The Criterion Component: The TFS Staff's Essential Discs Vol. 2
Pedro Almodóvar has a gift for melodrama, but with a perverse, insane twist. His films are sexy, dangerous, usually problematic, and unforgettable. ¡Átame!, titled Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, is about a young mental patient (Antonio Banderas) who kidnaps his favorite actress (Victoria Abril), and they both end up falling in love. Almodóvar presents this very strange romantic-comedy with a beautiful and warped aesthetic, and his two stars offer pitch perfect performances to match it. The film was controversial at the time of its release, which is no surprise because of its provocative subject matter, sexuality, and violence. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was the fifth Almodóvar film starring Banderas, which shot him to international fame. His performance here, as someone who is trying to create a love story out of whole cloth, is sad and pathetic but compelling.
This simple, erotic, and romantic drama follows two young gay Londoners (Tom Cullen, Chris New) as they spend the weekend together after a one night stand. They talk about everything, do mundane things, and possibly fall in love. Andrew Haigh’s film is authentic and emotionally honest. The film covers different aspects of gay life, and how gay men can be out in different ways. The filmmaking is quietly gorgeous, with evocative shots and crisp editing. The performances here are raw, with eye for nuance and subtlety. Weekend is inspired by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, following two people discuss everything, and falling in love quickly. The adaptation of that story into the gay experience makes for a singular experience, peeking into the lives of two very specific people and their experiences. Weekend is a quiet movie, with big impact and it showcases Haigh’s skill as writer and director.
- Manish Mathur
Marlon Brando gives arguably the finest performance of his career as former boxer-turned-dockworker Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront, his second collaboration with director Elia Kazan after A Streetcar Named Desire. Terry is torn between his ties with the local mob and his fellow union workers who are desperate for employment, and acquiring a moral conscience through a righteous priest (Karl Malden) and the sister (Eva Marie Saint) of a dearly departed friend. This ethical crisis, oscillating between self-doubt, faith, and capped off with a truly triumphant finale, has led On the Waterfront to be one of the all-time classics of American cinema. Criterion’s release contains a 4K restoration across three cuts of the film with separate aspect ratios (1.66:1, 1.33:1, and 1.85:1). The question of what the correct way to see the film has been up for debate over the years since its release, granting reason for this edition to feature more than one version. In terms of supplementary features, there’s an impressive array, including three documentaries, interviews with Elia Kazan and Eva Marie Saint, visual essays, and a new conversation on the film between Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones. Simply put, this is one of the best examples of Criterion going all-out for a single title, with an immaculately restored transfer and several exclusively-made extra components.
- Rob Trench
“King of the Nudies” Russ Meyer had a brief encounter with respectability when 20th Century Fox handed him the sequel-in-name-only to the hit Valley of the Dolls. The classic story of three beautiful women who fall prey to a seedy world of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was aptly named; it seems to exist beyond satire, beyond camp, and in a colorful dimension all on its own. Roger Ebert’s deliciously sleazy script drips with endlessly quotable come-ons like “You’re a groovy boy. I’d like to strap you on some time,” and the ending that invokes the infamous murder of original Dolls star Sharon Tate still shocks decades later. Criterion’s Blu-ray is essential, including archival extras like a commentary track from the late Ebert, as well as a new interview with John Waters (who parodied the film in Polyester) and a must-see Q&A from 1992 featuring Meyer, Ebert, and cast members bemused by the film’s enduring legacy.
- Kayleigh Hearn
Widely considered German director Wim Wender’s masterpiece, the Criterion Collection’s edition of Paris, Texas, is an essential buy for anyone who collects Criterion — and cinephiles in general. It’s a film of barren landscapes and profound emotion. We meet a man wandering a bone-dry desert. His dusty, worn, but bright red cap stands out against the rocky landscape around him. As the film progresses, Wenders uses color and minimalistic dialogue to convey the tremendous well of emotion that binds the cast of characters — separated geospatially by vast tracts of land, but united by their love for one another. The film is, in short, a masterpiece of subtle visual storytelling and superb dialogue.
Criterion’s transfer of the film is almost equally impressive. It retains the grainy, film texture that made the original feel as though the form was aping the intimacy of the tale, but colors pop. Travis’s — our main character — red hat, in particular, leaps off the screen with new brilliance. Also included in the release is a gorgeous booklet with snippets of Sam Shepard’s treatment, interviews with the cast and Wenders, an essay by film critic Nick Roddick, and production stills. It's relatively thick and stuffed with quality anecdotes. On the disc, Criterion has packed in a gallery of location scouting photos, deleted scenes of super8 movies from the film, and a video interview and a splendid audio commentary with Wim Wenders. If you are a fan of the film or if you’re simply interested in an essential Criterion to build out your collection, Paris, Texas is a must-buy.
- Aaron Hendrix
Wes Anderson's stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children's book is my recommendation not because I love the film (though I do), but because of what sets it apart from the rest of the collection. Criterion hadn’t released any animation since their Akira laserdisc in 1995, but their dedication to cataloging Anderson's complete work forced them to break the seal with a lovely DVD/Blu-Ray set in 2014. It was a tantalizing glimpse at what could be. Every single animated film leaves behind a vault of production material from the years of work needed to bring it to life. Tragically, the Disney Platinum Editions from the golden age of DVD are among the only home video releases to truly pay homage to this process. Fantastic Mr. Fox shows what the Criterion touch can bring to the medium, brimming with voice recording footage, close-up looks at the puppets, stacks of development art, and, most astoundingly, the entire film in its early animatic form. They have since released lovely editions of Martin Rosen's Watership Down and René Laloux's Fantastic Planet, but they’ve still only grazed the surface. I hope Kon, Chomet, and Hertzfeldt can one day sit side-by-side in the Criterion Collection with Kurosawa, Fellini, and Chaplin.
- Andrew Ihla
In high school, I found a VHS copy of A Hard Day’s Night at the used record store my friend and I would walk to every day after school where we would spend our lunch money. At 15, I was happy enough to watch my 4 favorite musicians sing and muck about on the grainy tape, but my upgrade to the Criterion Blu-ray last year has been a welcome improvement. The film has been lovingly transferred to digital, the high contrast black and white sparkles and the sound is clear as a bell. The Criterion release comes with a book, including an excellent essay titled, The Whole World is Watching by Howard Hampton and an impressively comprehensive interview with the director, Richard Lester. On the disc, there are segments about the making of A Hard Day’s Night, and my personal favorite, a collection of interviews the Fab Four gave about the film on tour, making this release a fan, or a film collector’s dream come true.
- Sarah Buck
There are influential classics (Citizen Kane, The Gold Rush, Ben-Hur) and there are movies that set new standards in cinema, like Stagecoach. Ford’s classic might not be the first movie that comes to mind when thinking about challenging, artistically relevant films, but it’s a title that forged new territory, set new standards, and shaped the future of westerns and the entirety of the action genre. Stagecoach also propelled a little-known propman-turned-actor John Wayne into the spotlight. Criterion’s swell of John Ford films (and westerns) is a cause to celebrate, and the announcement of Stagecoach coming into the collection felt like an obligatory inclusion given the film's contribution to cinema. And Criterion does the film justice with a slew of bonus features: an early silent from Ford, interviews commentaries, and, foremost, a beautifully restored transfer. Not bad for a movie whose negative was found in the garage of its star by Peter Bogdanovich when interviewing Wayne for his 1968 documentary Directed by John Ford. This is an essential title in The Criterion Collection, and let’s hope we see more Ford movies in the collection in the future.
- Alex Miller
Director Otto Preminger’s (Laura, The Man with the Golden Arm) 1959 Jimmy Stewart courtroom drama is jam-packed with style, while also being especially explicit for its time with its language and description of the crime at the center of the film. Clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes, the film zooms along — I wasn’t planning on staying up until 2 a.m. when I first watched this, but I really couldn’t take my eyes off it. This film absolutely needs to be in the conversation when discussing the best of the best legal procedurals. Luckily, time has been good to Anatomy of a Murder — in 2012, not only did we get The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray of this classic, but the film was also inducted into the National Film Registry. The set (spine number 600, by the way) includes featurettes on Preminger, Duke Ellington’s film score, and a look at the relationship between Preminger and Saul Bass, who designed the influential opening title sequence and poster. Anatomy of a Murder is an absolute must-own; one that still has a quite the kick 50 years later.
Why don’t they make comedy epics like this anymore? The cast list has a higher word count than this article, the film’s runtime is almost twice as long as any standard comedy (save for Apatow’s), and highly lauded director Stanley Kramer shot the whole thing in glorious 70mm (the same format as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ben-Hur). Actually, there’s a reason we don’t see these types of comedies anymore: they know they can’t top It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (and please don’t bring up Rat Race, please). The Criterion set is one of the most stacked in the collection: there’s a treasure trove of archival promotional material, a 2012 reunion with the surviving cast and crew, and, along with all that, you also get a 197-minute extended edition, making the film a truly a staggering and extra hilarious experience. The Criterion Collection offers the occasional comedy film, from Charlie Chaplin to Harold Lloyd, to Wes Anderson and Albert Brooks. It’s quite fitting that they include the grandest comedy of all time in their highly esteemed collection.