There are a few dates marked in every cinephile’s calendar – a handful of international and local Festivals, big theatrical release dates and the bi-annual Criterion sales from Barnes & Noble, a month long bonanza of impulse buying those sexy, sexy Blu-rays and DVDs at 50% off their (often prohibitive) Recommended Retail Price. For the international Criterion fiends such as us here in Aus, it’s doubly important as the Criterion website doesn’t ship internationally, rendering their own 50% flash sales useless for us. So until July 28th at barnesandnoble.com, every Criterion release is half price. Every. Single. One. Whether that’s a standard Blu-ray edition of single film like 8 1/2 or a mammoth box set like the 25-film Zatoichi collection; in the latter case, by saving $112.50 off RRP you’re basically making money. So go forth, and make great savings so you can buy birthday presents for loved ones or, who are we kidding, treat yo self. Just note, as always, region coding. All Criterion Blu-rays are Region A locked and DVDs Region 1 locked, so be sure you have compatible players before jumping in headfirst.
Overwhelmed by choice? Well, keep in mind this sale applies to all their recent releases – Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Red River, Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night and their forthcoming stellar Jacques Demy set. But we’ve also got a few of our own favourite releases, or, ‘Staff Picks’ to help you get rid of that cumbersome bore known as ‘money’.
Brad Mariano – Ozu? Suzuki? Fishing With John? This would be like picking my favourite of my (non-existent) children, although even once they do come into existence they too would likely have to come second in my affections to a film such as John Frankenheimer’s Seconds – a chilling dystopian thriller that has non incorrectly been described as a feature length episode of The Twilight Zone; a man is offered the chance to fake his death and be physically remodelled and given a new life in what is, for me, the best American film of the 1960s and the first of two our selections which cheekily plays with Rock Hudson’s sexuality. Criterion’s treatment of this harrowing, philosophical film is immaculate, from the cover inspired from Saul Bass’s artwork for the film, and legendary James Wong Howe, maybe the best ever black-and-white DP, has his incredibly cinematography come alive in a stunning 4K transfer.
As for what I’m planning to get, can’t go wrong with the savings off their massive box sets. I’m looking to catch up on some of their essential releases from the last couple years which for me is the 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman set of Europa ’51, Stromboli and Viaggio in Italia and their gorgeous, comprehensive release of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s notorious Trilogy of Life.
Conor Bateman- The Criterion release of Dazed & Confused is the best in my personal collection. They showed a knack for handling Linklater’s films with their Slacker release but here both the impecable package design (filled with sketches and the booklet modelled off of a high school yearbook) and an almost chaotic special features set shine. The highlight is the extras roulette, in which you hit play and clips from behind-the-scenes of filming and on-set interviews play at random – so if you wanna see all of it you have to immerse yourself in hours of content.
Jess Ellicott – I have rarely received better news than when I heard that Criterion was releasing one of my absolute favourite films on Blu-ray, namely Douglas Sirk’s painfully beautiful portrait of the corruption of love, All That Heaven Allows. For me the film is the pinnacle of melodrama, fully realising its capacity for social commentary, forming a model which Fassbinder would later appropriate in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974). From all reports the exquisite beauty of the film is more brilliant than ever before in this new release. The deer will be more clearly defined, the pain more acute, and Rock Hudson’s face more dashing, if at all possible. Trust me, this is worth buying a multi-region Blu-ray player for.
Jeremy Elphick – The Oshima’s Outlaw Sixties boxset has remained one of my favourite Criterion Collection releases for several years. Whilst Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and the infamous In The Realm of the Senses gave Nagisa Oshima the reputation he has today, Criterion’s boxset gives something more intimate in its focus on a more embryonic stage in the directors career. Sing A Song of Sex gives a shocking and confronting take on gender in Japan, whilst Pleasures of the Flesh shows the erotic-side of Oshima’s filmmaking and the depth with which he takes it. The other films in the set are examples of Oshima at his most political, socially-concerned and motivated to produce films that are both works of art and stringent statements on Japanese society. They’re fairly hard to acquire outside of this Eclipse Series 21 boxset, yet it’s difficult to view them as anything outside essential for fans of Oshima’s work.
Felix Hubble – While Catherine Brellait and I have a tumultuous relationship at best (I loved her recent Abuse of Weakness but absolutely loathed her 2004 effort Anatomy of Hell) I can only offer the highest of praise for Criterion’s edition of her 2001 masterpiece Fat Girl (À Ma Soeur!, an alternative title with a fascinating background discussed in Brellait’s own essay included with the release). On the surface, the film follows Anais, an overweight pre-teen transistioning into adulthood alongside her naïve older sister Elena, who is seduced by an even older and emotionally manipulative Italian tourist during a family holiday however what is contained within this basic set-up is a much richer exploration of gender and familial relationships, abuse, and violence. Wonderful cinematography and serene grading, coupled with spectacular performances enhance Brellait’s already intriguing and consistently thought-provoking script, resulting in one of the effectively realised and proficiently directed films of the last decade. While often challenging I’d easily place it in my top 10 of the 2000s, and the Criterion Collection’s fantastic and visually nuanced Blu-ray transfer of Fat Girl is not one to be missed.
If hard-hitting, subversive, feminist coming-of-age flicks aren’t your thing and you’re into a little bit of intelligent B-Cinema Criterion also has you covered with their editions of David Cronenberg’s classics, Scanners and Videodrome. With box-art good enough to make me retire my copy of Umbrella’s 2013 pressing, Criterion’s edition of Scanners is packed with a number of extra goodies (including a digital transfer of Cronenberg’s first, Stereo) and I mean, seriously, who can pass up that spectacular head-explosion scene in glorious remastered 1080p. Videodrome is of course worth picking up to inject a little more high-brow /low-brow social commentary into your Cronenberg collection and rebuild your brain after the physical disintegration it will undergo by the time that Scanners runtime has elapsed. Now, if they’d only issue Crash and eXistenZ too…
Imogen Gardam – America Lost and Found: The BBS Story. I recently powered through Peter Biskind’s fantastic Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – beyond being one of the most engaging film histories I’ve ever read, it also introduced me to BBS, among the most legendary and influential production companies in film history, and certainly in New Hollywood. Reading about the conditions around the production of their most iconic films – from the utter chaos that surrounded Easy Rider to the scandals and affairs of The Last Picture Show made me want to watch them all again – and lo and behold, here they are all, conveniently and beautifully packaged with more than enough archival interviews, documentaries and essays to fill in any gaps Biskind left. Special mention goes to the inclusion of Head, their A Hard Day’s Night-effort for the Monkees and first endeavour as a company. It was a commercial flop in its time, has gone through a cult renaissance, and presages the madness that would follow with Easy Rider.
Saro Lusty-Cavallari – Sometimes Criterion’s restorations surpass being impressive and just seem downright supernatural. Early Japanese films (the heyday of Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi and the beginnings of the Toho monster franchises) were shot on very cheap film stock that degraded quickly. The washed out grey look that you’d recognize from most Kurosawa DVD releases is nowhere to be found on the amazing Blu Ray upgrade of his underrated 1963 thriller High & Low that is rendered in beautifully contrasted black and white. Our love of some of the more colourful and contemporary auteurs sometimes leads us to ignore the outstanding difference a good remaster and HD upgrade can do to black and white cinema. Coupled with a perfect commentary by Steven Prince that guides you through the bravura but understated cinematography this release is definitely one of my favorites. However I’m a man of few dollars and looking for a bang for my buck and so Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life provides that in every sense of the word. Pasolini is a filmmaker I’ve always wanted to explore more and his incredible eye for detail cries out for a good 1080p transfer. Plus there are three of ‘em!