There are roughly 14 billion streaming services—from Netflix to Amazon to Hulu to HBO Now to FilmStruck to YouTube Premium—and even more are on the way, including services from our corporate overlords Disney and Apple. For better or worse (probably worse), Americans now find ourselves drowning in a grotesque glut of content.
That makes the prospect of adding yet another streaming service to one's life not particularly appealing—until you realize that this one comes to Portlanders via the goddamn wonderful Multnomah County Library, and, for library card holders, it's free.
This morning, Multomah County Library announced that its card holders now have access to Kanopy, a streaming service geared toward libraries and schools that boasts "more than 30,000 of the world’s best films, including award-winning documentaries, rare and hard-to-find titles, film festival favorites, indie and classic films, and world cinema with collections from the Criterion Collection, Kino Lorber, Music Box Films, Samuel Goldwyn, the Orchard, PBS, and thousands of independent filmmakers."
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A quick browse though Kanopy's offerings reveals the bane of every streaming service—a fair amount of generic filler—but also some impressively curated selections, with films organized into some pretty fantastic collections.
The big one, naturally, is the Criterion Collection: Kanopy currently offers access to 50 releases from the esteemed label, from the obvious (Seven Samurai, The 400 Blows) to the less so (Haxan). But Kanopy's other curated collections have more targeted ranges: "Directed by Women" has some excellent selections (including The Love Witch, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and at least three films from Kelly Reichardt), while a collection of Spanish-language cinema offers a slew of promising dramas... annnnnd the the blockbuster Spanish series about Torrente, "the world's most uncouth private eye" who's "rude, crude, lewd... and a real private dick!" SOLD.
There's one drawback to Kanopy—a restriction that users can only watch six films a month. That'll likely be less of an issue for casual viewers than it will be for hardcore cinephiles. (There are five Torrente movies alone!) And viewers won't find mainstream new releases on Kanopy—distributors are going to keep those on paid services, where they can make a lot more money . But assuming you're not solely interested in the franchise offerings from our aforementioned corporate overlords, Kanopy's selection is nothing to sneeze at, even when considering how few films are generally available via streaming services.
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And I'm not just talking about Torrente: Clicking around a little more reveals gems like Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator, and Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God. And, to answer the question that has been burning inside your soul ever since the beginning of this post: Yes, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure is available.
Kanopy joins a suite of other digital-media services that the Multnomah County Library card holders can use, including the music, comics, and video streaming service Hoopla and my beloved Libby, which makes it preposterously easy to borrow ebooks and audio books. When taken altogether, the library's free, publicly available streaming services are starting to make at least a few of those 14 billion other streaming services unnecessary.