Now before I am set upon by the MPAA or the Euro equivalent, I better say straight away you will not find any torrents, warez, isos etc.. of the latest Michael Bay turdfests here. I am talking completely free, streaming or downloadable films. Classic, must-see films which any budding cinephile should add to their repertoire immediately. Sound too good to be true? Welcome to the world of public domain film.

Now, this can be a bit of a minefield, and one which I admit I am not properly equipped to navigate for you. Copyright expiration varies at different times at different locations around the globe, and as my legal knowledge stops at “In France, it is forbidden to call a pig Napoleon” , I will hand you over to people that should know better. If there is one thing I am good at, it’s shirking responsibility…..

I’ll start off with a couple of essentials currently viewable in their entirety on youtube (in a single video).

Nosferatu (1922) . Murnau’s silent classic. A film which we are lucky to be able to watch at all following the Bram Stoker estate’s successful copyright infringement claim, which required all prints of the film were destroyed. Luckily for us future film enthusiasts, copies had already been shipped around the world and it was impossible to subdue completely. The public domain print is scratchy and damaged, so if you are really interested, I would recommend you get hold of the beautifully restored Eureka! release. Cheapskates can just click the link above though, and enjoy one of Murnau’s best received works.

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) . Robert Wiene’s masterpiece of true German expressionism. Considered by many as the quintessential expressionistic piece, Wiene’s oft-copied style reverberates through movie history today, and his influence can be felt in many modern films. Most notably the visual style of Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, but also in the narrative of such films as Scorcese’s Shutter Island. Not only artistically important, it stands on its own as a great film with a fantastic plot, and has what must be one of the earliest “holy shit!” twists ever commited to film. M. Night Shyamalamadingdong take note, this is how it’s done. Note that the version I have linked to is a sped up version, which reduces its runtime by approximately 20 minutes, but is still perfectly palatable and an OK way to watch the film if you have no other means. Once again I recommend the Eureka! release if you wish to own this on DVD, a poor quality stream in no way compares to the remastered footage with its correct tinting.

Aside from these classics, youtube user LuckyStrike502 has plenty of other public domain movies, ranging from the campy but great The Last Man On Earth (1964) (the original “I am legend“) , to the ultra camp (and largely terrible) horror The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (1962) . Have a look through his videos and I am sure you cheapskates can find something to entertain you.

All of these films, plus hundreds more, can be found at archive.org , often in mp4 format, ready to download straight to your iPod. If you only choose one film from archive.org, make sure it is  M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Moerder (1931) . Fritz Lang’s first talkie, with incredible sound direction for the time, impossible camerawork, a career-defining performance from Peter Lorre, and an all round masterpiece of a film.

It doesn’t have to cost anything but your time to start appreciating classic film. Enjoy.

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