Streaming Surprises, Volume 8

Wrongly convicted James Allen serves in the intolerable conditions of a southern chain gang in director Mervyn LeRoy’s 1932 classic “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.” (Credit: Warner Bros.

Our “Streaming Surprises” series calls attention to good movies new and old. Titles are available from various streaming services.

“I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” (1932)
The earliest in time of Yale Professor Marc Lapadula’s short list of four films that altered films that altered the course of American history, this film tells the story of one young man among many returning from the horrors of WWI. James Allen wants to use his experience in the Army Corps of Engineers and pursue work in construction. The men returning from the war, however, have flooded the market, and work has become difficult to find for returning veterans. Their service to their country is apparently valueless. James is unwillingly caught up in a robbery and sentenced to ten years on a Southern chain gang. “Chain Gang” highlights: (1) the inadequacy of the benefits provided to veterans; (2) the shortcomings of the legal system; and (3) the brutality of the penal system. Popular acceptance of this film led to changes in all three. Apart from its effect on history, this film is riveting and, at times, emotionally wrenching.
Submitted by Linda Knight.  Available on Amazon and Netflix.

“Abstract: The Art of Design” (2017)
Without intention or any suggestion, I came upon the new Netflix original documentary series called “Abstract: The Art of Design.” Instantly, the right side of my brain tingled with anticipation and I blocked out the time to indulge in the premier season, which consists of eight episodes. Any well-documented production that can get me inside the mind of a creative person has won five gold stars in my book, and although I’ve only watched the first three episodes so far (on illustration, footwear design, and stage design) those five stars have been pasted on the board for the class to see. I look forward to episodes on architecture, graphic design, photography, interior design, and yes, even automotive design — because all creatives are driven people. The inspiration is pure and finds you when you least expect it. Thanks, Netflix!
Submitted by Donna Mott. Available on Netflix.

“The Fits” (2015)
The directorial debut from Anna Rose Holmer feels like a revelation: A bare and riveting 72 minutes of adolescence as choreography. Acting newcomer Royalty Hightower plays Toni, an 11-year-old tomboy who quits training with her brother’s boxing team but then struggles to fit into an all-girls dance troupe. As older dancers one-by-one begin to suffer from an inexplicable epidemic of violent fits, Toni and her young friends Maia and Beezy observe in both awe and horror. A critical darling at the Venice and Sundance film festivals, “The Fits” announces Holmer as an instant auteur and Hightower as a magnetic new talent.
Submitted by Jefferson Beavers. Available on Amazon Prime.