Why Watch Criterion?

The Criterion Collection currently consists of 841 (numbered, as well as over a hundred non-numbered) of the greatest films ever made. In general, if a film is released by Criterion, you can be assured of both its cinematic quality and its importance in the canon of film. Of course, not every film will work for every viewer, and naturally I’ve seen a number of Criterion films that left me scratching my head in puzzlement rather than marveling at the possibilities of cinema — but hey, at least the DVD cover is probably good, and the extras likely provide a healthy heaping of context and fascinating behind-the-scenes details.

Criterion is cinema for snobs cinephiles — people obsessed not only with film as film, but film as experience, film as an all-encompassing window into another life, another mind. As Roger Ebert once said:

movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.

People who indulge in the Criterion Collection probably believe similarly, but take it a step further. We share a journey created not just in the film, but of the film, and about the film.We empathize not just with the characters on screen, but also the director, and actors, and cinematographer, and possibly even the caterer, if he or she plays a significant role in the making-of documentary.

What’s interesting to me as well is that Criterion is not necessarily for people who enjoy going to the cinema. By its very nature, the Collection lends itself to private viewing: the film you may watch with a group, but would you really want to comb through the extras with a pal or partner? How many friends or boyfriends/girlfriends would be willing to sit through The Italian Traveler: Bernado Bertolucci, a 53-minute documentary included with The Last Emperor? Or the “new documentary” produced for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on the film’s sound effects? And how many people would buy a film, sight-unseen, just because the cover art is particularly gorgeous?

Fans of the Criterion Collection do all this and more, because they love the experience. Criterion is film for film collectors, for people who like to line up the spines and count how many they own and how many holes in their collection they have yet to fill.

Criterion, in other words, is film for nerds.

I love nerdiness, because nerdiness is usually equivalent to passion — and a passionate attachment to pop culture, a love for artistic creation, is a beautiful thing. Others are nerds for Dungeons and Dragons, or anime, or cosplay. I am a nerd for film, and so I watch movies released by the Criterion collection.

This blog is my place to document the films that I am watching. I aim to watch at least one film a week, and write a short (or long, depending on what I have to say) essay on that film. If I own the film, I’ll also write about the packaging and extras, but often I’ll be watching on Hulu and so I’ll only have access to the movie itself. This means that I am really only getting a small part of that Criterion experience, but if I like a film enough I may purchase it and write about the packaging later.

My current idea — which I make no promises about sticking to — is to set a “theme” for each month, and watch only films that fit with that “theme.” Theme here is defined broadly, and necessarily so — Criterion films are an eclectic bunch, and fit uneasily in prescribed boxes.

For this month — the month of August — the theme and pre-selected films are (drumroll please…)

COMING OF AGE

Au Revoir les Enfants [1987], Dir. Louis Malle — France

Brighter Summer Day, A [1991], Dir. Edward Yang — Taiwan

Ivan’s Childhood [1962], Dr. Andrei Tarkovsky — Soviet Union

Spirit of the Beehive, The [1973], Dir. Victor Erice — Spain*

(* indicates that I’ve seen it before)

Because I haven’t seen most of these before, I’m relying partly on Criterion’s own categorization of their catalogue, which you can find here. I also reserve the right to change this list in the event that I come up with a better movie to watch.

I’m currently in the middle of Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (it’s four hours long, so forgive me if I don’t watch it all in one sitting), and my desire to write about what I’m seeing in this movie led to the creation of this blog. I currently have about six months worth of movies and themes mapped out; I myself am interested to see whether I can keep it going.

I will try to update this blog every Friday. And with that, let Criterion/Watch commence!

 

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