Monday, August 17, 2009

Criterion Watch, November 2009

Let’s get this party started, shall we? Remember, click on the titles to link to the Criterion site.

This set, entitled The Golden Age of Television, is the big Criterion news for November, at least to these eyes. It’s a somewhat unconventional choice for the Criterion folks, but then, so was the Beastie Boys set, and this is a pretty darn inspired selection. To sum it, it’ll not only include kinescopes of eight live teleplays from the 1950s- including such classics as Marty, Requiem For a Heavyweight, and The Days of Wine and Roses- but also cast and crew interviews from the eighties-era PBS series that re-broadcast the plays. Add in commentary tracks by several of the directors (such as John Frankenheimer) and this should be a must-buy for lovers of pop culture ephemera such as myself.

I’m no fan of conventional sports dramas, but unconventional ones- in which athletes are treated with real complexity instead of ESPN-ready hero worship- are usually pretty intriguing. So I’m looking forward to finally catching up with Michael Ritchie’s Downhill Racer, about a skier whose all-consuming drive to win overwhelms everything else in his life.

Finally, a twofer of acclaimed recent foreign-language releases, given the Criterion treatment. Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale- for which no cover art has yet been posted- was one of my favorite films from last year, and it’s nice to see the great Desplechin included in the ranks of such Criterion-endorsed filmmakers as, uh, Kevin Smith and Michael Bay. And Bergman, Bresson, and Ozu, of course. I wasn’t especially keen on Gomorrah- I respected it but was hardly blown away- but I can see where it would be up Criterion’s alley, and will get even more attention with its release on Blu-Ray as well as standard-def DVD.

Moreover, these are both IFC Films releases, as is Che, which the newsletter hinted at a while back, so that makes me think that maybe Criterion has struck a deal with IFC to release some of their recent stuff on DVD for the benefit of those who would prefer not to set foot inside a Lackluster Video. That would of course be good news, since such acclaimed titles as 4 months 3 weeks and 2 days, The Secret of the Grain, A Girl Cut in Two, Flight of the Red Balloon, Private Fears in Public Places, Hunger, and (ohpleasepleaseplease) The Duchess of Langeais could really benefit from the Criterion treatment.

Finally, this month’s clue:

Had to think about this one a while, not least because it hints not at a specific title but at a person. Eventually, I realized that this was hinting at a special centenary celebration for Akira Kurosawa next year. But what exactly are they going to do? I’m guessing a few of their already-released titles will get some Blu-Ray love (I’m guessing The Seven Samurai at the very least), but don’t rule out some new Kurosawa DVDs as well. With so much of his filmography already represented in the Collection, my money is on his 1974 classic Dersu Uzala, made during his sojourn in the Soviet Union, which is one of the master’s best color films and one of the most moving works he ever made. But who knows? All I know for sure is that Criterion is bound to have some surprises up their sleeve.

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