Modern Times

Criterion Files

The common, received wisdom about Hollywood during The Great Depression tends to go like this: Hollywood played an important role as a place for escape, or a low-cost brief vacation, for a populace struggling to make it day-to-day. Much of Hollywood entertainment no doubt possessed escapist entertainment value, and the importance of Hollywood’s social role in this respect shouldn’t be dismissed. But the assumption that Depression-era Hollywood worked exclusively – or even mostly – as a purely escapist institution with little reflection on the overwhelming social conditions and problems of the time is greatly misinformed. The Depression-era-escapism argument about Hollywood has significant implications. While the industry’s role as an institutionalized dream factory had been well established by the early 1930s, the early years of the Depression were instrumental in the formation of a Classical Hollywood mode because it was during these years that synchronous sound became solidified with other standardized industry conventions. Genres like gangster films and westerns certainly existed during the silent era, but these genres acquired their shared signatures as sound grew into an expected, important part of the cinematic experience, just as the sonic spectacle of the musical or the rat-a-tat dialogue of screwball comedies became essential defining components of their respective genres after the standardization of sound. So, in short, how we conceptualize Hollywood in the 1930s is instrumental to understanding the foundation of Hollywood’s entire history.

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Upon discussion and deliberation between Landon Palmer and Adam Charles (the two primary authors of the Criterion Files column) it was decided that due to the column’s state of near infancy and a small number of articles to choose from they would not reflect upon each other’s incisive works throughout the year of what was considered, or what they felt to be, the articles each were either most impressed by from the other, or considered the most indicative of what the column represents – and instead opted to choose 10 releases of the Criterion company in 2010 they felt most noteworthy of attention.

Delving into each other’s works even if the output was extended to 26 articles each over the course of a full year to choose the favorites from would actually prove to be a much simpler task than what was done for this year’s Year in Review. Trying to narrow down a list of the most significant Criterion Collection releases of any given year to a list of 10 is like…well, trying to list the 10 best of anything of which everything deserves attention. So, take these not as a slight against any of the other releases by any means (please, see every film they include in the library because they’ve selected it for a reason), these just happen to be a consolidation of releases Landon and Adam considered either significant for the availability on home video, marked a trend of the company’s direction of material to include in the library, personal affections, or were simply just incredible works in presentation of the picture previously not able to be experienced from prior releases.

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This Week in Blu-ray

Re-releases are a tough business, I tell you. And this week is full of them. Be they the re-lighting of the old flame that still burns from Chaplin’s last trip as the Little Tramp or James Cameron’s twice released (this year) mega-event movie Avatar, This Week in Blu-ray is full of stuff that we’ve seen before, in various capacities. That doesn’t mean that some of these titles aren’t worth buying, as you might expect. A few of these titles will be welcomed additions to your collection. They may also have you cursing the names of faceless Fox executives who duped you into buying Avatar the first time around. Or Blu-ray column writers who recommended it, despite the obvious lack of special features… Actually, lets not focus on that last part. Why don’t we just move on to this week’s selection of high definition wonders.

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Join us each week as Rob Hunter takes a look at new DVD releases and gives his highly unqualified opinion as to which titles are worth BUYing, which are better off as RENTals, and which should be AVOIDed at all costs. And remember, these listings and category placements are meant as informational conversation starters only. But you can still tell Hunter how wrong he is in the comment section below. This week sees two titles worth buying, and they’re both Criterion releases. Also out and worthy of your time or dismissal are A Christmas Carol, RoboGeisha, Best Worst Movie, The Kids Are All Right, an even longer cut of Avatar, and more.

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