Self-Isolation Culture Special: Free Film, Music, Art, Essays, Books and More


Welcome to the strange new normal – how are you doing?

If you’re anything like us, the constant reporting of all things Coronavirus (COVID-19) is taking its toll. With huge numbers of us working from home, lulled into leaving News 24 on our TVs, we’re being bombarded by rolling reports (and broadcast journalists are, understandably, making hay from the pandemic).

Stating the blindingly obvious, this isn’t doing much for anybody’s mental health. In fact, it’s serving to heighten anxiety and, in some cases, hysteria. We know this because we recognise it in ourselves. As such, we thought we’d pull together our favourite online entertainment, stories and stuff with which to occupy our minds, eyes and ears over the coming days, weeks and – who knows? – months.

Initially, we’ve avoided the inclusion of the more obvious platforms – such as Spotify, Netflix or YouTube, for instance – as we all pretty much know our way around those already. We’ve also gone for largely free-to-access stuff – not all of us is able to indefinitely subscribe to this, that and the other as we attempt to stave off cabin fever. Below, then (in no particular order), you’ll find a quick hitlist of culture to dive straight into, including film, music, art, essays, books and more. More recommendations and the occasional deep-dive will no doubt follow as time progresses. And, please, let us know what we’ve missed off and tell us how you’re combating this newfound weirdness.

A Key for the Kid, 2020, NoBudge


We start with NoBudge, a curated film streaming site with a difference. As we’ve hinted, many of us will be considering signing up for Netflix, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema etc. to deal with extended time in front of the TV. Of course, these all come with trial periods, which is great, but NoBudge can be accessed for free, indefinitely. Understandably, you won’t find any blockbusters, stars or well-known auteurs. Instead, the focus is on emerging independent talent and alternative voices. The films – including experimental short A Key for the Kid (pictured), made entirely from still photographs by director Thea Lorentzen – are micro-budget affairs, often without distribution and are largely unreviewed, meaning it’s more or less potluck. But, hey, you have the time now!

Open Culture

What an incredible resource Open Culture is. Entirely free to access, its tagline of “The best free cultural & educational media on the web” is hardly overstating things. Its offer, which includes Audio Books and eBooks, Online Course, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and Movies, is as impressive as it is wide-ranging. Check out a lecture from Margaret Atwood, download a Philip K. Dick short story (like The Skull, pictured), get stuck into an Art History course, or learn a new language – its being free never ceases to amaze us.

Dick, Philip K. - The Skull, Open Culture

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a free online library of more than 60,000 eBooks. There’s a handy search option, but a good place to get started is the month’s Top 100 downloads. In at number two, as of yesterday: A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe. We might swerve that for now – you’ll find us browsing the works of Edgar Allen Poe…

Public Domain Review

“Dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas” The Public Domain Review – as the name suggests – is an impressive repository of out-of-copyright material. Boasting essays on a range of themes from Art & Illustration to Literature, Music, Photography and more, as well as films, including these public service gems on halting the spread of germs by Richard Massingham (pictured), the rabbit hole of PDR is a deep and many-splendoured one.

Coughs, Sneezes, and Jet-Propelled Germs: Two Public Service Films by Richard Massingham (1945), Public Domain Review


Many of the sites we’ve chosen in this list play by the rules and only include out of copyright materials. UbuWeb, on the other hand, takes a more laissez faire stance on such things: “If it’s out of print, we feel it’s fair game. Or if something is in print, yet absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure, we’ll take a chance on it”. Whatever the politics, as an archive of niche but vital culture, it is rarely matched. Looking into the development of US publishing in reference to Andy Warhol? No problem: the pop artist’s fabulous multimedia magazine-in-a-box, Aspen, is compiled here. Interested in The Aesthetics of Noise? Check out this 2002 essay from Torben Sangild. When we’ve needed something in the past and not had access to J-STOR, UbuWeb has frequently saved the day.

Audio Arts Magazine Archive, Tate

Established by William Furlong and Barry Barker in 1973, and running for an unbelievable 35 years until 2004, Audio Arts was a cassette-based magazine which “sought to document contemporary artistic activity by recording artists’ voices”. Its access to the movers and shakers of the art world was impressive. Now digitised, in this archive hosted on the Tate website, you can tap into luminaries, as with this interview with trailblazing modernist Marcel Duchamp (pictured), or Mary Kelly and Susan Hiller discussing Women’s Practice in Art.

Audio Arts: Volume 2 No 4 1976, Tate

The John Peel Archive

You simply can’t overestimate the importance of John Peel (pictured, top). When he died in 2004, he left behind not only an incredible legacy (he championed Bowie, Neu, Kraftwerk, Pulp and many more), but also, of course, a huge collection of records. The Space’s online John Peel Archive is a window into his world, and the omnivorous listening habits that, in-part, defined him and a generation or two of listeners. Here you can find record boxes selected by the likes of Brian Eno, Don Letts, Simon Raymonde and Peel’s own Desert Island Discs (originally broadcast in 1990). It’s not the most intuitive or navigable of sites, but it’s worth the effort.

Ann Arbor Film Festival Live Stream

With not even Cannes having the nerve to deny Coronavirus (its postponement was finally announced last week), many a film festival is moving things online. One of which, Ann Arbor – North America’s “oldest avant-garde and experimental film festival” – gets underway tomorrow. With a mixture of short and feature films as well as moderated Q&As, take your front row seats from 8pm (that’s 4pm EDT for US readers) until 29 March. While a trip to its home in Michigan might currently be impossible, this is surely the next best thing.

Lady Vengeance by Park Chan-Wook, 2005, MUBI


We know, we know! We said we’d steer clear of streaming platforms with a limited free trial for this list. But arthouse distributor, producer and subscription service MUBI and Chester’s cultural centre Storyhouse have teamed up to offer 90 days free streaming – a boon for those of us keen on an expansive spread of cinema but watching the pennies. Currently available to UK audiences is South Korean director Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Old Boy and Lady Vengeance, pictured), a Jean-Pierre Melville retrospective, and Kleber Mendonça Filho’s latest Bacurau, which just left cinemas. Dig in!

Mike Pinnington

Feature image: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, 2005, MUBI

Posted on 23/03/2020 by thedoublenegative