04 September 2010

DVD Talk Criterion Collection Challenge 2010

I know I keep promoting these challenges and you don't care, but here's the thing about this challenge that makes it interesting: the only eligible titles are those from The Criterion Collection.  This is a collection of films held in high regard by esteemed film critics around the world.  Here, you'll find films from around the world, reaching back nearly a full century.  You can always argue any list, and the Criterion library is no exception; but it's difficult to say that these aren't at least films worth seeing and discussing.

In the 1980s, the Criterion Collection lent some prestige to the now-defunct Laser Disc format.  Not every selection from that era has been resurrected on DVD.  The first three James Bond movies, for instance, featured scathing remarks in their commentary tracks that incensed Albert R. Broccoli so much he legally forced those editions out of print and Eon Productions to this day refuses to allow those tracks back into circulation.  What makes this great, though, is that the rules of the DVD Talk challenge permit participants to view any release, so long as the feature itself was at least once part of the The Criterion Collection.  That means you don't have to have those out-of-print Laser Disc editions of the first three Bond movies to participate; you can watch Dr. No on VHS if that's what you've got lying around the house.

Another nice "in" for this challenge is Netflix.  Not only do they have a lot of the titles in their DVD library, but you can stream anywhere from 80 to 100 from what I'm told.  Just last night, I streamed a 1937 French film, La Grande Illusion (The Grand Illusion, in case the translation wasn't obvious).  Think The Bridge on the River Kwai plus The Shawshank Redemption.  No doubt, the defiant performance of "La Marsaillaise" scene in Casablanca was lifted from La Grande Illusion, and I have my suspicions that Captain von Ruffenstein is an ancestor of Darth Vader's.  Maybe it's just me, but I delight in being able to see the threads that connect things I love to their ancestry, especially in film.

Darth Vader's grand-pappy?
Lastly, you may wish to consult your local library.  I just returned from mine, where I found no less than twenty-two Criterion Collection DVDs on the shelves!  Note: I don't mean I found 22 eligible titles...I mean, I found 22 actual Criterion Collection releases.  I am certain there are numerous non-Criterion editions of eligible titles.

And it may surprise you to learn what some of the titles are.  The Rock and Armageddon, for instance, as well as Dazed and Confused have had Criterion Collection releases.  So have Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Silverado and The Silence of the Lambs.  Wes Anderson is well represented, with Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums (which I have also streamed via Netflix) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou all being part of the collection.

For many, this assortment is evidence that you're "serious" about film as an art.  Personally, I balk at the auteur theory (the notion that a film is an expression of the director's vision), which is sacrosanct among most Criterion die-hards.  Film is possibly the most collaborative art form there is; from the writers who originate the stories in the first place to the production designers, costumers, actors, cinematographers, etc. who actually create the physical reality of the story to the editors, foley artists, composers, etc. who take footage and turn it into a film.  Crediting a director singlehandedly is insultingly simplistic.  Still, I don't see The Criterion Collection as an affront to my ability to decide for myself what I like or which films are "great."  I see it merely as a starting place for exploring an art form that I enjoy and appreciate.  I invite you to join my fellow DVD Talkers and myself this month as we delve into The Criterion Collection.

For those interested, here are some links:

DVD Talk Criterion Challenge discussion thread
DVD Talk Criterion Challenge lists thread
DVD Talk Criterion Challenge - my list

Wikipedia page: "List of Criterion Collection DVD releases"
Wikipedia page: "List of Criterion Collection Laserdisc releases"

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