My freshman year of college I started collecting movies on VHS tape. I think I realized that with the parents no longer renting me films every weekend it was cheaper on my minuscule budget to buy them periodically and build a collection that I could watch over and over again. I quickly decided that I was going to build a world-class collection of only the best movies. I’d buy classics and modern masterpieces with some cool art-house numbers thrown in for good measure. I’d stay away from big, dumb blockbusters with their ridiculous plot and giant explosions.
This concept lasted me maybe three weeks. Blockbuster had a previously owned movie sale and I picked up To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday for less than the price of a rental. I didn’t know the movie but I liked the actors (Peter Gallagher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes) and for that money it was worth a gamble. Then later I pre-ordered Jerry Maguire (also not a great movie, but what a bargain!) for like five dollars. Soon enough, my collection was filled with films that weren’t particularly classic or masterpieces or even all that arty, but I couldn’t say no to a bargain and I learned to enjoy having films that I could toss on while laying about on a Sunday afternoon.
Years later when I got a DVD player, I went through pretty much the same cycle. I thought I’d only get truly great films, but quickly started grabbing all sorts of stuff from the cheap aisles. It didn’t help that when I bought my first player they tossed in half a dozen clunkers like Michael, that terrible Lose In Space remake, and that "Johnny Depp as Don Juan" debacle.
Later still, I got a DVD burner and started ripping anything and everything from my local library and Blockbuster, then came the torrents and I stopped caring about owning movies or curating an austere collection and started wanting as many movies in any format I could get my hands on so that at a moment's notice I could find something to watch.
After amassing thousands of films (and not watching half of them), I turned about full circle and started wanting a real library of real films contained as real physical objects. It was Criterion that did it. For years they’ve been releasing some of the most interesting films ever made in pristine, cleaned-up formats with loads of special features designed to create a little bit of cinema scholarship with each release. They package them in the most remarkable of ways so that not only are you getting interesting films with fascinating extras but in a case fit for display.
I started collecting their collection as fast as my wallet would allow and from there I’ve gone on to buy loads more DVDs and Blu-rays to fit on my shelves and show off. In a similar way to how a lot of music heads have started collecting their favorite albums on vinyl instead of just downloading MP3s, I’ve become a genuine collector of movies on disk. It's a lot of fun to browse through my shelves and pick out something I can actually hold in my hands rather than just scanning through Netflix to find something to watch.
All of which brings me back around to the Criterion Collection and a couple of films they are releasing this week. One of the great things about Criterion is that they dig deep into the history of film from around the world and find obscure, strange, and fascinating films that I’d otherwise never hear about and give them phenomenal receptions.
This week they are releasing two films by Costa-Gavras. He’s a Greek-French filmmaker that has made some 19 films over the last fifty years and I’ve never seen nor heard of any of them. And yet reading the descriptions of these two films I’m completely intrigued and excited to see what they have to offer.
The Confession is a political thriller based upon the true story of a Czechoslovakian dignitary who was abducted, imprisoned, and interrogated by members of his country's Communist ruling party. State of Siege is also a political thriller, loosely based on the United States involvement in South American politics. Both films star the wonderful Yves Montand and are heralded as wonderful films. Thanks to Criterion I can now purchase these films (and many more) and proudly display them on my shelves.
Also out this week that looks interesting:
Da Sweet Blood of Jesus: Spike Lee is a director whom I don’t always like and who, frankly, often makes films I have absolutely no interest in, yet he remains someone who I always want to see what he’ll do next. In this one, Stephen Tyrone Williams plays a doctor who becomes cursed by an ancient African artifact and becomes a vampire (well not a vampire because they state outright he’s not a vampire, but from the sound of it he might as well be). You know Spike Lee will do something interesting with that concept.
The Merchant of Four Seasons (Criterion Collection:) The other Criterion title out this week is from Rainer Werner Fassbinder whom Criterion loves and whose films have never come across my screens. This one is a social satire about a former cop and war veteran struggling to make a life as a fruit vendor.
Lost Songs: The Basement Tapes Continued: A few months back Bob Dylan finally officially released the complete Basement Tapes - a mystical, often-bootlegged bunch of ragged recordings he did with members of the Band during his hiatus from public life in the late '60s. Alongside that release, they grabbed a bunch of cool rockers like Marcus Mumford, Jim James, and Elvis Costello to record versions of songs Dylan wrote during that same period but didn’t record. This is a documentary of the making of that album. Why they took so long to release this is anybody’s guess.
Hello Ladies The Complete Series and the Movie: Stephen Merchant (mostly known for being a part of various Rick Gervais projects) starred in this cancelled-after-one-season HBO show as a gawky Englishman trying to find romance in LA.
The Rockford Files: The Complete Collection: Every now and again, I catch this show on Me-TV. It's not a particularly good series, but James Garner is such a wonderful personality that I never turn it off.
The Saint: The Complete Series: I’ve never seen any of this show, but I did watch that terrible movie version with Val Kilmer. Still, I don’t hold that against Roger Moore who starred in this '60s version of the wealthy man of mystery.
Ray Donovan: Season 2: I keep meaning to check out this Showtime series with Liv Schreiber as a Hollywood fixer who gets celebrities out of sticky jams.
Seventh Son: Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges star in this wizards and warriors drama that seems to have poofed into existence out of nowhere. I don’t remember hearing anything about it until now and that’s never a good sign for a movie that no doubt had a pretty sizable price tag attached to it. Still, I like those actors and I’m usually good for some silly fantasy stories.