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 »

The Curious Case of the Criterion Newsweek Article

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In December of 2009, Newsweek published an article called “The Curious Case of the Instant Classic”, which detailed a brief history of the Criterion Collection, but went on to question its choice of films, specifically David Fincher’s 2008 film The Curious Case of the Benjamin Button. The article revealed that the induction of the film, which is probably one of the “most controversial” of their collection and often their least expensive, was kind of a deal between Fincher and Criterion honcho Pete Becker. Fincher’s film The Game had originally been part of their collection when they released LaserDiscs, but the article seemed to accuse the company that if they kept releasing films like Benjamin Button and other films they could pick and choose from their IFC deal, they’d “get younger and younger until they just fade away”.

The article recognizes the importance and cultural stature of the film publishing company, which, in its enormous 660+ collection, has released such classics by Kurosawa, Renoir, De Sica, Chaplin, Bergman, etc., and that the company has done a great deal in aiding to the preservation and restoration of important films. But, positing that the company’s IFC deal would make the company’s reputation would shake and then lose its credibility? Looking back on it four years later, despite one or two questionable choices that shook up the blogosphere, the article seems silly and very dated. Fade away? Nonsense. Criterion is stronger than it has ever been in its company history.

Dozens, even hundreds of websites devote themselves to Criterion all by itself, my personal favorite being CriterionCast (as well as other art films), even more sites have Criterion based columns (my favorite being Criterion Corner), and there are also dozens of podcasts on iTunes (and beyond). Their future release slates, which they announce three months in advance, are debated over, predicted, and I imagine there are some bookies making money on them as well. Their Facebook page has more than 129,000 likes. They have more than 100,000 followers on their verified Twitter account. So, yeah, it doesn’t exactly look like Criterion has faded away at all.

The “controversy” of Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture was eloquently discussed in David Ehrlich’s article on the film, and a point Mr. Ehrlich makes is that our perceptions of how prestigious Criterion is as a company should not change. That, as opposed to being those stiff and stuffy intellectuals who balk at something unfamiliar and “questionable”, it should be accepted as something entirely possible, new, and exciting. So, why did Newsweek not do that? How could they be so wrong?

At the time that the Newsweek piece was written, Criterion was already fairly respectable. They’d made their Blu-ray debut that year with films like Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, and Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. They had introduced their vamped up website for the first time. They sent email newsletters which teased at future releases. Criterion was hardly a small company and, at the time, if you went to the library looking for something like High and Low or The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, chances were (and still are) that they would have the Criterion edition. Because, they are the platinum standard. While having extra features isn’t exclusive to Criterion anymore, how enlightening those features are still might be. So, why acknowledge the company’s importance and then posit that, just because of one film, or one deal, they’ll disappear?

It’s known that the IFC deal was made, primarily, so that the money they earn with the IFC releases is used to restore and preserve the sets and editions that they hold dear to their heart. But saying that the IFC deal was a bad choice is kind of silly. Sure, the films might fluctuate in how “important” they are, but it’s really all semantics when it comes to dissecting Criterion’s credo, which is on the back of each set. Criterion’s IFC releases might, contrary to the article, save films from obscurity: because it has that label. And, again, how deserving a film is totally subjective.

But, at times, IFC’s choices have been incredibly successful. Take a look at Lars von Trier’s psychological nightmare Antichrist. Although, in my opinion, they probably would have picked the film up anyways (they already had The Element of Crime and Europa in their collection prior to the IFC deal), it’s one of the best films they’ve picked up from IFC. There’s Christopher Nolan’s debut feature Following. Although the film isn’t as satisfying as Nolan’s sophomore effort, Memento, but seeing his first unlocks some of the ideas and techniques that would make him one of the most profitable Hollywood auteurs in the business. Mind games, non-linearity, etc. IFC’s investment into the film also gave Nolan the chance to go back to his film and clean up the print from the original 16mm negatives. Other notable inclusions that were good consequences of the deal include Wim Wenders’ 3D eulogy Pina and the Dardennes Brothers realist fairy tale The Kid with a Bike. The former film marked the very first 3D release and combo pack for the company (an element I wish the company would embrace fully), and the latter film’s release, though it was lauded at its release, allowed Criterion to snap up the Dardennes’ films Rosetta and  La Promesse. Weekend, Andrew Haigh’s film, is a wonderful romantic drama that doesn’t ghettoize its subject; it just portrays it as it is.

So, sure, you have your Benjamin Buttons, your Tiny Furnitures, your Life During Wartimes, and your endless Wes Anderson films (who I like, actually, and who Criterion just loves; he’s not part of the IFC deal, they just love him), but Criterion’s ability to either predict the longevity or solidify the legacy of certain films is, to me, what loving film is all about: loving it all and championing stuff that you think should be recognized.

So, even realizing how wrong Newsweek’s article was, it’s important, I think, to realize how condescending, disingenuous, and wrong that piece is. Criterion isn’t snobbish about film; it seems more to be a residual effect on its fans or something. So, even if Criterion includes a couple of Michael Bay flicks, Criterion does what the best cinephiles do and what all of the rest should aspire to: love cinema, all of its facets, and power as an art form.

Special thanks to the wonderful Josh Brunsting for being a helpful film encyclopedia!

I, Robot: Review for “Wall-E” 3-Disc Special Edition DVD

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Pixar is honestly one of the most amazing studios ever. More amazing than MGM, more fantastic than Universal, and more exciting than 20th Century Fox. Not only because of the amazing visuals they provide for all of their films, but also because of their acclectic choices of films. Even though their is a small taste of a Pixar film in each, they’re all different and wonderfully so. Toy Story was an adult tale disguised as a kid’s film, with it’s catchy humor and great voices. A Bug’s Life was the second venture into computer animation and it was just as satisfying. With each new Pixar film, a new adventure was experienced by all audiences and pleasure is the feedback and reception the guys, like Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and John Lasseter (directer of Toy Story and Cars), have been getting ever since. Wall-Eis the newest of the bunch. I was a little hesitant due to how fast the studio has been churning out films, great or otherwise (they’ve already got a new film planned for May 2009, UP). But with his wonderfully emotional binocular eyes, Wall-E warmed the hearts of virtually everone on the planet. Wall-E, a trash compacter whose job it is to clean up the mess we left on Earth 700 years ago, is very lonley and spens his time collecting trinkets he finds and watching Hello, Dolly!But his life turns around when a sleek probe named EVE lands to collect any vegetation. It’s nerd love at first sight. And that is what makes this film so amazing: love. as you can tell, I’m very sappy and an easy target for filmmakers out to make audiences cry. Even though its political message is a little strong for me, its fantastic characters and wonderful storyline make it worth it. The new DVD contains two discs in a , at first confusing, eco-friendly package. The first disc has that wonderfully cute and funny Presto. It also features the new, and equally funny short film BURN-E. There is also a fascinating documentary about Ben Burtt, who also did the sound effects for Star Wars, and how he created the sounds for Wall-E. The second disc has funny vignettes and a brilliant new documentary called The Pixar Story. It chronicles the studio from its humble beginnings at Lucasfilm to its blockbuster films like Cars. The third disc is one of my favorites. It has a DisneyFile Digital Copy which allows you to carry the entire film on your computer or your iPod. A truly amazing film, you can bet it’ll win for Oscar’s Best Animated Feature.

Film: A

Features: A

The Pixar Story: A-

Overall: A  

You Know His Name: Review for “Casino Royale: Collector’s Edition” DVD

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It really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that those money hounding fiends who market the 007 merchandise that we die hard fans crave have released a new Casino Royale DVD to coincide with the release of Quantum of Solace. But this is actually a blessing. The last DVD featured very little, for lack of a better word, features; only a msuic video, two documentaries and a special, Bond Girls Live Forever, were included. There are so many good things about this new collector’s edition. The menus, which were extremly bland and not at all in the style of a Bond DVD (especially those overly risque ones from the 2006 Ultimate DVDs), have now reached my approoval. Falling cards depict certain scenes from the film. Also available on the first disc are two brand new commentaries. The first one features director Martin Campell (also director of Brosnan 007 film GoldenEye) and producer Michael G. Wilson givig delicious anecdotes on the prduction and the story. The second gives a slightly more technical look at the film. The second disc thankfully gives you those features from the last DVD (Yay!, I’m not completely wasting my money buying this!). The title song is, admittedly, probably my favorite. Chris Cornell gives this rocking movie a rocking new title track with a classic title: “You Know My Name”. The third disc contains “Over 7 Hours of New Bonus Features”. And it is true to its word (no, faithful readers, I did not digest all the features in one sitting), with about four new documentaries, three featurettes, filmmaker profiles, and storyboard sequences. “The Road to Casino Royale” is a fascinating documentary, chronicling how long it took to actually make one of the best Bond films of all time. It has a segment featuring the lesser known of the James Bond actors: Barry Nelson. Barry Nelson starred as “Jimmy Bond” in a CBS presentation of the novel in 1953. It is not well remembered. “Ian Fleming’s Incredible Creation” talks mostly about the literary Bond, a perspecitive that is sadly left out of most Bond DVDs. “James Bond in the Bahamas” takes a very interesting look at the history of Bond…in the Bahamas! With breath taking visuals, this doc is really something to look forward to. “Ian Fleming: The Secret Road to Paradise” talks about how Bond ended up in the Bahamas in the books and in the movies. The four documentaries are very well put together and all together entertaining. (Extra: John Cork, author of James Bond: The Legacy and James Bond Encyclopedia, wrote and directed all four of these docs.) The featurettes on the Venice scene (“Death in Venice”) and the Madagasgar scene (“The Art of Freerunning”) are very interesting. The storyboard sequences are cool and the filmmaker profiles are a delight. The deleted scenes are good, but there’s very little to be witnessed. The DVD also comes witha free ticket to the new 007 film. Overall, this is one of the best releases of a Bond film ever. Then again, you can always bet on Bond.

Features: A+

“You KNow My Name”: A

Film: A

Overall: A+

For full details about the new James Bond blu-ray discs, visit mi6.co.uk

Absolute KAOS:Review for “Get Smart’s Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control” DVD

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One of my favorite summer films so far is Get Smart. It’s funny, action packed, and all together great. With great acting from Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, and Alan Alda, it’s probably the funniest film this summer that not only you, but your kids can also enjoy. In a couple scenes, Masi Oka (Heroes) and Nate Torrence make appearances as the geeks behind the cool gadgets worthy of the 007 films. They play Bruce and Lloyd, respectively.   Bruce and Lloyd are working on an invisibility cloak. The cloak, of course, gets stolen. It is stolen by a voluptuous Maraguayan (well, I guess creativity is a plus) “agent”. She needs to rescue her father!!! Apparently, El Presidente captured him fifteen years ago and won’t let him go until he gets the cloak. Meanwhile, the nerds are trying to get dates and beat the CIA to the cloak. A bad excuse for a comedy spin off. The jokes mostly fall flat and the story is extremely predictable. Nate Torrence and Masi Oka manage to be moderately funny. The bland DVD features include a Behind the Scenes Doc on the Gadgets and on the Hair Removing Gadget and “Bruce and Lloyd’s Confessionals”.


Features: B-

Overall: C+