Preston Sturges

Criterion Files

Of the 600+ films in The Criterion Collection, almost 200 are listed as from the United States. While not all of these films are explicitly thematically based  around life in the US, the American selections for the Collection do make up a mosaic of diverse perspectives on life in this country, proving that there is no sustainable solitary understanding of what it means to be an “American,” but there exists instead an array of possibilities for interpreting American identity. What the American films do have in common, though, is provide proof that excellent films have been made in the US for quite some time. So, after exhausting yourself with Independence Day Parades, firecracker-lighting, and Budweiser, settle down with a great American movie. Here are a dozen great titles from the Criterion Collection about “America” and “freedom” in the many senses of those terms.

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Your weekly fix of great movies made before you were born that you should check out before you die. This week’s Old Ass Movie goes line for gritty line down the Western Genre Rules and twists them all up with a one-armed stranger, a Japanese farmer, a conspiracy, and a handful of deadly secrets. It’s Noir in the desert. Director John Sturges takes all of it and works it into a sweat out in the southwest at the tail end of WWII. As a silent, enigmatic man gets off a train that never runs, everyone is in for a Bad Day at Black Rock.

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Criterion Files

Classic Hollywood romantic comedies provide an interesting moment in film history where genre formation and genre subversion developed as one in the same. The premises of these films are essentially contradictory. They reveal the institution of marriage to be just that, an institution constantly reinforced by culture but one that has only ascribed rather than inherent value. They play with and thus reveal the false ideals associated with the notion of perfect couplehood that in theory should propel two people toward marriage by portraying the constant dis-union and inevitable union of their characters as one predicated on deceit and double-crossings. All this occurs to ultimately marry the couple which as an act alone functions as narrative closure in of itself without ascribing exactly what that closure means to its characters, an overlooking of contradictions that supposes the institution itself wipes away all previous tensions. Marriage here is not a means to an end, but an end – and “The End,” as the union is always accompanied by such a title card.

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Underage drinking. Date rape. Unwanted pregnancy. If these things don’t scream ‘1940s Comedy Romp’ to you, then you haven’t been paying attention.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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