All That Glisters is Not…: Criterion’s Underrepresentation of Female Filmmakers and What That Means for Film Discourse

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With a number printed on each release’s spine as if to represent the growing number of essential cinematic works like an encyclopedia, the Criterion Collection – the  boutique label that releases art house, indie, and classic films on DVD and Blu-ray –  is the essential brand  for cinephiles: bourgeoning, devoted, or anywhere in between. It has rightfully earned its place as a go-to brand for those seeking Important Cinema, previously feted or newly ripe for discovery. Their library bursts at the seams with names like Kurosawa, Altman, Godard, Truffaut, Bay, Ozu, Wenders, Ray, Rohmer, Tati, Demy, Bergman, and von Trier.

Regardless of how impressive and reputable the list of names above is or is not, there is certainly something missing: female directors. Critic, filmmaker, and author of Political Animals: New Feminist Cinema Sophie Mayer took a look through Criterion’s library and concluded that of the 798 films that the label has released, films directed or co-directed by women made up 2.6%, a sum total of 21 films. Read the rest of this entry »

Loyalty, Anarchy, Subversion, and Bravery: Four from Criterion

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Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987) | Directed by Louis Malles 

Louis Malles’ sensitive masterpiece is a nicely straightforward film, devoid of the usual murky metaphors that usually inhabit Criterion films. Taking place during World War II and in a private school for Catholic boys, Malles retraces his childhood making the film semiautobiographical. A sense camaraderie between two boys begins, but Julien Quentin discovers that his friend, Jean Bonnet, is a Jew in hiding at the school. Julien keeps the secret, and a beautiful sense of intimacy and friendship builds. The relationship between the boys is actually quite natural and realistic. Not too pushy or filled with cornball, but filled with the same kind of naturalism and realism that would occur in any other friendship. But the film is deeply emotional and filled with nuance, and while the subject matter, and its ending, are riveting and dark, the film itself basks in delight and observance of friendship and loyalty. Beautifully made and wonderfully acted, Au Revoir Les Enfants is a gorgeous piece of art and closure for the director.

Grade: A-

If…. (1969) | Directed by Lindsay Anderson

Lindsay Anderson’s artistic piece of revolutionary cinema is a dreamlike, murky film. But its message is wildly clear. Malcolm McDowell portrays Mick Travis, who becomes the leader of a small group of anarchists at a boarding school in England. But the film is much less straightforward than that and, like any great art film, refuses to let the viewer stay on track. The film lingers and patiently examines the various atrocities that are committed both by the school staff and the Whips, the prefects or superior senior students who run the school like prison. The film seems not only to be deeply anarchic about overbearing governmental systems, but social class systems as well. The Whips aren’t really superior for any reason other than by seeming self-appointment. With incredibly socialistic tendencies and dialogue that reeks of revolution, Anderson’s If…. Is a one of a kind masterpiece that builds up to an incredible and disturbing climax.

Grade: B+

Crumb (1995) | Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Underground comic artist Robert Crumb is a repellent figure in my mind. That’s not to say I don’t understand his motivations; on the contrary, his use of satire and subversive humor is convincing, conniving, and well-drawn. But his general disdain for people and is obsession with sex is disconcerting. In Terry Zwigoff’s discomfortingly intimate documentary Crumb, the director manages to make the best documentary about the most repellent figure. Here is an unflinching piece of biography, that shows its subject in an honest, powerful light. We even get to meet Crumb’s family, people who are so clearly in need of help that it’s saddening watching Crumb talk down to his nearly catatonic brothers. (His sisters would not be interviewed for the doc.) It’s like the photography of Chuck Close: it catches every disgusting, interesting, true thing about the subject. So, I give kudos to Zwigoff for that. But it’s not a fun documentary; it isn’t pleasant, or nice, or entertaining. A lot of what Crumb says may anger the viewer, but then again, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. What is nice, however, is the side interviews with fellow cartoonists and criitcs that shed light on Crumb’s work, analyzing specific comics and offering insight into their meaning and their context. I advise you rent this before you buy it.

Grade: B-

Paths of Glory (1957) | Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s impressive and raw drama starring Kirk Douglas is an intense examination of the war machine and its horrible consequences. When a battalion of soldiers in France during World War I are sent on a suicide mission and fail at completing it, three are picked to be tried for cowardice. Aside from the beginning actions, the film plays much like an extremely dramatic, moving courtroom drama. We see the various people at the top who are so deeply corrupted that they are willing to  lie and execute three innocent soldiers. Kirk Douglas is fiery and perfect as their general. Paths of Glory is one of the most moving, terrifying, raw anti-war films ever made.

Grade: A