#30: M (1931) (blu-ray)
Like The Red Shoes this title already existed in the library prior to the 2 disc standard-def re-release a couple of years ago. This year’s release was strictly an addition to the blu-ray format, which also saw another Fritz Lang classic impressively restored and released for blu-ray by Kino (their Complete Metropolis truly is something to behold with their discovery of previously conceived lost footage incorporated into the picture). This release, like Chaplin’s Modern Times represents a devotion by the company to not ignore the benefits and desire of the arthouse patrons to view some of cinema’s oldest treasures in ways we never have before, which is as close to the ways filmgoers from 75 years ago were able to experience them (or were meant to have experienced them).
M is amongst cinema’s greatest achievements with its stark black-and-white photography and style that pre-dates the eventual film-noir aesthetic by decades and its ability to garner slight sympathy for its antagonist remains one of the most impressive acting feats in history thanks to the portrayal by Peter Lorre. -AC
#539: House (1977)
One of the great things about the Criterion collection is that it can take a brilliant but rarely seen work and catapult it into notoriety. Such is the case with Nobuhiko Obayashi’s now-cult-favorite House, a film that’s as difficult to encapsulate as it is a potentially unending subject of conversation. 2010 has seen a significant embrace by Criterion of cult, genre, and horror films like their releases of Antichrist, Cronos, and The Night of the Hunter, but House displays significantly the company’s ability to bring to cinephiles what they never thought they wanted nor knew existed.
It also provides further evidence that cult and genre aren’t antithetical to artistic, essential filmmaking. As a result of releases like this, film history itself asks to be reexamined. Can one really watch the kinetic fight scenes of Scott Pilgrim without thinking of the pre-video-game hyperreality of House’s “kung-fu” scenes? -LP
#541: Night of the Hunter (1955)
Previously only available as a bare bones MGM release on dvd this bulging set of the Charles Laughton masterpiece is exactly the release that a film of this magnitude and importance to American cinema deserved. Completely unlike any American picture that had come before it this film marked advancement in the portrayal of despicability and genuine terror that would not become more commonplace until the 1960s. Adopting much of the visual style typical of film-noir this picture moves the setting typical of the ‘genre’ from its more common urban environment to a small town community and represents one of the most terrifying stories of pre-adolescent fear, manipulation and conniving we’ve seen – depicted famously by the Robert Mitchum antagonist.
Containing an extensive amount of behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, documentaries, and interviews to go along with its phenomenal digital transfer this may be the most impressive single film release put out by Criterion this year for both blu-ray and dvd collectors. -AC
#522: Red Desert (1964)
Red Desert is one of those films that’s been asking for a Criterion release for a long, long time. Previously commercially unavailable on DVD despite being one of Antonioni’s most celebrated works, Red Desert was one of those elusive titles movie fans imagined a Criterion release of, and when it finally came about, the wait was well work it.
I had heard about the brilliance of this film years before I saw it, yet after seeing Criterion’s transfer I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to see it. Its incomparable simultaneous aesthetic integration of ugliness and beauty is impeccably displayed here, and its one of the collection’s essential, inevitable titles that makes the “important films” part of the company’s slogan ring perfectly true. The “red desert” sequence alone warrants this treatment. -LP
Eclipse Series 23: The First Films of Akira Kurosawa (1943 – 1945)
Though we have yet to extend the column to the works of Criterion’s Eclipse series of films it doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge the company’s un-supplemental feature heavy Eclipse sets as part of the collection. On the contrary, their willingness to provide a more cost-effective method for attaining films they feel are deserving of attention is one of the reasons Criterion is so beloved by cinephiles. For collectors they want you to have the best possible product they can offer and will go through great lengths to give it to you for a slightly larger price tag. However, there are films that they simply just want people to be able to see and buy without feeling a strain on their pocketbook.
What makes this set so special is that it contains the films previously available in Region 1 only as part of the massive Akira Kurosawa 25 film set released by Criterion in 2009, allowing Kurosawa junkies (like myself) the opportunity to attain Kurosawa’s entire directing filmography (minus one picture which he was co-director on) on Region 1 dvd without having to purchase the large set. Thanks to this I can now die fulfilled. -AC