The reveal of the next batches of releases by specialty home entertainment label The Criterion Collection is always a reason to celebrate but this announcement for the still-far off September releases is particularly exciting for a couple of reasons which will get into below but first let’s start with what was announced.
Criterion always likes to mix in slightly more obscure fare with it’s releases of canonical arthouse (Bergman, Tarkovsky, etc.) and overlooked mainstream successes (The Big Chil, A Hard Days Night) and this month we get 1961 British gothic horror film The Innocents (dir. Jack Clayton) and French weepy from 1962 set in the aftermath of the French Indochina War, Sundays and Cybèle (dir. Serge Bourguignon). It’s arguable if either film can truly be described as obscure, with The Innocents popping up in several best-of lists – amongst them Martin Scorsese’s scariest films – and Sunday and Cybèle winning an Academy Award for best foreign language film, although it’s debatable how valuable those are in the history books.
A pleasantly surprising addition is Roman Polanski’s slightly better known but still chronically overlooked adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Apart from being one of the best representations of Shakespeare on film and just being all-round excellent it is notable for being Polanski’s first film made after the death of Sharon Tate and it’s suitably bleak and bloody. Without giving too much away this one has a lot for those frustrated with the tacked on happy ending of Shakespeare’s original.
After the well-received Blu-Ray upgrade of All That Heaven Allows it seems only natural that Criterion would give it’s 1974 remake Ali: Fear Eats The Soul the same treatment. It’s always good to see great films get upgraded, but like the Sirk remaster before it, this one’s particularly exciting because Fassbinder’s use of colour, in ode to the master of melodrama, is so exquisite that a truly crisp HD transfer could really make a difference.
But what truly is ground breaking for Criterion is the announcement that David Lynch’s cult debut Eraserhead would be getting the deluxe treatment. Lynch was one of the few major auteurs to have no entries in the Criterion catalogue before now and Eraserhead had no Blu Ray release in America. Curiously Europe and Australia is a better place to be for top quality Lynch transfers, MK2 owns the rights overseas and treat them as modern classics as oppose to the mid-budget studio films they’re seen as in the US. Still this Eraserhead features a plethora of early Lynch shorts and other special features that will make it an invaluable document of the great director in his formative years. For those who don’t have a multi-region Blu-Ray player or want to save a few dollars, the excellent release from Umbrella is reasonably priced and readily available.
So why is Lynch in the Collection a big deal? Well aside from the comprehensive treatment the label will provide (including the new 4K transfer), Lynch’s own history and attitudes with home video has been interesting. Lynch DVDs, when he’s had the say, don’t even have chapter stops, such is his belief in the importance of experiencing the whole film at once, and he has a much known reticence to providing anything in the ways of audio commentaries or anything else – infamously elusive as to a film’s ‘meanings’ or other inner workings, one of the lasting cinematic mysteries is how the baby in Eraserhead was made, and no amount of digging by Criterion will reveal that in the new special features. And of course there is the old rumour about Lynch’s connection with Criterion – with Eraserhead being rumoured for the Collection for so long, for years legend had it that they had reached a handshake agreement, but Criterion announced (or had it leaked) of the collaboration prematurely which upset Lynch and caused him to drop out at the eleventh hour. That Lynch – one of the few directors with the clout and brand name to need Criterion far less than they need him – could come to terms with the label is in itself noteworthy.
What this leads us to ask is whether or not we’ll see more Lynch in the collection. His studio efforts like Dune and The Elephant Man are doubtful and that’s assuming Criterion would even want them. His more surreal work like Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. (though the latter has been long hinted at) may be too expensive for the boutique label though fortunately for us Madman has excellent releases of the first two on DVD and Blu-Ray, and the former is also available in the forthcoming Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray set available here and abroad, and with the long awaited, never seen before deleted scenes . Sadly the film most in need of re-discovery, the G rated oddity The Straight Story is owned by Disney, the one company who would never play nice with anybody for any reason when it comes to leasing their property. Which leaves us to the one other film left with rights owned by Lynch himself, who also owns Eraserhead: Inland Empire. We quite liked it.