Cinema Quarantino, Film

Cinema Quarantino: My Top 5 Favorite Art Documentaries on YouTube


Cinema Quarantino is an ongoing series of alternative streaming picks for the self-quarantined and the socially distanced, as selected by the film staff of Boston Hassle. To browse the rest of our picks, click here.

It is surprisingly hard to find quality documentaries on YouTube, (or anywhere for that matter.) Which is why when I find a good one I tend to watch it over and over and over again. The documentaries compiled below are a select few that I’ve been binging over the past few years whenever I need some background noise or just want to learn about some damn 20th century art. These documentaries generally cover work from the late 19th century and the early to mid 20th century. As mentioned before, it is difficult to find documentaries, so this list is a bit more narrow, but nonetheless these are all solid watches and can do their job about informing the viewer about the importance of art and art news in society.

Enjoy! And hold your paint brushes tight because this is nothing like Bob Ross.

Degenerate Art:

As a Jewish person, but also as a freak (artist), this documentary amps up my emotions like any great piece of art should. I’ve been an abstract-expressionist devotee for many years (largely because of this documentary). This doc takes us through the dark back door of European abstract expressionism that inspired some of the greatest pieces in European 20th century art.

The story focuses on a traveling exhibition compiled by famed failed-artist-turned-nazi-scum Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich that was entitled ‘Entarte Kunst,’ or, in English, ‘Degenerate Art.’ The exhibitors hung paintings from famous modernists and expressionists from artists such as Kokaschka, Beckman, and many others (a close observer of this documentary can point out many paintings that now hang in the MFA Boston in the montage shots of the original ‘Entarte Kunst’ exhibit). Heady stuff, with crushing, shockingly honest takes from artists, critics, and observers; if you fancy yourself a fan of modern art, this documentary is for you.

Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath ‘Voices and Visions’ Documentaries:

Call me a huge nerd, but I love these documentaries that are fully funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. They not only contain criticism from such 20th century luminaries as Joyce Carol Oates and Adrienne Rich, but they also cover some of my favorite authors of all time. Foremost among my favorites are Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath. For the Sylvia Plath documentary, the two are separate, please click here.

A striking feature of the Plath documentary is that you get an aesthetic update on the clothing decisions of the elderly in the North Shore of Massachusetts circa 1970/1980. Because just like, god damn, what were they wearing? Anyways, both of these documentaries provide dramatic insights into the lives of two of the best American poets. And I can give them extra special care here because they were both from Massachusetts. Shout out to local artistic heroins from your home state!

Dadaism and Surrealism – Europe After the Rain:

This documentary highlights the origins and contributions of European DADA-ism and Surrealism. If you were ever wondering ‘what the hell is DADA?’  this documentary gives you the full low down and then some about this art movement from the early 20th century and how it splintered and evolved into surrealism through the natural human course of abject paranoia and infighting.

Check out this documentary for modern art’s spooky end and beginning all through the words of Tristan Tzara, Max Ernst, and many other prominent DADA-ists and commentators.

Painters Painting:

A film by Emile De Antonio, Painters Painting chronicles the American emergence of abstract expressionism after World War II through the 1970s and 1980s. With interviews from Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and a slew of other folks, this film will piss you off, woe you in its subject matter, and get stuck in your ear with very latent, subtle touches of irony and contradictions. In case abstract expressionism wasn’t kaleidoscopic enough, the commentaries from artists and critics will baffle you in their complexity, naivety, and overwhelming use of color and story to make an art, in the documentary’s words ‘distinctly American.’

A Jackson Pollock Documentary circa 1973:

Say what you will about Jackson Pollock, but this documentary is a unique approach to giving insight into the artist’s mind, one of America’s most enigmatic painters. I think I first watched this in high school art class and the idea of Pollock’s work has gripped me ever since. An up-close and personal look into Pollock’s work and antics that include ruining dinner parties and dressing like a cowboy.

Filled with tons of stunning images of Pollock’s work and expert criticisms, this is a chronicle of one of the most famous and important artists of the American 20th century.

Streaming is no substitute for taking in a screening at a locally owned cinema, and right now Boston’s most beloved theaters need your help to survive. If you have the means, the Hassle strongly recommends making a donation, purchasing a gift card, or becoming a member at the Brattle Theatre, Coolidge Corner Theatre, and/or the Somerville Theatre. Keep film alive, y’all.


Chris Hues is a human & writer from Boston, Ma & Associate Editor of //// They can be reached at [email protected] or @crsjh_ via instagram & twitter.

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