Criterion Announces October 2019 Releases

Something old, something new.
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It's going to be one more month before Spine #1000 is announced, but here's what will be available from Criterion in October.  New to the collection will be Leon Gast's When We Were Kings and John Sayles's Matewan.  Getting Blu-ray upgrades are 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg and Benjamin Christensen’s Häxan. Read on to learn more about them.

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (#528) out Oct 8

Vienna-born, New York-raised Josef von Sternberg directed some of the most influential and stylish dramas ever to come out of Hollywood. Though best known for his later star-making collaborations with actor Marlene Dietrich, von Sternberg began his career during the final years of the silent era, dazzling audiences and critics with his films’ dark visions and innovative cinematography. The titles in this collection, made on the cusp of the sound age, are three of von Sternberg’s greatest works, gritty evocations of gangster life (Underworld), the Russian Revolution (The Last Command), and working-class desperation (The Docks of New York) rendered as shadowy movie spectacle.The special features are:

  • High-definition digital restorations of all three films
  • Six scores: by Robert Israel for all three films, Alloy Orchestra for Underworld and The Last Command, and Donald Sosin and Joanna Seaton for The Docks of New York
  • Two video essays from 2010, one by UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom and the other by film scholar Tag Gallagher
  • Swedish television interview from 1968 with director Josef von Sternberg
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring essays by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, scholar Anton Kaes, and author and critic Luc Sante; notes on the scores by the composers; Ben Hecht’s original treatment for Underworld; and an excerpt from von Sternberg’s 1965 autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, on actor Emil Jannings

Häxan (#134) out Oct 15

cc Haxan.jpgGrave robbing, torture, possessed nuns, and a satanic Sabbath: Benjamin Christensen’s legendary silent film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. Far from a dry dissertation on the topic, the film itself is a witches’ brew of the scary, the gross, and the darkly humorous. Christensen’s mix-and-match approach to genre anticipates gothic horror, documentary re-creation, and the essay film, making for an experience unlike anything else in the history of cinema. The special features are:

  • On the Blu-ray: New 2K digital restoration
  • On the DVD: Digital transfer
  • Music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by film-music specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra in 2001, presented in 5.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray and in Dolby Digital 5.0 on the DVD
  • Audio commentary from 2001 featuring film scholar Casper Tybjerg
  • Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968), the seventy-six-minute version of Häxan, narrated by author William S. Burroughs, with a soundtrack featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
  • Director Benjamin Christensen’s introduction to the 1941 rerelease
  • Short selection of outtakes
  • Bibliothèque Diabolique: a photographic exploration of Christensen’s historical sourcesNew English translation of intertitles
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, remarks on the score by Anderson, and (Blu-ray only) an essay by scholar Chloé Germaine Buckley

When We Were Kings (#998) out Oct 22

cc When We Were Kings.jpgIn 1974, Leon Gast traveled to Africa to film Zaire 74, a music festival planned to accompany an unprecedented sports spectacle: the Rumble in the Jungle, in which late-career underdog Muhammad Ali would contend with the younger powerhouse George Foreman for the boxing heavyweight championship title—“a fight between two blacks in a black nation, organized by blacks,” as a Kinshasa billboard put it. When the main event was delayed, extending Ali’s stay in Africa, Gast wound up amassing a treasure trove of footage, capturing the wildly charismatic athlete training for one of the toughest bouts of his career while basking in his role as black America’s proud ambassador to postcolonial Africa. Two decades in the making, When We Were Kings features interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton that illustrate the sensational impact of the fight, rounding out an Academy Award-winning portrait of Ali that captures his charm, grace, and defiance. The special features are:

  • New, restored 4K digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Soul Power, a 2009 documentary about the Zaire 74 music festival directed by Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte
  • New interviews with producers Taylor Hackford and David Sonenberg
  • Interview from 1997 with director Leon Gast
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Kelefa Sanneh

Matewan (#999) out Oct 29

cc Matewan.jpgWritten and directed by John Sayles, this wrenching historical drama recounts the true story of a West Virginia coal town where the local miners’ struggle to form a union rose to the pitch of all-out war in 1920. When the town of Matewan’s miners go on strike, organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper, in his screen debut) arrives to help them, uniting workers white and black, Appalachia-born and immigrant, while urging patience in the face of the coal company’s violent provocations. With a crackerjack ensemble cast—including James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell, and Will Oldham—and Oscar-nominated cinematography by Haskell Wexler, Matewantaps into a rich vein of Americana with painstaking attention to local texture, issuing an impassioned cry for justice that still resounds today. The director-approved special features are:

  • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director John Sayles, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring Sayles and cinematographer Haskell Wexler
  • New documentary on the making of the film featuring Sayles, producer Maggie Renzi, production designer Nora Chavooshian, and actors Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell, Will Oldham, and David Strathairn
  • New interview with composer Mason Daring on the film’s soundtrack
  • New program on the film’s production design featuring Chavooshian
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic A. S. Hamrah

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