Welcome! As this is the first post from this blog that I’ve shared publicly, it’s possible that this is the first time you’re visiting. Short version: I’m watching and reviewing a bunch of Criterion movies, loosely organized around a monthly theme. I’m hoping to get some practice writing film criticism and to create a catalogue of my thoughts on films in the collection along the way.
In August, I watched “Coming of Age” films. My plan was to write an overall wrap-up in which I parsed out some of the similarities and differences between the films, but that turned out to be a more intensive endeavor than I originally thought so I ended up abandoning it. And anyway, September was super busy for me: I’d intended to watch a bunch of films organized around the theme of “Faith” that month, but ended up watching almost no new Criterion films, and definitely no new films from my original September list. Instead of shuffling “Faith” to October, I’m starting over: a fresh slate, if you will. Only one “film” is carrying over from that original list, and I haven’t actually finished it yet (the film in question is actually a television miniseries, the ambitious and sprawling 10-part Dekalog by Kryzysztof Kieslowski. Look for a review later this month.)
So how to wrap up August without wrapping it up? Well I thought it might be fun to rank the films. Ranking films is a somewhat silly endeavor, because it almost never actually tells you anything about the quality of the films themselves. What it can do, though, is offer a snapshot of one person’s opinion at a certain time and place. I would be surprised if the order below didn’t change and shift over the coming years as I revisit these films, all of which were extraordinary, with new contexts and new life experiences. And naturally I wonder what the order says about me … Anyway, here’s the list:
- The Spirit of the Beehieve, , Dir. Victor Erice
- A Brighter Summer Day , Dir. Edward Yang
- Dazed and Confused  Dir. Richard Linklater
- Au revoir les enfants , Dir. Louis Malle
- Ivan’s Childhood , Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky
- My Life as a Dog , Dir. Lasse Hallström
As for a justification, I have flimsy ones at best. The top three on the list are all extraordinary films for various reasons. There’s something in the ethereal, haunting beauty of The Spirit of the Beehive that has burrowed its way into my subconscious. Every time I watch it I come away more and more impressed with its poetic imagery and incisive political commentary by way of an exploration of a young girl’s psyche. A Brighter Summer Day is a quite close second, a certifiable masterpiece that goes on for nearly four hours but never overstays its welcome, creating such a vivid portrait of a time and place that one senses it must really be out there, somewhere, just waiting for us to reach it. Dazed and Confused does the same in much less time: its light, nostalgia-tinged cynicism makes for a Texas high school with a whiff of deja vu, even if my own experience was quite different from that depicted in the film. The other three films are all varying degrees of impressive or emotional, but didn’t strike quite the same chord with me. Why? Good question. Maybe when I revisit this list in a year or ten I’ll be able to tell you.
And that’s it for Coming of Age! And now on to October. And what is the theme for October? Glad you asked …
Yes, it’s the spooky time of year, so for October I’m watching a variety of cult movies and other scary features. I’m defining “cult” rather broadly here, to the point where it essentially means “whatever I feel like watching.” In general, I looked for movies with either an obvious cult following (such as House), cult-like sensibilities (such as Cat People or The Woman in the Dunes), or movies about actual cults (Haxan). Another general criteria was that it had be horror-cult related: “the Criterion Collection” as a brand is practically synonymous with cult anyhow, so I felt the need to narrow it to ostensibly spooky movies, as befits October. I’m pretty excited about my selections this month, only two of which (House and The Blob) I’ve seen before. Starred movies are ones that I own, all the rest will be watched on Hulu (or Filmstruck, whenever that finally gets off the ground). Films below are ordered according to their spine, not necessarily the order in which I’ll watch them (spoiler alert: Cat People is actually up first. I’ll be watching it tonight and posting a review sometime on Sunday).
#63 Carnival of Souls , Dir. Herk Harvey – United States
#91 The Blob , Dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. – United States*
#134 Häxan , Dir. Benjamin Christensen – Denmark
#260 Eyes Without a Face , Dir. Georges Franju — France
#366 The Atomic Submarine , Dir. Spencer G. Bennet — United States
#394 Woman in the Dunes , Dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara — Japan
#539 House , Dir. Nobuhiko Obayashi — Japan*
#833 Cat People , Dir. Jacques Tourneur – United States*
If you have any ideas for cult Criterion movies to watch this month, feel free to let me know!