I love The Criterion Collection. Their home video releases are not only some of my favorites around, they prove that at its very best, a DVD or Blu-ray can be as close to film school as one could ever get without actually attending film school. Each month they announce a new list of films joining this group of classics, and while many sound deeply enticing, sometimes the supplements that join these films are just as exciting. Here are five reasons I’m excited for this upcoming slate of films other than the films themselves.
5.) That Rififi Cover Art
Seriously, just look at it. With this cover by artist Tang Yau Hoong, the film finally not only gets the Blu-ray upgrade that it deserves, The Criterion Collection makes up for one of the worst original covers in their storied history. Sure, the early handful are full of some poor pieces, but the original artwork for Rififi was genuinely ugly. Toss in a picture that’s ostensibly one of the prettiest noir features ever made, and this has always been a film that seemed destined for the transfer to Blu-ray. Now, while the supplements are light here (basically a complete port over from the original DVD), this cover art (and eventually the top notch transfer) make this one of the most exciting upgrades to come in quite some time.*
*The other upgrade will be Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant Throne Of Blood, so it’s one of two stunners.
4.) The Eclipse Series Returns With A Bang
While the turnout for Criterion’s branch known as The Eclipse Series was relatively small in 2013 (only two box sets), 2014 appears to be a coming out party for the brand. Beginning in January, Criterion will be releasing three “late” films from auteur Satyajit Ray, and it’s a wonderful-sounding set including the trio of The Home and The World, An Enemy Of The People and The Stranger. The films here are worth seeing (obviously), but it’s the shock of seeing the Eclipse series hit as soon as it will in 2014 that’s exciting. This series has been seen as taking a bit of a hit with Criterion’s love affair with their Hulu Plus page, ostensibly doing the same thing as this lineup. However, they don’t seem to be closing shop here anytime soon, and if this is any hint, we’re about to see something really special.
3.) Terrence Davies Brings A Commentary For The Long Day Closes
A notoriously great and engaging speaker, Terrence Davies is featured on a commentary track here for his brilliant poem, The Long Day Closes. It’s the same commentary (pairing him with cinematographer Michael Coulter) seen on a relatively recent BFI DVD release of that film, but it’s great to see him represented so well as part of The Criterion Collection. It’s a shockingly autobiographical film (as almost all of his pictures are), and the commentary is a great blend of the personal and the professional, with Coulter not shying away from his love of the craft. Wonderfully enjoyable and insightful, the commentary may not be new, but it’s no less a selling point for someone to go out and truly give this film a shot.
2.) Interviews For Thief Are The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of
People may look at the Michael Mann and James Caan commentary as the main selling point for Criterion’s long awaited release of Mann’s masterpiece, Thief (because that cover sure as hell isn’t), but it’s the collection of interviews billed here that have this writer’s eye. Mann and Caan are featured here, but so is Johannes Schmoelling, whose band Tangerine Dream contributed the picture’s amazing soundtrack. These are new interviews shot specifically for this release (unlike the previously released commentary track), so the trio of people involved here will lead this (hopefully) lengthy program to become something great. A similar series of interviews can be seen on their release of Rosemary’s Baby, and if these are even half as engrossing, this will be one hell of a release.
1.) Two Cuts For It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
While it may seem like an odd film for The Criterion Collection to take on, ever since it was originally rumored to be part of a forthcoming release slate, film nerds and Criterion junkies have had one thought on their minds: what cut, or how many, would be featured here? The answer? Two. It’s a five disc release (including both dual format DVD/Blu-ray copies) led by a theatrical and an extended cut of the film, both of which get new HD transfers. The general release cut gets a gorgeous sounding 4k restoration, while the lengthier cut, reconstructed by Robert A. Harris, is getting an HD transfer. With commentaries, various documentary materials, and a booklet with a piece from Lou Lumenick, this release is easily the biggest of January.