BonusStruck: FilmStruck and The Criterion Channel's Special Features
A month into its existence, TCM and The Criterion Collection’s FilmStruck has already established itself as a serious contender for best streaming service. Currently, FilmStruck and its Criterion Channel have over 1,100 films available (someone on Letterboxd created a list with a running total). The service does have its drawbacks, though. While they have Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV support, many are still waiting for Chromecast (me), PlayStation and X-Box compatibility. FilmStruck assures those are all in the works for 2017.
For now, while it doesn’t offer my preferred method to stream, the biggest draw for me is the number of special features, you'd normally find on Blu-rays, now made available with The Criterion Channel. Criterion’s former streaming home, Hulu, offered only a handful of special features for only a small selection of titles. The Criterion Channel, however, is continuously adding special features for many of their titles. Not only that, they’re producing video content unique to the service.
Here, I’ll be highlighting some of the more notable films and their special features you’ll be able to find on The Criterion Channel.
Bill Hader is a huge film buff, if that wasn't clear from his work on SNL and Documentary Now!, you'll know it for sure after watching The Criterion Channel's Adventures in Moviegoing with Bill Hader. In the 18-minute interview, Hader goes into his history with movie-watching history, fart jokes in Ozu movies, his fondness for Evil Dead, and why he loves Eyes Wide Shut. My appreciation for Hader was already pretty high before watching this, but now it's gone through the roof; the man is pretty film savvy and also has great taste. Along with the conversation, Hader goes on to film intros for The American Friend, Ikiru, Pather Panchali, The Virgin Spring, Kes, A Woman Under the Influence, The Brood, Blood Simple, Down by Law, and The Vanishing.
(1984) - Spine #834
A frontrunner for best home media release of the year, Criterion blesses the Criterion Channel with the new 4K restoration of the Coens' debut plus all the special features found on the new DVD/Blu-ray. There's a can't-miss conversation with the directors and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld as participate in a video Telestrator commentary for most of the film. Interviews with author Dave Eggers and the Coens, composer Carter Burwell, and sound mixer Skip Lievsay, plus actors Frances McDormand and M. Emmet Walsh round out the features ported over from the disc release. On top of that, new special features you won't find on the disc include a 40-minute conversation with the filmmakers at the Castro Theatre and a 5-minute video comparing the Coens' original storyboards for the film to the final product.
Grey Gardens and The Beales of Grey Gardens
(1976) - Spine #123 / (2006) - Spine #361
In time for its 40th Anniversary, The Criterion Channel offers up the quintessential documentary Grey Gardens and its 2006 follow-up The Beales of Grey Gardens, along with nearly all of the special features you'll find on the disc. You'll get Albert Maysles' introduction to The Beales of Grey Gardens, designers Todd Oldham and John Bartlett recounting the influence the original documentary had on them, and a 40-minute interview with Little Edie Beale from 1976. Plus, in honor of its 40th Anniversary, co-directors Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer filmed a special introduction for The Criterion Channel. What's missing is the filmmaker audio commentary featured on the disc. It's an aspect FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel are working on, apparently. No streaming service has ever really taken advantage of audio commentaries and this service definitely has the catalog to make it work.
(1969) - Spine #494
Robert Redford plays skier determined to win Olympic gold with the help of his coach, played by Gene Hackman. Michael Ritchie's gorgeous, adrenaline-fueled debut is presented on The Criterion Channel with all of the disc's bonuses offered. Redford recounts his experience making the movie with screenwriter James Salter also offering insight. While editor Richard Harris, production manager Walter Coblenz, and downhill skier/stuntman/cameraman Joe Jay Jalbert describe what exactly went into the amazing ski sequences. A rare 12-minute promo film is also available, which features some rare behind-the-scenes footage.
(2001) - Spine #779
David Lynch's masterpiece is offered on The Criterion Channel in its new 4K transfer. No special feature is missing from the disc here. The best interview here has David Lynch and Naomi Watts together recounting the casting, filming and post-release reaction. It's a heart-warming conversation, with Watts acknowledging just how important the film and Lynch are to her. Also, any chance to hear from the usually reclusive Lynch is welcome. Various other cast and crew members are interviewed in separate videos, including Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, composer Angelo Badalamenti, production designer Jack Fisk, and casting director Johanna Ray. A 24-hour montage of on-set footage and one deleted scene rounds out the features. The only thing keeping this set of features from being complete is the lack of inclusion of the original TV pilot cut of Mulholland Dr. It didn't make the disc, which might be Lynch's way of saying the theatrical cut of the film is the be-all-end-all. Still, a guy can dream.
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
(1962 - 1973) - Spine #679
One of The Criterion Collection's crowning jewels is their Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman box set. All 25 five films on this immense set, spanning the more than a decade following the Japanese warrior Zatoichi, are all available on the Criterion Channel. As of this writing, there isn't a splash page that showcases all films at once. I've taken the liberty of linking each film below. On the page for the first film, you'll find the bonus features found on the box set. There's an hour-long 1978 documentary profiling the life of Zatoichi actor and filmmaker Shintaro Katsu; there's also an interview with the documentary's director. Asian-film critic Tony Rayns also shares his insight on why Zatoichi is such an important character in Japanese culture. If you don't have the cash to buy the complete DVD/Blu-ray set, you can invest in FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel to watch this 25-film saga and spend a fraction of that price. FilmStruck also features the 2003 Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi film directed by Takeshi Kitano.
The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)
The Tale of Zatoichi Continues (1962)
New Tale of Zatoichi (1963)
Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963)
Zatoichi on the Road (1963)
Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (1964)
Zatoichi's Flashing Sword (1964)
Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)
Adventures of Zatoichi (1964)
Zatoichi's Revenge (1965)
Zatoichi and the Doomed Man (1965)
Zatoichi and the Chess Expert (1965)
Zatoichi's Vengeance (1966)
Zatoichi's Pilgrimage (1966)
Zatoichi's Cane Sword (1967)
Zatoichi the Outlaw (1967)
Zatoichi Challenged (1967)
Zatoichi and the Fugitives (1968)
Samaritan Zatoichi (1968)
Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo (1970)
Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival (1970)
Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordsman (1971)
Zatoichi at Large (1972)
Zatoichi in Desperation (1972)
Zatoichi's Conspiracy (1973)
I should add one more thing. Having FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel will only impede my physical media buying by just a tiny bit. Having some of these Criterion films and special features on this service will allow me to catch up on releases I might not have gotten to before. But while the Criterion Channel is pretty expansive, it doesn't have everything. I still went out and bought Dazed and Confused soon after learning it wasn't available to stream. This service does have its limitations, but it can still enhance your viewing experience.