This is how the Criterion Collection’s Mission Statement begins, and it best sums up what they’re all about. The Criterion Collection starting with laserdisc (and now with DVD, Blu-ray, and online streaming) has been gathering some of the best, most eclectic, and rarely seen films in world, treating them with tender love and care, and making them available for the movie-loving public.
But you see, that may explain what they do but it’s not everything that makes CC special. Most of the people that I know that own CC movies don’t just have one or two, they have… well, a collection of Criterion. More often than not, they’re segregated from the rest of their DVDs and are in numbered order (Criterion archives all their films with a spine number – Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion is #1 on DVD, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane took the top spot on laserdisc). Criterion Collection just isn’t a brand name, it’s an obsession.
My first Criterion Collection DVD was Armageddon (#40)… It was a gift. Some of you may be thinking at this point that Armageddon doesn’t exactly fit in the “best, most eclectic, and rarely seen” category, and that has been argued quite a bit by CC enthusiasts, but I’ll get to that in a minute. I’d never heard of the Criterion Collection before that moment.
All I knew was that instead of getting a barebones DVD with Photoshopped cover art of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, I was getting a 2-disc fully loaded version with cover art that ended up being the most understated thing about the film: a stark black background with a flame-engulfed “Armageddon” sitting off center on the silhouette of Earth; “The Criterion Collection” printed along the top. I was hooked.
The DVD came packaged with CC’s catalog of films; many of their releases do. I was able to see all that they had to offer and was ready to try some of their other movies. Soon I added Chasing Amy (#75), Robocop (#23), and Silence of the Lambs (#13) to my collection. This leads me back to mainstream factor. While some object to CC including such movies in their library, I kinda see the point. Releasing movies like these is a great way to reach consumers that wouldn’t normally pick up one of their foreign titles. I know that not everyone that buys The Rock (#108) will then immediately go out and buy an Ozu film, but maybe one will and that’s worth a shot. Frankly, I’ve never felt like a movie they’ve released didn’t deserve the CC treatment. While I haven’t liked every movie they’ve put out, at least it’s out there for someone else to like it.
Anyway… my CC addiction didn’t quite take hold until I dipped my toe into their foreign films. I was working at a place that sold DVDs at the time when a copy of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (#116) came through. Kurosawa’s name always seemed to come up whenever I read about film, but I was never able to see any of his films, so I bought it — Buying that DVD led me to discover the films of other amazing foreign filmmakers that I never had access to before: Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Truffaut, and others.
Don’t let the “foreign” label put you off if that’s not your thing. Not all foreign titles are created equal, and Criterion has plenty of genres to offer movie fans: Action [Hard Boiled (#9), Branded to Kill (#38), Seven Samurai (#2)], Comedy [Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (#61), This Is Spinal Tap (#12), Rushmore (#65)], Horror [The Blob (#91), Carnival of Souls (#63), Kwaidan (#90 )], Indies [Do The Right Thing (#97), Slacker (#247)], Mystery [The Third Man (#64), Notorious (#137)], Documentary (Hoop Dreams (#289), Give Me Shelter (#99), Grey Gardens (#123)], and Other [Naked Lunch (#220), Flesh For Frankenstein (#27), By Brakhage: An Anthology (#184)].
Besides having a great catalog of films, Criterion has always been on the forefront of DVD extras and pristine transfers.
They pride themselves on not only releasing the best looking films, but packages that are worthy of being called collectable. Long before other companies caught on, CC was releasing commentaries, deleted footage, and double-discs full of content. Now that others are stepping up their game, CC has stepped up theirs by including even more bonus material, special packaging, and re-releasing older titles — not to double-dip you out of your money but to offer even better transfers as technology allows for more advanced cleaning methods.
Criterion discs are a little more costly than your average DVD/Blu-ray, but you’re definitely getting what you pay for.
Criterion has recently revamped its website ( HYPERLINK “http://www.criterion.com” www.criterion.com) to include online streaming of some of their movies. For $5 you can view a film on your computer, and afterwards if you decide to buy the DVD/Blu-ray version, the $5 goes towards the purchase from their online store. Not a bad deal. They also offer The Current – blogs about their films, and have partnered with The Auteurs ( HYPERLINK “http://www.theauteurs.com” www.theauteurs.com), an online hub for cinephiles to watch and discuss films.
There is a reason The Criterion Collection has such a rabid following, and they’re adding new fans every day. Give The Criterion Collection a chance, but be warned that once you start you may never look back.