By Max Saltman
I’d consider myself a pretty avid reader, but in recent weeks, I haven’t even tried to read a book I haven’t read before. I don’t know what it is about social distancing, but I feel less and less of an inclination to read anything other than comic books. On Instagram, at least, the rest of the world has apparently started doing the unthinkable: reading books from the infinite list they keep on their phones. I don’t have a list, and I don’t feel like tackling Little Fires Everywhere, so instead I watch a disgusting amount of television and re-read Calvin and Hobbes. Or, at least, I did, before I discovered Kanopy.
I first became aware of Kanopy at BOGO, of all places. A friend described the website over the din of twenty-odd would-be Betas, seven SAE pretty-boys, and an innumerable number of PKE sandstone-gazers, along with John Prine’s “Sweet Revenge” playing so loud my teeth vibrated.
“IT’S LIKE NETFLIX” my friend screamed into my ear, “BUT THERE AREN’T ANY TV SHOWS. THERE ARE LOTS OF INDEPENDENT MOVIES AND DOCUMENTARIES, THOUGH. I WATCHED ONE ABOUT OUTSIDER ART. IT WAS PRETTY COOL!”
I pulled out my phone, and she guided me through the process of getting to Kanopy. First, go to the DuPont library webpage, then click on the “Research Databases” button. Search for “Kanopy” in the text bar, and select “Kanopy Streaming Video.” (Of course, you can also just look up “Kanopy” online, something that didn’t occur to either of us in the beery, amber glow of BOGO).
Since we were within a close enough distance to campus, I didn’t have to make an account, and I scrolled through the selection. They have almost every movie produced by A24 Pictures, a sizeable chunk of the Criterion Collection, and nearly every Great Course produced by the Teaching Company. I bookmarked the page on my phone, and promptly forgot about it until about two weeks ago.
When my appetite for 30 Rock found its limit, I remembered my friend’s recommendation, and downloaded the Kanopy app on my phone. I had to make an account through my sewanee.edu email, but after that, I was free to roam at will. The first film I watched was Hereditary, a terrifying horror movie directed by Ari Aster. I’d seen it before, in a theater with friends, and didn’t sleep for a week afterwards. But, somehow, its power to scare was lost on my Samsung’s tiny screen, and I was able to actually enjoy it. Aster is a masterful director, and the cast (which includes Nat Wolf, of all people) functions like a freakishly entertaining superorganism. As the credits rolled, I thought, What else do they have?
Other titles on Kanopy include Midsommar, Ari Aster’s other movie, about a Swedish cult; Greta Gerwig’s coming-of-age movie Lady Bird; Five Broken Cameras, a powerful Palestinian documentary about the Israeli separation barrier in the West Bank; and nearly all of documentarian Les Blank’s esoteric short films. I’d recommend Gap Toothed Women, a surprisingly entertaining half-hour short where Blank interviews (you guessed it) women with gap-teeth.
Kanopy does lack in some departments, noticeably movies from the Criterion Collection that aren’t three hours long and in German. The app is also rather primitive, and lacks software that might suggest movies based upon user interest. But the nearly bottomless, obscure collection of titles leads one to almost inevitably find something they like. And, as a plus, because many of the movies are independent, foreign, or documentaries, you get a haughty, superior feeling. Kanopy: You’re not just a slob watching TV—you’re a cultured aesthete!