rather falls down in its family film offerings, so parents won’t find much here for kids, other than films like Kirikou and the Sorceress and a collection of old public domain Fleischer Brothers cartoons. Speaking of public domain, like most other streaming services, fans will find several of those familiar, free titles, such as a group of hilarious W.C. Fields comedy shorts, Charade (1963) with Audrey Hepburn, and Nina Paley’s great Sita Sings the Blues (2009).
The actual streaming of the movies is pretty seamless, with the interface resembling YouTube or Vimeo, and no ads. Users can even scrub back and forth through the video, if desired; nothing is locked down. The main menus offer searches through many genres, subgenres and countries. Sliders are available to narrow the range of years or running times. Just about every cast and crew member is hotlinked, for maximum searchability. Some names are well represented, like Herzog and Bava; others, like Spike Lee or Steven Soderbergh, a little less so.
In the grand scheme of things, Fandor may seem like an underdog or an outcast, but as the world of film changes—especially for non-mainstream movies—it is actually a major player. It is here to remind us that the art of film is still alive.