The Criterion Memorandum

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We’ve toyed with producing a regular article on the US’s Criterion Collection for some time now. We came closest to it late last year, when the label went dual-format, but for whatever reason decided against it (ubiquity was the greatest concern; there are already a number of websites dedicated to the label). With the return to the fore of the concept of the boutique label in general, as the major studios abandon putting any effort in to their physical home video releases in favour of cheaper, online models of delivery, now seems like the perfect opportunity to take a more strategic look at those groups that do take the mediums of Blu-ray and DVD seriously.

On the 15th day of each month, weekends pending, Criterion reveal their latest batch of announcements, so to begin with we’ll be offering up our thoughts on that. Today they announced the releases they have planned for the coming April.

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Denmark rules April, with their earliest master recognised alongside their current chieftain. An early film from Carl Th. Dreyer, The Master Of The House marks a rare outing for a silent feature in the Criterion Collection. Pre-Passion Of Joan Of Arc Dreyer is poorly represented on English-language home video, with only Michael, the immediate predecessor to The Master Of The House available in anything that could reasonably be described as a lavish edition, so this dual-format edition derived from a new 2K transfer is very much a welcome announcement. While the release of the Dreyer marks the coming-of-age of an early Danish master, the long-awaited unveiling of the Criterion edition of Lars von Trier’s Breaking The Waves marks the breakthrough of Denmark’s most influential latter-day filmmaker. Mooted for years, it’s a bona-fide relief to see this finally confirmed, and on the eve of the release of what looks set to be the once enfant terrible’s most controversial release, the epic, highly sexual odyssey Nymphomaniac. It’s a stacked edition, with the transfer derived from a new 4K scan, while the film’s stars Emily Watson and Stellan Skarsgård have revisited the film for retrospective interviews.

Moving on from Denmark, Italian cinema appears to be going through a real renaissance, pun-intended of late. Masters Of Cinema next month release Fellini’s Roma, fresh off of the back of the same director’s Il Bidone, which capped off that label’s 2013, while March brings with it Francesco Rosi’s Le mani sulla città. Criterion have been criticised in some quarters in the past for a lack of emphasis on Italy, but with left-field announcements like this weeks one that Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso it’s difficult to take such complaints too seriously. Considered at once to be both the director’s masterpiece and one of the great films of the Commedia all’italiana genre, Il Sorpasso joins the more famous films of the Commedia all’italiana tradition, Mario Monicelli’s Big Deal On Madonna Street and Pietro Germi’s Divorce Italian Style.

Don Siegel has also been on the receiving end of quite the renaissance of late, with Arrow’s Academy imprint reassessing (the already released on Criterion) The Killers next month. That Criterion are revisiting Riot In Cell Block 11 is possibly even more exciting news. Unreleased since the days of VHS, this early film from Siegel is an authentic take on the incarceration drama, afforded extra legitimacy due to being shot on location at Folsom Prison.

As with March’s reissue of Breathless this reissue of The 400 Blows is a simple dual-format repackaging of an existing Blu-ray edition. While we’re very fond of the drive toward dual-format, one can’t help but feel like a stealth-approach would be preferred over the bells-and-whistles announcement method of announcement.

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