01 October 2011

DVD Talk Criterion Collection Challenge 2011 - Looking Back

These are my reflections on the DVD Talk Criterion Collection Challenge 2011.

Going Into the Challenge...
I knew that Netflix's failure to keep The Criterion Collection in their streaming library was going to be a hindrance, and I was right. I relied on it heavily last year; sixteen of my twenty seven entries last year were streamed. This year, I managed a paltry fourteen entries total. The HuluPlus trial was nice, but as I predicted, not being able to conveniently stream directly to my TV was a major minus. Maybe by next September I'll have a Roku or I'll be able to stream via the Wii like I can with Netflix. I came within a hair of completing the checklist last year; this year I wasn't even close. That's enough about what didn't occur for me this year. Here's what I did manage to see.
Ansiktet [The Magician]
My Continued Love Affair with Ingmar Bergman
Of the remaining eleven entries, six were from the filmography of Ingmar Bergman. I saw my first Bergman movies last year and fell in love, so I went back to the well this year. The four selections from the Eclipse Series Early Bergman box that I streamed via Hulu were "average" for me, but collectively I enjoyed them as I was able to see early evidence of the kinds of character-driven stories that he would later master, as well as his early flirtation with some of the themes that are better explored in later works

The two later Bergmans I saw were Ansiktet [The Magician], which I loved and would place on par with the Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks collection whose contents I streamed last year. Small wonder; it was made during the same stretch of his career as those (released between Smultronstället [Wild Strawberries] and Jungfrukällan [The Virgin Spring]). It shows. The remaining Bergman of my 2011 challenge was För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor [All These Women]. I found it amusing, but on the whole a bit subpar. Maybe because it was in color; maybe because I'd already seen Sommarnattens leende [Smiles of a Summer Night], a more satisfying ensemble sex comedy from his filmography.

I Wasn't Entirely Monogamous
My challenge began with a pair of atmospheric selections (Dazed and Confused and The Naked City). I enjoyed the settings quite a lot, but the stories were rather "meh" and little else stood out. The same can be said of Premiers Désirs [First Desires], an erotic coming-of-age story set on a Mediterranean island that I streamed from the HuluPlus exclusive digital Criterion catalog. They all three established a specific setting--in large part by shooting on location--but while I enjoyed going there, I found little of actual interest in any of the three.
L'heure d'été [Summer Hours]
That leaves me with L'heure d'été [Summer Hours], a 2008 French film that explores the nature of inheritance. I found its thesis specific and focused; perhaps a shade too much, as the narrative never really expanded to allow us much in the way of insight into the characters. Ultimately, though, I think this was a wise storytelling choice; just about every scene is specifically connected to the principle theme of how the middle aged children react when their matriarch dies. Reaction to this generated an interesting side discussion, and it became an instant favorite of mine.
Dr. No
I got hold of the recalled LaserDisc commentary tracks for the first three Bond movies and I watched the first two with the commentaries synced from my iPod (synced as well as I could manage; they were spliced from the various disc sides, so every ~30 minutes I had to play the pause-and-catch-up game). I learned a few nuggets along the way, and only an off-topic homophobic anecdote from Terence Young in From Russia with Love seemed objectionable to me. Peter Hunt's enthusiastic dissection of editing was a treat and I'd highly recommend for anyone interested in the craft of filmmaking to give these commentaries a listen just for his remarks.
Otto e mezzo [8 1/2]
8 1/2
Aside from Bergman, my 2011 challenge was dominated by Federico Fellini's Otto e mezzo [8 1/2], which I first saw in February for the Academy Awards Challenge. I processed it intellectually then, admiring it but not quite falling in love with it. Over the summer, I snagged the Blu-ray at Half Price Books for $12.00, though, so I gorged on its content. The more I learned of it, the more powerfully I felt the film resonate with me.

It caught me at just the right time. I wrote about depression for my blog earlier this year, and during this challenge, Jeri Ryan was kind enough to tweet a link to it. I have been overwhelmed by the response I've had to that post, and I was able to greatly empathize with Guido, the director who must make something, but has no idea what and is surrounded by myriad people looking to him for answers of some kind. Guido wants to have answers, but simply doesn't. He searches through every part of life, from his past to his fantasies, in an effort to find a direction for himself and something from which he can build. That resonated powerfully with me during this past month.