About once every six to eight months, someone writes another essay that gets widely spread around on how the selection of “classic” films on Netflix is sub-par and offers little for anyone looking expand their knowledge beyond 1995 or so.
These essays aren’t entirely unfounded. Netflix could do better to offer older films, while Amazon Prime has a slightly better selection. If you’re primarily streaming your cinematic intake, though, neither service offers much in the way of a well-rounded menu.
So what, the authors seem to be asking, is a Millennial to do? How are they supposed to discover older, important films if they’re not available on their preferred format?
Thankfully, a non-streaming answer exists, and it’s one they’re probably already using: Libraries.
A Pew report last year showed Millennials – those aged roughly 24-35 – were more likely to have used a library in the preceding year than any other demographic. The reasons for that vary, from visiting with their own kids to seeking out that space as a safe and comfortable gathering spot to the educational offerings available there.
Most libraries feature decent selections of DVDs and Blu-rays. If yours doesn’t, it may have a partnership with other nearby institutions allowing you to request items that are shipped to that location. All of this is free and open to the public, democratizing access to information and resources, which is why conservatives would like to strangle them.
So how can libraries help you?
The biggest question with any “I want to learn more” project is where to start. Thankfully, it’s also the easiest one to answer. Here’s my step-by-step guide to expanding your film experience in an age where you’re not just going to randomly turn past Turner Classic Movies or where “Family Classics” on WGN each Sunday afternoon won’t begin your education:
First, pick one of your favorite current filmmakers. For the sake of illustration I’ll choose Ryan Coogler.
Second, hit IMDB and see what year his first film came out. In this case, that’s Fruitvale Station in 2013.
Third, explore what other movies came out in 2013, focusing either on award winners or top box-office performers, and find one you haven’t seen. Here I have to admit I still haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave. Go check that out from the library.
Fourth, you’ve now entered the world of director Steve McQueen. Work backwards through his filmography until you come to 2008’s Hunger.
Finally, repeat Step 3. Let’s say you get to 2008 and realize you never saw Slumdog Millionaire. That leads you to director Danny Boyle, which will take you all the way back to 1994.
The good news is you can follow this strictly and dogmatically or take whatever side quests catch your interest. If you start on Boyle’s movies and get to Solaris and that inspires you to go check out 2001, great. Or you can keep working your way down that one particular rabbit hole.
Whatever path you choose, you’ll likely soon find yourself in territory that would have seemed wholly unfamiliar six months prior. And you’ve taken your own route to get there instead of following someone’s prescribed list, which is filled with their own perceptions, preferences and other influences.
By contrast this is self-directed and doesn’t rely on whatever has been accepted into conventional wisdom, a definition that is (and should be) much different now than what it was 20 years ago. There’s nothing wrong with such lists, but if you’ve read one you’ve likely read most of them.
What do you think? Willing to give it a try?
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.