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March 19, 2007 9:24 PM   Subscribe

The Criterion Contraption: Matthew Dessem is going to watch every last DVD in the Criterion Collection and blog about it. Illuminating and knowledgable film writing. You can start, if you wish, with the entry on my favorite film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, or pick from the complete index.
posted by Falconetti (55 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Excellent! I gave this some thought some time ago after watching a few of the Akira Kurosawa titles on Criterion. But it's such a massive undertaking . . . I'm happy someone else has taken it up!
posted by aladfar at 9:33 PM on March 19, 2007


"MeFi's own", sciurus, has been doing this as well.
Project post

His site
posted by edgeways at 9:39 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is such a pleasure, going through the movies I've watched over the years, looking at them again through the lens of someone who so obviously loves these films as much I as do. Thanks for the link.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:41 PM on March 19, 2007


This is twelve different flavors of awesome. Dessem manages to articulate what I like about Wes Anderson while still acknowledging that not everyone finds all of his stylistic tics ingratiating.

Oh, and The Third Man is greatest movie of all time, ever. Do yourself a favor and go buy the Criterion edition right now.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:42 PM on March 19, 2007


To me, the Criterion Collection is the ONLY viable alternative to pinching movies via the torrents.

I raise a glass to Matthew Dessem with a hearty Saluté!
posted by isopraxis at 9:45 PM on March 19, 2007


I've read the Rushmore writeup and I'm in love.
posted by cortex at 9:59 PM on March 19, 2007


Meh. I browsed through some of my favourite movies.

He loves Autumn Sonata, which is good.

He also knocks Time Bandits, Yojimbo, and the Seventh Seal.

I know, he's only giving his own opinion, but I don't like it.
posted by Alex404 at 10:02 PM on March 19, 2007


Not funny but still Eponysterical... (hint)
posted by growabrain at 10:30 PM on March 19, 2007


I was like, "this'll be so cool!" And rushed over to read what he'd have to say about Seven Samurai cuz I loved that film... The guy lost me about two paragraphs in. Detailing his college class schedule and itinerary wasn't what I'd signed up for. I'm sure he gets rolling somewhere around the seventh paragraph but I'm too impatient.

I used to ramble on and on at my own website, but nowadays I try to get to the point and get off the mic. The shorter the better. I cringe at my own long vociferous crappy posts of yesteryear. Nowadays I save my longwindedness for MeFi. *smirk*
posted by ZachsMind at 10:35 PM on March 19, 2007


The first paragraph of the review of Brazil is a winner. It's not even overplayed or anything.
posted by JHarris at 10:36 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


While the Criterion Collection has a surprisingly large number of excellent movies, every so often, I run into one that makes me think, "Errrrr... huh?"

What criterion is it, exactly, that puts The Rock in the same class as Ran? Or Robocop with The Battle of Algiers? The Blob with The Seventh Seal?
posted by Flunkie at 10:41 PM on March 19, 2007


Great reviews, great post. And great title.
posted by gsteff at 10:56 PM on March 19, 2007


1. Aside from the sometimes not-so subtle socio-political commentary Robocop is also armed with an awesome gun.

2. Much the same can be said of Sean Connery.

3. Have you ever seen the 1958 version?
posted by dminor at 10:58 PM on March 19, 2007


Flunkie I think that's precisely what makes it such a great collection.
posted by cell divide at 11:30 PM on March 19, 2007


The only one that really makes makes me throw up my arms in disbelief if Armageddon.

Any Criterion wishlists? Here's mine:

1. The Malle-Shawn-Gregory set, featuring Atlantic City, My Dinner with Andre, and Vanya on 42nd St.

2. The Spalding Gray set, featuring every impossible-to-find-without-spending-200-bucks-on-Amazon Spalding Gray video.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:32 PM on March 19, 2007


Thanks for the link to this. Great post.
While the Criterion Collection has a surprisingly large number of excellent movies, every so often, I run into one that makes me think, "Errrrr... huh?"

What criterion is it, exactly, that puts The Rock in the same class as Ran? Or Robocop with The Battle of Algiers? The Blob with The Seventh Seal?
I've had the exact same feeling while browsing through the Criterion Collection catalog. While I haven't yet read the entries for Robocop or The Rock, the author's review of Armageddon makes a good case for its inclusion (though, I've heard that Bruckheimer and/or Bay have some sort of monetary connection to Criterion...complete hearsay on my part and should be taken as such). Basically, he says that (paraphrasing) Armageddon is one of the best representations of studio-produced, critic-proof blockbuster movies from the late 90s. Also he talks a bit about how the aims of such movies are completely different than more artsy movies (i.e. to entertain rather than enlighten). I bought it.

Though, I'm still not going to watch Armageddon. :)
posted by snwod at 11:37 PM on March 19, 2007


Watching Armageddon reminded me of going to Wal-Mart. It's big, loud, has lots of stuff, and you feel sort of greesy afterwards.
posted by bstreep at 12:46 AM on March 20, 2007


What criterion is it, exactly, that puts The Rock in the same class as Ran? Or Robocop with The Battle of Algiers? The Blob with The Seventh Seal?

Funny you should mention that. I mentioned to a friend earlier tonight that "robocop" - while good - falls just short of the standard of "modern classic" that i would attribute to another excellent movie - namely, Predator. I once caught the beginning of that movie on telemundo, and i'll be damned if i didn't sit down and watch the entire thing in spanish dub. Now there's a movie.

As for Dessem, I disagree with his conclusions for The Royal Tenenbaums, but I agree with his observations. I'm holding out for the review of The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, currently the only one of Cassavettes' films I can watch without wanting to kill myself halfway through.
posted by phaedon at 1:25 AM on March 20, 2007


That should read "As for Sciurus". Mea.
posted by phaedon at 1:39 AM on March 20, 2007


My understanding about the inclusion of Michael Bay titles in the CC, was that it was insisted on by Disney/BV if Criterion wanted access to some of their library (Which includes Rushmore and some other worthy titles)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:10 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


The only Criterion movie I have is Traffic.

...I mean, I probably own other movies that are on the Criterion list, but not the Criterion Collection DVDs of them.
posted by Target Practice at 2:12 AM on March 20, 2007


Yeah, I'd really like to know how a film becomes a Criterion film. As a trashy action film nut, I can completely understand Robocop. But then you'd have to include, as phaedon mentioned, Predator; not to mention First Blood, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Terminator. And maybe Red Dawn.

And Armageddon? Come on, what's not to like? Ragtag group of misfits have to 'get er done' when eggheads and all those stuffy types just can't hack it. A veritable bevy of character actors doing some of their smaltziest, cheesiest, most predictably entertaining schtick? A last minute sacrifice? Saving the WORLD?! Is you heart made of stone, snwod?!
posted by eurasian at 2:17 AM on March 20, 2007


And Armageddon? Come on, what's not to like? Ragtag group of misfits have to 'get er done' when eggheads and all those stuffy types just can't hack it. A veritable bevy of character actors doing some of their smaltziest, cheesiest, most predictably entertaining schtick? A last minute sacrifice? Saving the WORLD?! Is you heart made of stone, snwod?!
:) Nah, I'm not watching cause I'd probably be like one of the commentators at the bottom of the Armageddon post who hated the fact that it lacked of a story-line and parts didn't make much sense, but would watch it over again in a second. I'm just being a smug asshole here. Really, though, I've been known to belt out Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" every now and then in a karaoke session, so I don't have a completely stone heart!
posted by snwod at 3:22 AM on March 20, 2007


Speaking of Rushmore and Armageddon, you gotta see the MAx Fischer Players version of Armageddon in the special features of the Criterion Rushmore dvd.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:09 AM on March 20, 2007


Finally! someone else mentions that thing about the 180 degree rule in Joan of Ark that I half remembered from college and mentioned in this comment.
posted by Brainy at 4:44 AM on March 20, 2007


I love his comment on Salò. I've only seen it once and it's hard to find on top of that. I didn't vomit, however.
posted by vkxmai at 5:21 AM on March 20, 2007


can completely understand Robocop. But then you'd have to include, as phaedon mentioned, Predator; not to mention First Blood, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Terminator.

Absolutely! Those are all fantastic movies.

And maybe Red Dawn.

No.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:23 AM on March 20, 2007


I'd like to see a CC treatment of more Tarkovsky films. I'm secretly hoping they'll release Moartea Domnului Lazarescu from Romania in 2004.
posted by vkxmai at 5:25 AM on March 20, 2007


Criterion really has the most awesome movie collection. I just wish they were not so damn expensive.
posted by caddis at 5:26 AM on March 20, 2007


But then you'd have to include, as phaedon mentioned, Predator; not to mention First Blood, Die Hard, Lethal Weapon and Terminator.

Don't hold your breath. There's no way in hell the studios would let Criterion market those titles. The only reason they were permitted to release (non-Bay) Hollywood blockbusters like Robocop and Silence of the Lambs is because they got them early--when DVD was still a novelty and studios had no idea what was going to happen with them.

In addition, Criterion had already released those titles on Laserdisc and had therefore sewn up the extras which cut about a 8 months to a year of production time off releasing the titles.

Criterion can't just release whatever titles it wants. The studio and/or producers have to give them rights. This is the reason Robocop and Silence of the Lambs are out of print in the series. Once Citerion's rights contracts expired the studios had no interest in renewing. DVD was a confirmed hit and why, they figured, take a small percentage of each sale of an expensive (and therefore little-bought) title when they could release it themselves and keep 100%?

I'm secretly hoping they'll release Moartea Domnului Lazarescu from Romania in 2004.

Again, you're pretty much assured they won't. It's already in release at a reasonable price. Those who love the movie will already have purchased it. Were Criterion to release the title now (assuming they want to and assuming they could get the rights), a great number of their market-base already has it. And selling the title they already have would be hard if CC has released it. So... not bloody likely.

My understanding about the inclusion of Michael Bay titles in the CC, was that it was insisted on by Disney/BV if Criterion wanted access to some of their library (Which includes Rushmore and some other worthy titles)

I can't prove it, but this doesn't wash with me. I believe it's more likely that Bay and/or his producer(s) have it in their contracts with the studios that if CC wishes to release their films on DVD they should be given the rights.

Even if it's not in their contracts, the studios have every desire to keep Anderson, Bay, etc., happy. Allowing a boutique label to co-release (in the case of Anderson's films) dvds keeps the filmmaker happy.

Bay (and Anderson) have both been very vocal about the CC and the influence the titles/supplements had on them when they were young. Tarantino, Spike Lee, the Hughes Brothers, Soderbergh, and other young directors were weaned on the laserdisc packages the company released for 15 years or so prior to the invention of DVD.

The Rock and Armegeddon were both released on Criterion's Laser collection, for instance.

As for why CC would want to release those titles... simple: they make lots of money. Film geeks with a particular interest in special effects, action fans, and a large number of people that otherwise may not buy CC titles bought these films. This money helps Criterion release titles that won't sell a ton. In addition, though I think the acting and scripts are terrible for these movies (especially The Rock) they are considerably accomplished technically and the extras packages Criterion has assembled are impressive. Those who haven't watched the films because they "know" they're crap would be wise to indulge in some of the bonus features--for instance the (former?) NASA employee commentary on the science in Armegeddon.

And those of you who think CC is the only good series of DVD releases are incredibly misinformed. Labels like Mongrel and Eureka/Masters of Ciema are putting out some great stuff to name just two other labels. Mind you, Mongrel's weak on the extras but they've put out some terrific films.

Lastly, as for my Criterion wish list:

Five Easy Pieces (they released it on LD)
Carnal Knowledge (they did LD)
Who's that Knockin' On My Door
The Graduate (the LD commentary is hands down the greatest commentary I've ever heard)
Anything by Michael Haneke (though they told me via email that they will not release his films, though that was pre-Cache)
Zigrail
Maelstrom
Mulholland Drive
posted by dobbs at 6:22 AM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh, and Miller's Crossing as well would be nice.
posted by dobbs at 6:23 AM on March 20, 2007


Thanks for that Dobbs. Very illuminating and a good read.
And I agree with your wishlist too.
Especially Millers Crossing.
The Coen bros have a rich, rich catalogue deserving much better dvds than are currently avaialble too.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:19 AM on March 20, 2007


Based on this website I bought the "Fishing With John" DVD. For this alone, the man is invaluable.

dobbs: based on your suggestion I bought a laserdisc player and have been trying to track down the Criterion version of "The Graduate." It better be worth it. ;)
posted by 1f2frfbf at 8:27 AM on March 20, 2007


Oh and last year Criterion put out an EXCELLENT 2-disc of Dazed and Confused. Superdeluxe. Even came with a big ol book.

You need it.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:29 AM on March 20, 2007


1f2frfbf, I have an mp3 of it. Email's in my profile.
posted by dobbs at 8:57 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


listen to dobbs, Eureka is the new millennium's Criterion. and break the unjust chains of region codes while you're at it if you haven't already -- DVD needs to be region-free, get a player that is already.

the presence of Armageddon in the Criterion canon is useful both for the Criterion fans and for Bay. we can forgive Criterion because this lapse in judgement is similar to, say, the time your best friend in college got really really drunk and threw up all over your (expensive) shoes -- a very bad show, but the friendship is strong enough to resist. and Bay himself, well, if one day film lovers actually manage to start a revolution, will be able to ask the lynch mob to spare his life because, at least, he has one title in the Criterion collection. maybe they'll stone him even more gleefully, but maybe they'll lack the courage to execute a Criterion director.

me, I'd vote "thumb down" (heh) anyway -- off with Bay's head just for his shameless Robert Frank ripoff, but maybe others will be more merciful.

I like that Criterion sometimes surprises me with odd choices -- George Washington? Pretty cool -- but the Wes Anderson fetish may be a bit much, especially since the only film of his that they haven't put out is actually his best one (ah the irony).



You can start, if you wish, with the entry on my favorite film, The Passion of Joan of Arc,


then, realising that its director is called Dreyer, not "Dryer" as I read in your userpage, is a good start, too. if you wish.
posted by matteo at 8:59 AM on March 20, 2007


The fact that Fishing With John is part of the Criterion Collection reaffirms my belief in the ultimate goodness of the world. Someone out there is fighting the good fight!
posted by spicynuts at 10:25 AM on March 20, 2007


then, realising that its director is called Dreyer, not "Dryer" as I read in your userpage, is a good start, too. if you wish.

Typographic error. I've corrected it.

As a counterbalance, I will make sure I pronounce Battleship Potemkin as "Battleship Poi-tyem-kin," rather than "Battleship Po-tem-kin," as I've heard self-identified cineastes say it. I'm just an aww-shucks hayseed from Ohio who doesn't know any better.

I was pleasantly surprised by CC releasing Ratcatcher, another one of my favorites, which has a lot in common with George Washington, although I thought the latter lacked the emotional coherence of Ratcatcher.

Also, I agree that Eureka is doing a great job. Without them, I would never have come across Punishment Park.
posted by Falconetti at 10:30 AM on March 20, 2007


I'd like to second Rangeboy's recommendation for The Third Man but would additionally note that Criterion is releasing a newer version of the DVD in May.
posted by mikeh at 11:30 AM on March 20, 2007


Actually "Poi-tyem-kin" would be completely incorrect as well, as the Russian Потёмкин is "Pah-tyom-kin". So looks like it's a zero - zero tie between Ohio Hayseeds and Douchebag Cineastes.
posted by spicynuts at 11:34 AM on March 20, 2007


Civil_Disobedient : One caterwauling cry for you. "WOLVERIIINES!" And Patrick Swayze. And a hour long advertisement for the fricking NRA. You can't love Red Dawn. You just can't! And hunting commies with a bow and fricking arrow!?!

Also, if we are going to continue my list of Action Criterion films, I embarrassingly missed "Leon", "La Femme Nikita", and "Aliens".
posted by eurasian at 12:21 PM on March 20, 2007


I'd add The Taking of Pelham One Two Three to the Action Criterion, although I don't know if it is "action" enough. It is funny to watch now to see the way they deal with "terrorists."
posted by Falconetti at 12:27 PM on March 20, 2007


caddis writes "Criterion really has the most awesome movie collection. I just wish they were not so damn expensive."

It's irritating when a movie is only available on CC. Chasing Amy Region 1 is CC only and it took me forever to justify to myself buying the thing. $34 for a DVD!?! Cripes, I can get Clerks and Mallrats for that and still have change for lunch.
posted by Mitheral at 1:15 PM on March 20, 2007


Mitheral, not all CC titles are high-priced. Chasing Amy is $15 at Amazon. Royal Tenenbaums isn't much more.
posted by dobbs at 1:54 PM on March 20, 2007


Good call Falconetti. One of the greats. And what roll truck roll and phaedon said above. My favourite criterion release is the original cut of The Wages of Fear. Don't miss.
posted by vronsky at 2:00 PM on March 20, 2007


Thanks for the mention, edgeways. Dessem's reviews are much meatier, although I'm currently winning in # of films watched, I believe.

I'm not watching them in any particular order. I just finished watching all of the films I'd seen before so now I'm looking forward to seeing new stuff.
posted by sciurus at 2:15 PM on March 20, 2007


And High and Low. What a great film.
posted by vronsky at 2:37 PM on March 20, 2007


Confused by the complete index though. I have many criterions that don't appear on that list. Or am I missing something obvious as usual?
posted by vronsky at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2007


vronsky, I think that's just the index of the CC films he's reviewed so far.
posted by cortex at 3:20 PM on March 20, 2007


My fave CC title that I hadn't heard of before they released it was Le Trou. Not very often I come across a film I've never even heard of that impresses me so much.
posted by dobbs at 4:16 PM on March 20, 2007



Excellent! I gave this some thought some time ago after watching a few of the Akira Kurosawa titles on Criterion. But it's such a massive undertaking . . . I'm happy someone else has taken it up!


I love the Criterion version of Tarkosvky's Solaris, which happens to include a neat little essay by Kurosawa. I've been planning on checking out a bunch more of the Criterion Collection (Brazil is another fantastic one), but the prices are a bit exorbitant to do it very quickly, at least for a lazy fresh-out-of-university type like myself ;)
posted by The God Complex at 4:43 PM on March 20, 2007


thanks for the heads up dobbs. I had not heard of it either.
posted by vronsky at 4:55 PM on March 20, 2007


Err, Tarkovsky's.
posted by The God Complex at 7:09 PM on March 20, 2007


dobbs writes "Mitheral, not all CC titles are high-priced. Chasing Amy is $15 at Amazon"

Now it is, it wasn't before. I bought it as soon as I could find it for less than C$30 a couple years ago.
posted by Mitheral at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2007


i cannot wait until Criterion re-releases La Haine.
posted by phaedon at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2007


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