Category: Criterion Discovery

Criterion Discovery: The Killing

Background: Stanley Kubrick’s noir masterpiece is his oldest in the Criterion Collection, predating such films as Paths of Glory and Spartacus. Despite being one of his earlier works, The Killing is Kubrick at his undeniable best. He unites a stellar ensemble cast, pits them against one another and allows the story to flow through their dialogue. What ensues is an ambitious narrative that swats away the notion of sequential time structure for a plot that twists at any given moment. This is one of Kubrick’s five films in the Criterion slate, spine #575. Story: The Killing follows the story...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: La Poison

Background: Sacha Guitry’s acerbic, openly misogynistic black comedy La Poison (Spine #891) examines the perversion of judicial justice in the face of a sensationalized public. It is Guitry’s first film in the main collection, but his fifth film overall following the release of Criterion’s Eclipse Series 22: Presenting Sacha Guitry. Story: After stewing for thirty years in a miserable marriage to a drunken crone, provincial gardener Paul Louis Victor Braconnier (Michel Simon) plots the murder of his wife Blandine (Germaine Reuver). He visits the office of Maître Aubanel (Jean Debucourt), a notorious lawyer famous for his love of defending...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Meantime

Background: Mike Leigh’s Meantime (Spine #890) is a crucial piece of 1980s British cinema examining economic stagnation in Thatcherite England. It is the fourth of Leigh’s films to be inducted into the Collection, after Naked (Spine #307), Topsy-Turvy (Spine #558), and Life is Sweet (Spine #659). Story: A working class family wastes away in perpetual unemployment in a shoddy apartment tower in London’s East End during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership. Only the mother Mavis (Pam Ferris) has employment. Her angry, good-for-nothing husband Frank (Jeff Robert) and two sons, the bitter, troublemaking Mark (Phil Daniels) and painfully introverted Colin (Tim Roth)...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: The Phantom Carriage

Background: In 1921, Swedish director Victor Sjöström created The Phantom Carriage (Spine #579) one of the most important works in Swedish cinema, and the one that heavily impacted Ingmar Bergman’s decision to enter the world of filmmaking. As if that isn’t enough, Charlie Chaplin repeatedly called it the best film ever made. Based on the novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! by Selma Lagerlöf (the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature) this silent film tells a dark and foreboding story. Story: Legend says that he who dies at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve is condemned to...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Canoa: A Shameful Memory

Background: Canoa: A Shameful Memory (Spine #862) is a pivotal piece of Mexican political filmmaking. It’s director Felipe Cazals’s first film in the collection as well as the seventh Mexican film overall to be inducted. Story: During an ill-fated mountaineering trip, several employees of a Mexican university are mistaken by the villagers of the small town of San Miguel Canoa as Communist agitators. Spurred on by the town’s priest—a corrupt strongman who brainwashed the town with fear and religious propaganda—the villagers brutally lynch the employees. The Film: In his brief Blu-ray introduction to Canoa: A Shameful Memory, director Guillermo...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: 45 Years

Background: 45 Years (Spine #861) is a British realist drama examining the self-destruction of an elderly couple’s marriage against the wintry landscape of Norfolk. This is director Andrew Haigh’s second film in the main collection, the first being Weekend (Spine #622). Story: With just a week left before their 45th anniversary, the lives of Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay) are rocked by the news that the body of Geoff’s ex-lover Katya has been discovered after being frozen over 50 years earlier during a mountain-climbing accident in Switzerland. As Geoff becomes more and more distant over the news,...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Fat Girl

Background: Catherine Breillat’s 2001 outing, Fat Girl, followed her controversial explorations of sexuality in Perfect Love! and 36 Fillette with aplomb. Whereas these earlier films seemingly fetishized male power over women, Fat Girl explores the fragility of women in a patriarchal society. In this sense, the women of the film are given a voice that evokes empathy and a brutal sadness. This is Breillat’s only film in the Criterion slate, spine #259. Story: Fat Girl juxtaposes the life of two adolescent sisters, the overweight 12-year-old Anaïs and the socially approved, 15-year-old beauty Elena. The sisters share a deep sibling love for one...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Roma

Background: Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical Roma (Spine #848) is a cluttered, messy affair that nevertheless contains sequences of intense, visceral power. This is Fellini’s twelfth film in the Criterion Collection: Amarcord (Spine #4), Nights of Cabiria (Spine #49), And the Ship Sails On (Spine #50), Variety Lights (Spine #81), 8½ (Spine #140), Juliet of the Spirits (Spine #149), The White Sheik (Spine #189), La Strada (Spine #219), I vitelloni (Spine #246), La dolce vita (Spine #733), Satyricon (Spine #747). Story: A loose, nonlinear procession of reminiscences and allegories, Roma sees director Federico Fellini turn his camera on Rome, the capital...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Mon Oncle

Background: Mon Oncle is a French comedy film released in 1958 by Jacques Tati. There are two Criterion versions; the first released in 2001 now out of print, and the second as part of The Complete Jacques Tati Criterion set in 2014 (Spine #729). It is one of three of Tati’s films (and the first in colour) centered on a lovable, bumbling mime-like character Monsieur Hulot. Mon Oncle is his most widely celebrated work, receiving both the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival among other awards. Story: Monsieur Hulot enjoys...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Dont Look Back

Background Dont Look Back (Spine #786) is one of the greatest “rock docs” of film history (practically inventing the subgenre), and likely the most famous of director D.A. Pennebaker’s cinematic oeuvre. It is the fourth film of Pennebaker’s in the collection, the others being The War Room (#602), Monterey Pop (Spine #168), and Jimi Plays Monterey & Shake! Otis at Monterey (#169). Story The documentary covers Dylan’s 1965 tour in England, focusing on the minutiae of his time across the pond: his sparring with journalists, his conversations with roadies, and his thoughts on life in general. The Film Dont...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum

Background The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum (Spine #832) is one of the earliest triumphs of legendary Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi. It’s his fourth film in the main collection, his eighth overall: Ugetsu (Spine #309), Sansho the Bailiff (Spine #386), The Life of Oharu (Spine #664); Osaka Elegy, Sisters of the Gion, Women of the Night, Street of Shame (Eclipse Series 13: Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women). Story Set in Meiji era Japan, the film follows the doomed love between Kikunosuke Onoe (Shôtarô Hanayagi), the spoiled adopted son of a famous Tokyo Kabuki actor, and Otoku (Kakuko Mori), his father’s...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: A Touch of Zen

Background  A Touch of Zen (Spine #825) is one of the pinnacles of Chinese cinema from none other than director King Hu. It is his only film in the collection, though more are expected to arrive soon enough. Film historian David Bordwell, in the essay attached to the release credits the film with bringing “Chinese martial arts cinema to a western audience.” Story If you’re jonesing for an epic, look no further than Criterion’s latest batch of releases; visionary Taiwanese director King Hu’s A Touch of Zen has finally received a transfer worthy of the film’s high stature within filmic culture....

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Badlands

Background Badlands (Spine #651) is the debut film of famous auteur Terrence Malick and stars Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, and Warren Oates. Malick currently has two films in the collection, Days of Heaven (Spine #409) and The Thin Red Line (Spine #536), with a third, The New World (Spine #826), on the way. Story Drawing on the 1958 midwestern killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, Terrence Malick tells an ethereal and impressionistic story of yearning, murder, and young love gone sour. Badlands follows Kit Carruthers (Martin Sheen), a charming and sociopathic James Dean look-a-like, as he...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Cries and Whispers

Background Cries and Whispers (Spine #101) is a 1972 drama written and directed by legendary Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman and starring Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, and Kari Sylwan. Bergman is a favorite of the Criterion Collection and presently has over twenty films in the collection, including Persona (Spine #701) and The Seventh Seal (Spine #11). Story Cries and Whispers, like many of Bergman’s films, is steeped in a sort of deathly dread. The movie begins in a room painted in a striking, bloody crimson. Though Cries is a remarkably understated and quiet film, from the beginning there is an...

Read More

Criterion Discovery: Mulholland Dr.

Background Mulholland Dr. (Spine #779) is a 2001 psychological-horror film written and directed by notorious auteur David Lynch, starring Naomi Watts and Laura Harring. Currently, Lynch has only one other film in the collection: Eraserhead (Spine #725). Story It begins with a car crash. A woman (Harring) stumbles from the smoldering wreckage of a limousine into a lush Los Angeles apartment, wholly bewildered. There, she finds perky and wide-eyed Betty (Watts), and together they embark on a hazy, surreal journey for identity and that elusive fiction known to most as the truth. As is the norm for a Lynch artwork,...

Read More