The Barnes & Noble semi-annual sale on DVDs and Blu-rays from the Criterion Collection is just around the corner (November 1st – get your wallets ready!). Let’s use this week’s Roundtable as an opportunity to identify some of our favorite titles from the esteemed collection.
The Criterion Collection first opened its doors for business way back in 1984 with the Laserdisc editions of ‘King Kong’ and ‘Citizen Kane’. In the ensuing years, the company established a highly-regarded reputation for the restoration and presentation of classic (and sometimes not-so-classic) films on LD, DVD and now Blu-ray. Criterion even issued at least one VHS tape when it couldn’t get optical disc rights to the movie: ‘Spirits of the Dead’. (Bet you didn’t know that!) For the purposes of this Roundtable, all of these formats are fair game.
This week, we also welcome Tom Landy to join us in the Roundtable. We’ll let him start things off.
A long time ago, prior to George Lucas pushing his fans far, far away… there was a man named Akira Kurosawa. While I’m not sure if I’d even call the movie that heavily inspired ‘Star Wars’ my favorite Kurosawa film, never mind favorite overall Criterion title, I have a soft spot for ‘The Hidden Fortress‘ because it takes me back to my childhood – back to a time when it’s like I’m seeing Lucas’ space opera again for the very first time, before it was defiled by a madman’s incessant tinkering. From the two comedic, droid-like peasants to the scene transition swipes, and from the thick eyebrowed princess right down to the incomparable Toshirô Mifune (who is like Obi-Wan, Han Solo and a little bit of Boba Fett all rolled into one here), the similarities truly are uncanny at times. In fact, this movie’s influence may even still be at work in Lucas’ recent wave of godawful “tweaks.” One of the droid/peasants actually says to the other (and I swear I’m not kidding): “I hate the way you blink all the time!” Talk about spooky, huh? Anyway, here’s hoping for a CG-eyelid-free Blu-ray of ‘The Hidden Fortress’ in 2012.
I have many films that I’d consider favorites in the expansive Criterion Collection, but out of sheer principle, I’d have to cast my vote for ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom‘. Why? 1) I can’t stand collectors who just buy every damn film from the company – the ones who collect spine numbers more so than films. The thought of these chumps spending $600 some five years ago for the amazingly-rare, white-ringed nimbus spine #17 makes me as giddy as the fact that now said disc is worth less than $100 due to the reissue a few years back. 2) I love the thought of random people leaping into this film not paying close attention to the word “Sodom” in the title, and getting repulsed by the depictions thereof. 3) It’s actually a fantastic film that we might not have ever seen in the States had it not been for Criterion.
When the disc plays, you see an MGM logo before the film. How likely would MGM be to release this film on DVD or Blu-ray? That’s what I thought. This is the disc that helped make the Criterion Collection so legendary and famous/infamous. It has not been given a proper supplement package to date, sadly, which means that it isn’t the ultimate disc in Criterion’s series, but damn do I love the thought of people walking into this one blind. Call me sick, but I’d rather see more titles of this ilk than ones from Wes Anderson.
My favorite Criterion release is Richard Linklater’s ‘Dazed and Confused‘, which means October 25th is a big release day for me. Not only do we get ‘Jurassic Park‘, and both 2D and 3D concert Blu-rays from the always-mesmerizing Peter Gabriel, we also get the HD Criterion upgrade of one of my all-time favorite films, with all of the supplements and behind-the-scenes goodies that made the previous DVD edition so fantastic. There’s no filler in this release; it’s comprised of the kind of meaningful, revealing and touching details, tributes and revelations that make the best behind-the-scenes productions so powerful. From watching the supplements on this release, you’ll realize just how personal and meaningful this film is to everyone involved, especially David Wooderson himself.
M. Enois Duarte
When talking about movies with the worst history of home video releases, I always think of ‘Lola Montès‘, the stunningly gorgeous cult classic from the now mostly-forgotten director of excess, Max Ophüls. For me, it ranks as one of the most impressive films ever made. It’s best to pretend that the movie was never released on VHS, but the DVD from Fox Lorber is absolutely horrendous and one of the worst examples of the format. When Criterion brought the film to Laserdisc, improvements were clearly made, except that the picture quality remained poor. The LD was the edited version of the film and presented in the wrong aspect ratio. Years later, Criterion corrected its mistake and finally gave the 1955 drama a proper treatment. On Blu-ray, ‘Lola Montès’ is brought back to her former glory and looks remarkable, an example of what the format is truly capable of when the video transfer is made from the best available sources. It continues to be my favorite Criterion release yet.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I first heard that Criterion was bringing Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast‘ to Blu-ray. Even all these many decades later, it remains perhaps the single greatest translation of a fairy tale to film, brilliantly capturing that childlike sense of awe and wonder. Once the setting shifts to the Beast’s castle, there’s hardly a frame in the film that isn’t infused with that rare sort of cinematic magic – endlessly ambitious production design, seamless effects work, breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography, and an incomparably surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. The most lavish modern CG effects budget couldn’t hope to match what Cocteau and his immensely talented crew accomplished in 1946. Its visual splendor and masterful storytelling ensure that ‘Beauty and the Beast’ remains one of the great wonders of the black and white era, and Criterion’s outstanding release on Blu-ray makes it that much more of an essential viewing.
Fellini, Fellini, Fellini! I can’t get enough Fellini, and the visual nature of the maestro’s movies practically demands high definition. Unfortunately, very few of his films are available on Blu-ray at present. Criterion offers a couple of his best. ‘Amarcord‘ is wonderful, but the director’s masterpiece (one of several) ‘8 ½‘ gets my vote here. After an early career in the Neo-Realist genre, this was Fellini’s first film in the sense of what would become his signature style. It’s a joyous celebration of life and art, of dreams and fantasies. In comparison to his later works, the Surrealistic elements are also straightforward and linear, which makes ‘8 ½’ very approachable and perhaps an ideal starting point for viewers unfamiliar with the director. The Blu-ray’s video has a couple of issues that keep it short of perfection, but on the whole, it’s a splendid-looking disc – one that I am thrilled to have in my own collection. I’m dying for ‘La Dolce Vita’ and ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ next!
Come on, Criterion collectors and general viewers too. Tell us about some of your favorite Criterion titles in the Comments below.