Database Spotlight: Kanopy

The word "Kanopy" is written in white in an all lowercase serif font on a black background.
The Kanopy logo

One of the characters in Wong Kar-wai’s 2000 motion-picture masterpiece In the Mood for Love tells us that, “In the old days, if someone had a secret they didn’t want to share… They went up a mountain, found a tree, carved a hole in it, and whispered the secret into the hole. Then they covered it with mud. And left the secret there forever”. While one of the many poignant moments from a heart-breaking film, the libraries of Oxford have now very much entered the modern day and are committed to sharing as much as we can about the myriad real and virtual secrets we hold in our collections. For the next instalment of the Graduate Trainee blog’s “Database Spotlight” series, I would like to showcase the streaming platform Kanopy.

Accessible under “Databases A-Z” on the “Useful Links” section of the SOLO homepage, Kanopy is “dedicated to thoughtful and thought-provoking films… that foster learning and conversation”, providing access to a wide array of feature films, short works and educational documentaries. In actual fact, their raison d’être is broad enough that we can enjoy many different styles of content, some of which I will highlight here. Though I first came across Kanopy around three years ago as an undergraduate student at SOAS, University of London which also subscribed, the Bodleian Libraries has only this autumn provided access so I believe this will be an unheard-of resource for most Oxford students and staff (the institutional Single Sign-On login is required) which needs promoting!


A black and white image of Tarkovsky, a man with light skin, short dark hair and a moustache. He points to the camera and stares at something just behind the viewer. He wears a patterned scarf around his neck.
Legendary Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky


One of the first films I came across on the platform was the aforementioned In the Mood for Love, now widely considered one of the greatest films of the twenty-first century exemplifying both Wong Kar-wai’s distinctive lush, colourful visual style and subtle storytelling in its presentation of the impossible love affair between the film’s two married protagonists. Most of the films included on Kanopy belong more to the ‘traditional’ canon of classic films, however. Though filmed in the 1970s Soviet Union and set in a distant dystopian future, legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (remade in 2002 and starring George Clooney) centres around a similarly-impossible love story with the science-fiction and philosophical themes much more in the background. French filmmaker Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée also combines a fated romance with darker, denser contemplations on the Cold War and would be of interest to fans of the 1995 Terry Gilliam Hollywood remake 12 Monkeys, echoing and expanding on many scenes of the earlier work and featuring outstanding performances by Bruce Willis, Brad Pitt and Christopher Plummer.

In contrast, Tarkovksy’s other films, like Stalker, Andrei Rublev and Mirror would appeal to audiences more interested in the philosophical and existential themes and preoccupations of the director as he struggled continuously with the impositions placed on artistic freedom in the later years of the USSR. For others interested in the history of Russian cinema, Kanopy has selected Sergei Eisenstein’s epics Battleship Potemkin, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky as integral instances of its must-see works for Film Studies students.




By far the most complete genre collection I would say Kanopy has selected would be Hollywood Film Noir, running from its origins in the 1930s and ‘40s to revisionist and complex 1970s’ “New Hollywood” offerings. Particular recommendations would be the definitive 1944 noir Double Indemnity directed by Billy Wilder, well known for his comedies Some Like It Hot and The Apartment but really an all-rounder of the old and best type, together with the quite comical Suddenly! worth watching for Frank Sinatra’s charismatic performance. Of the later noirs, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie would stand out to those attracted to the genre’s seedier side and to its cult status as part of actor/director John Cassavetes’ canon. And, on that note, fans of his would be very much interested in his performance alongside Peter Falk (AKA Lieutenant Columbo) in Mikey and Nicky who also stars in Cassevetes’ directorial magnum opus, A Woman under the Influence.




As you can see, for the one who is willing to have a good hunt through a fair few less-desirable offerings, Kanopy presents a veritable treasure trove for any cinephile. And I haven’t even mentioned that you can find both parts I and II of The Godfather!