Now that the fabled CRITERION COLLECTION is nearly a year into releasing its home cinema titles in the UK, we thought we’d turn our attention to them for our next GUIDE* to adventurous moving pictures.
What does the Criterion Collection mean and what are Criterion Collection films? The Criterion Collection is an American distributor of home cinema on blu-ray and DVD. Launched in 1984, the company has amassed an extensive catalogue of more than 800 titles which is known affectionately as “the collection”. Films from across the world are chosen for inclusion in the collection on their merit and the distribution agreements Criterion can reach with the filmmakers and producers**. Investing heavily in the quality of their titles, and the audio and visual standards of each individual release, Citerion has achieved an almost revered position. Alongside new releases, Criterion is upgrading the collection to blu-ray, making them a go-to destination for excellent home cinema.
Where can you buy Criterion Collection titles in the UK? “Would that it were so simple.” The majority of Criterion Collection titles are only licensed for North America and therefore – due to strict region encoding – their blu-rays won’t play on the majority of UK blu-ray players (you’ll have better luck with DVDs due to now ubiquitous multi-region playback). For access to the full Criterion Collection, you need to import titles on DVD and/or have a chipped blu-ray player capable of playing discs with a Region A coding.
Criterion started releasing – Region B coded – titles for the UK in 2016. These titles are all ports of their North American counterparts: Criterion has no appetite for UK-exclusive releases. Also, don’t expect Criterion to release their entire collection over here. Films are frequently licensed to different distributors in different regions, so it’s very likely somebody already has the rights to your favourite Criterion Collection title. Furthermore, Criterion seems to be keeping its UK plans a muddled secret. There’s a dedicated UK Twitter account and updates appear on their very readable blog, CURRENT. Head to retailers like HMV for what appears to be a robust list of current and pre-release UK titles.
What makes the Criterion Collection so good? From packaging to special features, picture and sound quality, the Criterion Collection surpasses much of the competition. Their titles justifiably feature amongst the most prized on sagging home cinema shelves everywhere. For any film fan (and the majority of their library is still dedicated to feature films directed by men), the sheer breadth of their 800+ catalogue is an education in quality moving pictures with very few missteps (we love but don’t quite understand the day when their buyers added ARMAGEDDON and THE ROCK to the collection).
We do have a grumble, and it’s this: despite their reputation, we can’t help but find the collection, well (let’s whisper it…), a little bit serious… It’s like eating a formal family meal at THE IVY when you know you’d rather be with your mates enjoying a dirty bucket of fried chicken. With some notable exceptions, avant-garde, exploitation and genre cinema have passed them by. We love and admire the Criterion Collection’s quality – we just prefer it when they loosen up and get a little bit “handsy” at the staff Christmas party.
Where to start with the Criterion Collection? For the lover of adventurous moving pictures, browsing the Criterion Collection can be like attending those old music appreciation classes with clapped-out vinyl and bacteria-ridden headphones (you know that the music is great but you still don’t want to listen to it). However, there are Black Sabbaths amongst the Beethoven and Brahms. To help the hunt, we’ve created our list of the top ten Criterion Collection releases that are getting (or deserve to get) a UK release, and some honourable mentions where there’s already a tempting UK alternative. We’ve also included some off-menu items for the intensely curious.
Before you start shouting, we are totally sure these lists will change. The most important thing is to find films you love, huddle together, and shelter from the storm.
1. THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA (1958), Keisuke Kinoshita
2. BY BRAKHAGE (1954-2003), Stan Brakhage
3. CAT PEOPLE (1942), Jacques Turner (UK 26.04.16)
4. THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE (2001), Guillermo del Toro
5. HOUSE (1977), Nobuhiko Obayashi
6. LONE WOLF AND CUB (1972-4), Various (coming to UK 27.03.17)
7. MALA NOCHE (1985), Gus Van Sant (DVD only)
8. MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970), John Waters (coming to UK March 2017)
9. GODZILLA (1954), Ishiro Honda
10. PINA 3D (2011), Wim Wenders.
1. ERASERHEAD (1977), David Lynch (UK alternative)
2. FELLINI SATYRICON (1969), Federico Fellini (UK alternative)
3. SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1976), Pier Paolo Pasolini (UK alternative)
4. IF…. (1968), Lindsay Anderson (UK alternative)
5. ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932), Erle C. Kenton (UK alternative)
6. M (1931), Fritz Lang (UK alternative)
7. THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), Charles Laughton (UK alternative)
8. THE LEOPARD (1963), Luchino Visconti (UK alternative)
9. THE TIN DRUM (1979), Volker Schlöndorff (UK alternative)
10. VIDEODROME (1983), David Cronenberg (UK alternative).
- In her article LOSING GROUND (2016), Sophie Mayer offers a detailed analysis of the under-representation of women directors in the Criterion Collection (less than 3%) and other catalogues.
- Criterion’s DVD-only imprint – ECLIPSE – is well worth a look and multi-region-friendly if you can find a way to import them. ECLIPSE focuses on uncluttered releases of adventurous movies. Notable collections include: #9 THE DELIRIOUS FICTIONS OF WILLIAM KLEIN; #24 THE ACTUALITY DRAMAS OF ALLAN KING; #30 SABU!; #37 WHEN HORROR CAME TO SHOCHIKU; #43 AGNES VARDA IN CALIFORNIA.
- Or how about Criterion’s book detailing their exceptional 30+ year design history, CRITERION DESIGNS (2014), reviewed here by the Paris Review.
*As accurate as we could make it. Apologies for any mistakes.
**It’s a common misconception that inclusion in the Criterion Collection is some kind of official mark of quality: this isn’t the case. In the USA, it is the Library of Congress that has formal responsibility for the National Film Registry, selecting 25 films each year to preserve American film heritage.
Featured image: MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970) restored release poster, 2017.