01 October 2010

DVD Talk Criterion Collection Challenge 2010 - Looking Back

Going into this challenge, I was one of those who were somewhat intimidated by the elitist reputation of the Criterion Collection.  I suffer from a particularly pronounced Impostor Syndrome, so for someone with my rather pedestrian taste in film I felt very tenuous about wading into these waters.

My thoughts on the auteur theory are well established, but what I haven't mentioned often is how I feel about cinephiles who casually insert trivia from a favorite director's filmography in their often-insightful, sometimes-pretentious glowing praise of films.  I can do this on subjects about which I, too, am passionate...which is one more reason I felt completely out of my depth entering this challenge.

I came in only actually owning two official Criterion Collection DVD releases; I have a handful of qualifying titles in non-Criterion releases.  I figured I could use this challenge as an excuse to finally go through all the bonus content on the two CC releases I owned, and if I felt like watching any of the other eligible titles, so be it.  And I figured this could be a good time to finally get around to watching David Lean's pre-Bridge on the River Kwai directorial efforts.

I started, then, with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou which I'd only seen once before, five years ago.  At the time, I felt deceived into being lured by marketing promises of "a comedy starring Bill Murray!" into something far less familiar to my understanding of what that meant.

I followed that up with The Royal Tenenbaums, another Wes Anderson project that is one of my friend's absolute favorite films; he's glowed about it for years now and I decided to stream it from Netflix once I saw it was available.  That kicked off a run of Netflix streaming for the month, though I did check out a couple of titles from my local library, including The Wages of Fear, which I checked out because another challenge participant mentioned it as one he was going to watch; unfortunately I did not get to viewing before having to return it.  I definitely got my money's worth out of my Netflix subscription fee for September!

Some of the titles I got to fell short of my expectations; I realize that crossing time and geography require some contextual research to bolster one's understanding and appreciation of the film in question.  Divorzio all'italiana (Divorce - Italian Style) I found sleazy more than anything else, for instance.  La Jetee was interesting, though I suspect I won't remember it well; Sans Soleil made Chris Marker's photo-documentarian style a little more tedious to endure due to its length.

I failed to get to any of the Lean films (though I did watch the first eight minutes of Brief Encounter four different times; Netflix's upload stops there).  On the other hand, I did finally begin exploring the works of Ingmar Bergman and I fell completely in love with them.  It's out of my budget right now, but I have placed the Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks box set on my wish list. Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) was disturbingly visceral; I'm glad I saw it, but if I ever scrounge up the money for the box set I suspect this disc will get much less play.

My thoughts on each title I watched have been posted throughout this thread, and also appear in my list thread post; they're spoiler'd for size, not content, so feel free to peruse.  (And most of them have pictures, too!)

One last thought: I really came to appreciate the Criterion website.  I hit it up for those aforementioned pictures I inserted into my list thread post, and I love that they have archived all the essays they've ever published--including those dating back to the Laser Disc era.  If you haven't made use of this feature, I highly advise it.  Some of the essays I read were no more insightful than a Wikipedia entry, some were of that pretentious nature I mentioned earlier; but others were approachable and informative, and offered some great insight.  Maurice Yacowar's Flesh for Frankenstein essay really helped me make sense of that film being selected for inclusion in the hallowed Criterion Collection.

At the end of the month, I really feel like I've become far more comfortable with Criterion.  I made a deliberate point not to explore Asian cinema this year, not because it doesn't interest me but because I wanted to have a sort of regional focus.  I may change my mind a year from now, but I'm tentatively planning to concentrate on Asian features in 2011.

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