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Watching The Unstreamable Christmas Movies


The holidays have become peak time for binge-watching Christmas movies online, something streaming services have made fiendishly easy to do. But there was a time you had to work for your binge. You remember that? You had to rent or borrow tapes - yes, tapes - or DVDs from shops and libraries to make it happen. You might think that all of that is dead in the age of streaming - almost everything, when you want on Netflix or Hulu. But not so. Unstreamable movies live and are recommended in a column called "Unstreamable" in The Stranger, a weekly newspaper in Seattle. Joining us now from KUOW in Seattle are Chase Burns and Jasmyne Keimig, who write the column. Welcome.




GARCIA-NAVARRO: All together now. So what are those of us who have forsaken tapes and DVD missing out on?

BURNS: Well, we started this column because we were really interested in what the limits of streaming services were. There are so many streaming services in the United States. Some people estimate up to 300 streaming services that...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ahh. It's giving me so much FOMO just knowing that.


BURNS: And we assume that there is this limitless content out there. But there really isn't. Most of the streaming services have less than your average Blockbuster would have. And so we started this because we were interested in what movies were being left out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there are still plenty of places, including public libraries, where people can still rent or borrow movies. And millions of people actually still do this. Why do you think that is? Is it this idea that it actually is satisfying to go and just kind of let yourself wander and see what you discover?

KEIMIG: Yeah. And I think it's also - you know, Netflix DVD is still around, and it's used by 2.7 million people. And a lot of those people live in rural areas...


KEIMIG: ...Because broadband access isn't uniform across the country. And I think it's also used by people on the coast that have great connectivity that - yeah - like you said, don't just want to pull from the small library of things that are available online.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is the season that has really become all about the Hallmark Christmas movies or those that are adjacent to that, you know, the romance with the Santa hats and the snow. And I'm addicted to it. Can we scratch that itch without streaming?

BURNS: We actually totally can. We are fortunate in Seattle. We live next to the largest physical media library in the world. It's called Scarecrow Video. It's a nonprofit. They have a massive section of holiday movies that we were going through. And yeah, we certainly have some recommendations, as well.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Well, I want to hear them.

BURNS: So my first recommendation would be "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour." You might remember. It was on from the...


BURNS: ...Early '70s till about '74. And...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Before my time, but still...

BURNS: Might as well.


BURNS: So Sonny and Cher never released a holiday album together. But they do have three Christmas shows that are excellent. And they were compiled to a DVD, "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour" Christmas special DVD.


CHER: (Singing) Oh holy night. The stars are brightly shining. It is the night...

BURNS: And I recently watched it. And what I loved about it was just how flamboyant and loud - the costumes are incredible. Cher comes out in this, like, giant fur coat. Bernadette Peters is there. So I definitely, solidly recommend watching that if you can get your hands on the DVD.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Jasmyne?

KEIMIG: My recommendation - in the same way that "Die Hard" is a Christmas movie, I'm also going to use "Less Than Zero" as a Christmas movie.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, ho, ho, ho. That's a really cheery one (laughter).

KEIMIG: Right. But I think it's a really great story, you know, adapted from a Bret Easton Ellis novel. It follows, you know, these famous faces from the '80s - Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey Jr., Jami Gertz, James Spader, right? And Andrew McCarthy play someone who's coming home for the Christmas holidays to kind of find his friends from high school in really bad ways.


ANDREW MCCARTHY: (As Clay Easton) I'm going to deserve your friendship. And I want you just to stop me before I say something grotesquely sentimental.

KEIMIG: And it's a really kind of interesting exploration about the way that relationships change between people over time, especially as they kind of come together for this holiday season.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what do you think this does for us, though, in this age where, you know, we may not know what we want to see, and it just kind of pops up on the screen?

MCCARTHY: Yeah. I recently heard a video store clerk talk about how, when you go into a video store, when you go into a library, you can really begin to develop a relationship with your taste. So when you're sitting in front of a screen and they're recommending really what everyone else is watching, it's sort of easy to fall into that rhythm. But when you go into a video store, if you're fortunate enough to do so or if you go into a library and talk to a librarian, you're able to sort of understand what you're interested in. And, you know, when I walk into a video store, I'm surprised by what I'm attracted to. And I think that that relationship is really valuable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jasmyne Keimig and Chase Burns from The Stranger. Thank you so much.

KEIMIG: Thank you.



UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

CHER: (Singing) The snow's coming down.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Christmas.

CHER: (Singing) I'm watching it fall. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.