Criterion Collection Focus TOP 10 part 1

Welcome to the first in a 10-part series that will focus on a significant film label and give you, the avid fan a chance to sample what they have on offer but more importantly why you should part with your hard-won money. Our first label needs little introduction, but I will give it some. The Criterion collection has for many years been a favourite amongst film fans, connoisseurs and collector’s. Releasing important films from around the cinematic world, treating them with the utmost respect and then piling them with extras. Sadly, this was only available in the US. Which meant many of us purchased copies of Altman’s Nashville or Bergman’s Persona, Mann’s Thief or Schrader’s Mishma to watch them in the most resplendent way we could. That’s was until December 2016 and the launch of the labels UK operation. Now we have a delightful array of films at our disposal. So, without further ado here is my top 10 releases. Do not fear if any film you love isn’t on the list! There will also be 15 films to watch later this month to savour!

10 – 3:10 to Yuma (1957)

Director Delmar Daves film is based on an Elmore Leonard story. Sees robber and gang leader Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) take on Cattle rancher Dan Evans (Van Heflin). After Wade steals a gold shipment from a stagecoach (killing the coaches guard in the course), a posse is raised to bring him into custody. Wade should have been halfway to Mexico but a beautiful barmaid Emmy (Felicia Farr) has captivated him. When the posse catch up with, they must consider getting him to the nearest marshal with the outlaw gang in the local vicinity. Evans needs to get Wade on the 3:10 to Yuma before Wade’s gang have other ideas.

It’s a clever blend of genres, cinematographic conventions and reversal of roles. 3:10 to Yuma has a multitude of genres on display. It looks like a western, feels like a melodrama and simmers like a thriller. It mixes all this together with the aesthetics of a film noir and sprinkles action scenes throughout this. Daves is clever. He grasps that the narrative needs this type of multi-faceted approach. It needs this. Swiftly dispersing the troupes and conventions with revision and division. Then you have the roles. Ford is a perfuse persona here. Van Heflin is a principled man. Ford is warm, passionate and spilling out with charisma. Heflin is distant, direct and a man with a mission. Ford is a tough, gang leading criminal. You warm to him. You side with him. Heflin is a father, husband and honest Joe. You side with him also. I suspect this was the intention. The duality of purpose and how we always are at a crossroads. Its brilliance is that it askes you this question and doesn’t feed you the answer.

The disc is light in content, but it is packed full of value however. The transfer is a work of skill. The HD transfer irons out the lacklustre DVD treatment. The blacks are black and deep at that. The whites are shining. The real novelty is in the deep focus scenes and external scenes. They are clear, and clarity is important. The soundtrack has also become robust and big, with the song feeling like a mountain of sound and the train feeling like a rolling earthquake. Emotional pressure cooker at the right time. Elmore Leonard interview creates his reason for the story and its passage onto our screen. He also has a rye charm I like. Peter Ford has the flavour of a son who knows his father but also sees what that is for us. Check out his thoughts on that.

Special Features:
New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
Alternate 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio
New interviews with author Elmore Leonard and Glenn Ford’s son and biographer, Peter Ford
PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones

 

9- DAY FOR NIGHT (1973)

French Cinema master craftsman and New Wave captain, Francois Truffaut makes this movie within a movie to celebrate cinema. While filming a melodrama called ‘Meet Pamela’, the cast live difficult lives on and off set. From tired diva Severine (Valentina Cortese) feelings of isolation and age, to newly married Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset) and the rumours of emotional breakdowns. From star of the screen Alexandre (Jean-Pierre Aumont) living like an icon and doing it for the money, to young actor Alphonse (Jean Pierre Leaud) wearing his heart on his sleeve and rupturing the films balance.

Reflecting his love of the medium and his passion for its future course, Truffaut directors with wit this masterpiece. It took imagination for him to construct a film that perfectly extrapolates his ideas of the Auteur, as well as takes a swipe at the absurdity of the film environment. Its motifs of a construction of a single author, who wields the camera and pencil on the piece like a god. Then having the crew seemingly without hesitation jump in and out of each other’s bed. It has well-trodden troupes mix with heavy laden pieces but sprinkles them with humour. At its core is the feeling that film is the grand manipulator and that the directors will be done. Stating almost off hand that a film is as much about their personality as it is about production and the text.

Given the treatment we often expect from Criterion, Day for Night looks astonishing. I often tell the story of the bleached DVD from Australia I owned. It was a terrible transfer that has been beautifully restored. The 2K irons out the colour saturation issues and that terrible over corrected end sequence. It is a testament to the process. Kogonada explores the motivation of Truffaut, from his film making to his personal take on film. The interview with Glenn exposes how cinema is a dual language and one that Truffaut soul. The Documentary would suit a fan of the film after they watch it and not before as it ahs spoilers. The interviews are all very good, but I would tell you bar Truffaut, see Dedet and Bisset in conversation.

 BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • New visual essay by filmmaker: kogonada
  • New interview with cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn
  • New interview with film scholar Dudley Andrew
  • Documentary on the film from 2003, featuring film scholar Annette Insdorf
  • Archival interviews with director François Truffaut; editor Yann Dedet; and actors Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nathalie Baye, Jacqueline Bisset, Dani, and Bernard Menez
  • Television footage of Truffaut on the film’s set in 1972
  • Trailer
  • New English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: An essay by critic David Cairns

8- CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)

A film that has gone from cult to public domain and now into the hands of Criterion. This version Captures the essence of the piece with a beautifully restored 4K transfer and frankly astonishing extras. A woman survives a car accident. Her friends drive off a bridge into a river. Hours later she is the only one to come out. Returning to normal life is difficult. Visions of a menacing man plague her waking hours. Her job as a church organist is at jeopardy as she finds herself lost in a trance. When she sees an abandoned theme park called Saltair, its draw is magnetic.

Herk Harvey and John Clifford worked in infomercials before they made Carnival of Souls. They understood how to narrate ideas with dexterity. Often having no or very low budgets and narrow series of devices to translate their stories. Carnival’s reach was expected to be no more than a few drive ins and maybe a local cinema. It ended up defying all expectations and became a major film. It is not hard to see why. The haunting soundtrack, all derived from a single harsh church pipe organ. Makes for an assault on the audio space. Then that surreal attraction Saltair (currently a music venue but then a barren hulk lost in a salt water dune see the extras for more details), which feel bewitched throughout the film. Then its themes of isolation and otherworldliness. They are as counter culture as you could get at the time. The border between life and death, with the atomic age and the Cuba crisis near at hand, were on many people’s radar. Even today it has a devastating reach, slipping tendrils deep inside your mind.

The extras on the disc are exceptional. The remaster has come along from that public domain transfer. No grainy images and scars from multiple runs through a projector. Stunning blacks and deep focus whites and greys. The audio commentary has the writer – director team discuss much of what I said but add tit bits about the staging for Saltair and how it become the backdrop to the piece. Gould interview can be likened to a fan professing his love but with the added nuance of a culture critic, extrapolation finer details from the piece. The really stand out pieces are the booklet with La-Janisse wonderful prose and Cairns exceptional video essay defusing the film from its release and returning it to the drive in and those long dark nights.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Selected-scene audio commentary featuring director Herk Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford
  • New interview with comedian and writer Dana Gould
  • New video essay by film critic David Cairns
  • The Movie That Wouldn’t Die!, a documentary on the 1989 reunion of the film’s cast and crew
  • The Carnival Tour, a 2000 update on the film’s locations
  • Excerpts from movies made by the Centron Corporation, an industrial film company based in Lawrence, Kansas, that once employed Harvey and Clifford
  • Deleted scenes
  • Outtakes, accompanied by Gene Moore’s organ score
  • History of the Saltair Resort in Salt Lake City, where key scenes in the film were shot
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by writer and programmer Kier-La Janisse

 

7 – DESERT HEARTS (1985)

American independent cinema rose to new heights in the 1980s. It challenged expectation about love, identity and sexuality. College professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) has filed for divorce and moved to Reno to establish residency. Staying at a desert ranch, she meets Cay Rivers (Patricia Charbonneau). Rivers is a young woman with no worries in the world. She is strong willed and sassy. She loves the outdoors and can handle herself. Bell is attracted to her. As they grown closer, love blossoms in the desert dunes.

As if to counter the rise in right wing ideology from the period, Desert Hearts comes to refresh our senses. We have a film without an action hero or any bullets, bombs or brawn. Instead we have a very small budget film that deals with people at its centre. Independent cinema channelled many story driven narratives in the period. Desert Hearts might at first glance be a classically told love story. A film which we have seen before. However, it is an exceptional analysis of love and sexual awakening. Though not the first film about a Lesbian relationship, it is unique. Its central relationship is not doomed to failure or used as agency for the moving of the narrative. We are not expecting the death of those involved or for something horrific to befall them. Desert Hearts reflected the growing issues countering Republican narratives. With honest and tenderness, it is an exceptional and intimate piece.

Having never seen the film prior to this screening, it is hard to compare it. What should be its instant selling point (outside of the exceptional film) is that Robert Elswit (a master cinematographer and Oscar winner) has overseen the transfer. The bleached sand and crisp blue skies come alive on the screen. I loved the richness of the blue sky, the 50s cars, the interior decors and that stunning vegetation. Deitch gives a commentary rich in humour and details to the mechanics of film making. She tells why, when and how of the piece but without making the commentary feel heavy. I found that the Jane Lynch conversation with Deitch, is amazing. Lynch is a major fan of this film and spends times with Deitch noting its importance in her life.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, supervised by cinematographer Robert Elswit, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Audio commentary from 2007 featuring director Donna Deitch
  • New conversation between Deitch and actor Jane Lynch
  • New conversation between Deitch, Elswit, and production designer Jeannine Oppewall about the film’s visual style
  • New interviews with actors Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau
  • Excerpt from Fiction and Other Truths: A Film About Jane Rule, a 1995 documentary about the author of Desert of the Heart, the 1964 novel on which the film is based
  • PLUS: An essay by critic B. Ruby Rich

6 – DIABOLIQUE (1955)

Henri George Clouzot thriller comes to life again. With impressive extras that rival former releases and an outstanding thriller that proves the case of a woman scorn. Nasty headmaster (Paul Meurisse) is a bully and a sadist. He has his very sick wife (Vera Clouzot) and his mistress (Simone Signoret) under the same roof. He beats one and manipulates the other. They concoct a plan to do away with him at all costs and lure him to a flat. Then poison and drown him. As they return to the school and dump his body in the pool, all seem certain. He will be found and a case of death by drowning shall ensue. When the pool is drained, and his body is not recovered, it seems that he might not have expired as they first thought.

In the film criticism world, you hear often the term inspiration. Welles inspired many, Hitchcock even more and Clouzot inspired as many. This film is a remarkable work in his superior film catalogue. From Wages of Fear to Le Corbeau. Diabolique is many things. A feminist piece about the role of women in a world of misogyny. A post war horror about France coming to terms with Vichy legacy or a murder mystery that takes humans as what they often are. Monstrous. Clouzot wrong foots us often. He leaves us uncertain as to the fate of the husband. The role of the wife and lover in this and how we reconcile our expectation with reality. Its a dark piece that is served well by exceptional performances and direction.

The new digital restoration is above what Arrow pushed out some 8 years prior. This disc however overcomes the issue of light fade on the dark exterior scenes but in truth Arrow did a very good job on that release. Where the disc comes into its own however is the frankly staggering Kim Newman interview. Newman is an robust and passionate film advocate. He gives the film new insight (rare in the world of films like Diabolique) by uncovering its previous baggage with care and then exposing its to its history and its legacy. Rare as it is to find someone able to do this, Newman seems to capture and captivate us not only under the spell of the film but his interpretation of it.

SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES:
  • New digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
  • Selected-scene commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway
  • New video interview with Serge Bromberg, co-director of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno
  • New video interview with horror film expert Kim Newman
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty

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Simon Kennedy

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