From The Zine: Criterion Collection
If you’re unfamiliar with The Criterion Collection, you’ve come to the right place! I have been a lifelong fan of this distribution company that specializes in releasing high-quality editions of important classic and contemporary films. You might say it’s one of my life’s goals to direct and produce a film that makes it to the Criterion Collection, as the company currently accepts new films throughout the year. Since 1984, the Criterion Collection has been dedicated to publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. No matter the medium—from laserdisc to DVD and Blu-ray to streaming—Criterion has maintained its pioneering commitment to presenting each film as its maker would want it seen, in state-of-the-art restorations with special features designed to encourage repeated watching and deepen the viewer’s appreciation of the art of film.
In its brief history, Criterion is noted for helping to standardize a number of new ideas, such as the letterbox format for widescreen films, adding bonus features, commentary tracks, doing film restoration, and releasing special editions for home video. You may have first heard of the collection when it reamed up with Hulu in 2011, only to be removed and added to the 2016 streaming service Filmstruck. When Filmstruck announced it would be shutting down on November 29, 2018, Criterion stated in a blog post that they were apt to find ways to bring their library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible. Shortly after the statement, Criterion announced that they would be launching The Criterion Channel as a standalone service in Spring 2019 in partnership with WarnerMedia (the previous owners of FilmStruck). If you’re interested in browsing the collection, you can sign up for the service in advance at https://www.criterion.com/channel, or download the Kanopy app (free with your library card) where a large number of Criterion films are streaming.
Looking for an introduction to Criterion films? Below I share a few of my utmost favorites.
2001, Directed by Catherine Breillat
Twelve-year-old Anaïs is fat. Her sister, fifteen-year-old Elena, is a beauty. While the girls are on vacation with their parents, Anaïs tags along as Elena explores the dreary seaside town. Elena meets Fernando, an Italian law student; he seduces her with promises of love, and the ever watchful Anaïs bears witness to the corruption of her sister’s innocence. Fat Girl is not only a portrayal of female adolescent sexuality and the complicated bond between siblings but also a shocking assertion by the always controversial Catherine Breillat that violent oppression exists at the core of male-female relations.
I caught this film on TV back in 2009 and was deeply affected by the world of overweight Anaïs. She was both envious and repulsed by the beauty of her sister, watching and observing the pros and cons to such beauty. Beyond the wise tone of the film and themes of physical and sibling rivalry, the story comes with an ending twist that I could have never suspected, the director almost laughing in my face. If you’re looking for a more contemporary Criterion film, this is the one.
The Red Shoes
1948, Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
The Red Shoes, the singular fantasia from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, is cinema’s quintessential backstage drama, as well as one of the most glorious Technicolor feasts ever concocted for the screen. Moira Shearer is a rising star ballerina torn between an idealistic composer and a ruthless impresario intent on perfection. Featuring outstanding performances, blazingly beautiful cinematography by Jack Cardiff, Oscar-winning sets and music, and an unforgettable, hallucinatory central dance sequence, this beloved classic, now dazzlingly restored, stands as an enthralling tribute to the life of the artist.
I purchased The Red Shoes off Itunes on a whim after seeing several stills and gifs from the film being reblogged on websites like Tumblr and Pinterest. After watching the film in full, I was not only hooked on the otherworldly Technicolor production of the film but the general themes it sought to explore: obsession, passion, and death. If you’re looking for a more classic Criterion film, this is the one.
2015, directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska
This genre-defying horror-musical mash-up—the bold debut of Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska—follows a pair of carnivorous mermaid sisters drawn ashore to explore life on land in an alternate 1980s Poland. Their tantalizing siren songs and otherworldly auras make them overnight sensations as nightclub singers in the half-glam, half-decrepit world of Smoczyńska’s imagining. The director gives fierce teeth to her viscerally sensual, darkly feminist twist on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” in which the girls’ bond is tested and their survival threatened after one sister falls for a human. A coming-of-age fairy tale with a catchy synth-fueled soundtrack, outrageous song-and-dance numbers, and lavishly grimy sets, The Lure explores its themes of emerging female sexuality, exploitation, and the compromises of adulthood with savage energy and originality.
I first saw this outrageous film at the IFC Center in New York last spring. I was instantly aware of the reaction of the audience in the theatre around me; they were shocked and baffled by the thought-provoking and genre-defying cinema in front of them. I ended up purchasing the film and regularly watch it with friends. If you’re looking for a more experimental Criterion film, this is the one.