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From the Wire: Prepare Yourselves For Streamageddon

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by Matt Singer
April 30, 2013 6:23 PM
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"Busting."
UPDATE: According to Warner Archive's Twitter account, the info that today's titles are expiring on Netflix because of Warner's new instant streaming service is incorrect. The titles ARE expiring on Netflix, though. So you better watch fast.

Slate's Sam Adams has done us all a great service. In anticipation of the Great Streamageddon of 2013 -- when Netflix loses literally hundred of library titles to the new Warner Archive streaming service tonight at the stroke of midnight -- he's put together a list of a dozen essential titles you need to watch before all the glass slippers start turning back into pumpkins (or whatever -- no time to fact-check my metaphors here people, the movies are going to expire in six hours!!). 

Here's Adams' pitch for a few vanishing titles:

"'The Bed-Sitting Room' (1969) and 'How I Won the War' (1967)

A classic and a curiosity from 'A Hard Day’s Night' director Richard Lester. 'The Bed-Sitting Room' is Lester’s commonly acknowledged (though not widely seen) masterpiece, a bleak post-apocalyptic farce in which the Earth’s population has been reduced to a handful of people, some of whom morph into inanimate objects without notice. 'How I Won the War' is best remembered for featuring John Lennon in a small role, but the film centers on Michael Crawford as an inept officer who survives repeated attempts at fragging. Lester described as an “anti-anti-war movie,” a movie opposing the ineffectual cliches of the traditional anti-war movie."

I encourage you to head over to Slate and see which of his recommendations you might want to watch, and I'll throw in one of my own that I caught over the weekend after I saw it pop up in my queue with an "EXPIRING ON 5/1" tag: "Busting," a 1974 proto-buddy cop movie starring Elliott Gould and Robert Blake, written and directed by Peter Hyams, who went on to make the sci-fi films "Capricorn One," "Outland," and "2010," and the well-regarded "Die Hard" rip-off "Sudden Death" with Jean-Claude Van Damme. This is one of his earliest films. Of the resume I just mentioned, it might also be his very best, even though it doesn't feature JCVD karate fighting the Pittsburgh Penguins' mascot.

In contrast to the outlandish action romps that would come from later buddy cops, "Busting" is a downbeat, low-key look at the day-to-day lives of vice detectives, whose gloomy routine mostly consists of setting a series of traps in order to ensnare prostitutes and drug dealers. Many of Gould and Blake's perps work for a crime boss named Rizzo (Allen Garfield), who uses bribes and political influence to keep himself and his associates out of prison. After exhausting every above-board maneuver they can think of, Gould and Blake, apparently the only honest cops in all of L.A., decide to just annoy the shit out of Rizzo until he cracks. It's hilarious.

The movie is of its time, which means it's not exactly sensitive to the patrons of the gay bar Gould and Blake raid one particular evening. On the other hand, despite the slurs that get thrown around, the bar's customers are tough and independent, and unlike almost everyone else in "Busting," they're not beholden to the corrupting influence of money. That pervasive cynicism about our society's institutional inefficacy mark the film as a product of its time ("Busting" opened six months before Nixon resigned) -- and suggest it as a sort of spiritual forebear to later masterpieces of understated, unflinching crime fiction like "The Wire."

Gould and Blake have natural, lived-in chemistry and Hyams' camerawork is particularly distinctive and memorable. He returns repeatedly to a unique shot that I don't recall ever seeing anywhere else: a long take tracking shot that leads the action, instead of following it (you can see a sample starting at 1:06 of this awesome vintage trailer):

I would say more but there's no time because these movies are expiring in five and a half hours now so hurry up and watch watch watch.

Read more of "The Great Netflix Purge." Watch "Busting" on Netflix. Note: if you have some issues with the streaming print of "Busting" in its last half-hour, it's not just you; I saw 'em too. The movie's worth watching anyway.

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