Introducing the Criterion Corner

Over the last few years, I’ve stopped buying as many DVDs and Blu-rays as I did in previous years. In part, that’s simply for practical reasons: my wife and I live in a flat that, while it’s absolutely fine in terms of space, is close to reaching the Billy Singularity. There are only so many bookshelves, IKEA or not, that I can conceivably put up in this place and stack with films, books and the like. There’s also the fact that we have subscribed to a number of streaming services, but we’re also still subscribed to regular TV, which includes a number of channels that have a pretty good selection of films. Lastly, I’ve come to realise that I had been buying so many films that, while they were well-reviewed and sounded good, ended up being the kind of films that I’d happily watch once – but I would just as happily leave it at that. No need to buy something that I’m fairly certain to begin with I would watch the one time only.

Having said that: I am definitely someone who rewatches films. I also watch extras (when I have the time), if they’re interesting and well-produced. I like classics, and while many of the films I’m interested in are generally available to buy, there are a lot of publishers that cut corners when they release such films. Criterion is pretty much the opposite of this: their editions are, by and large, fantastic, the films look gorgeous in their transfers, and the selection is pretty good too – even if I’m still waiting for a Kurosawa collection to sit next to my Bergman, Fellini and Varda. A case could certainly be made that Criterion’s catalogue is somewhat conservative, but I would agree with them that these films and these filmmakers are generally considered to be canonical for a reason. Doesn’t mean that others aren’t also very good and worthy of attention, but while I’m all for looking at any supposed cultural canon critically, I do think there are riches to be found in it.

I’ve gushed often enough about this Criterion issue or that one, especially on our monthly podcast, and Criterion has definitely introduced me to a lot of films, directors and actors that I’d been interested in but had never before watched, as well as many others that I was only dimly aware of before I heard that they’d just come out. I think I’ve also become more adventurous in getting Criterion disks for things that sounded interesting but that weren’t immediately within my wheelhouse. I bought the Agnes Varda box set purely on the strength of having seen and loved the director’s 2017 film Faces Places, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her oeuvre. And yes, I admit, there’s also an element of retail therapy in this, in particular over the last one or two years.

All of this means that a significant backlog of Criterion issues has piled up on those aforementioned Billy shelves, and while I’m already on one Criterion-induced journey, I want to embark on another one: just as with Bergman, I will post every now and then about the latest film issued by Criterion that I’ve watched. Most likely I won’t go into the extras in detail, because that would almost require me to reduce my regular job load so that I can check out all the documentaries, interviews and commentary tracks. The focus, first and foremost, is on the selection of films and what I got out of those.

Time and work permitting, I’ll get started on this next week, beginning with the most recent Criterion edition I’ve seen: Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (and his earlier film, Killer’s Kiss, which was also included on the disk). Hoping that you’ll accompany me on another trip into cinema courtesy of the Criterion Collection!

P.S.: In case anyone’s wondering: I am most definitely not being sponsored by Criterion. In fact, it tends to be difficult to get all the disks over here in Europe – doubly so when American retailers stopped shipping to Switzerland, and the Criterion Channel isn’t available either. If anything, I guess it would be more accurate to say that I’m sponsoring Criterion…

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