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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Criterion July Title Additions

This July The Criterion Collection titles include Steven Soderbergh’s Palme d’Or–winning sex, lies, and videotape, and Ron Shelton’s baseball classic Bull Durham. Also joining the Collection are King Hu’s masterwork Dragon Inn, Powell and Pressburger’s endlessly moving A Matter of Life and Death, and a new box set celebrating the collaboration between Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg. Exciting additions indeed!

As interesting as all of these titles are, I am most particularly interested in the film, A Matter of Life and Death. Not only is it a wonderful example of Powell and Pressburger at their best, but it stars a young David Niven in his first true leading role where he is the main attraction. A lovely Kim Hunter fulfills the role of ingenue, and a debonaire Roger Livesey as an influential impact on Niven's character, Peter Carter. It is an an unusual film in subject, tone, and presentation with an extremely satisfying affect.

The films starts out as a basic WWII film. However, after miraculously surviving a jump from his burning plane, RAF pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) encounters the American radio operator (Kim Hunter) to whom he’s just delivered his dying wishes and, fof course, the pair fall in love. Suddenly, a messenger from the afterlife (that's right) arrives to correct the clerical error that spared our young hero's life. Peter must now mount a defense for his right to stay on earth. Interestingly enough, earth is depicted as a rich Technicolor Eden, and Heaven is shown in an amazing array of Black and White tones, with only a climbing wide staircase between them. Peter stands trial in the starkly beautiful, modernist heaven. The cross examination offers humorous jabs at America, intended to smooth tensions between the US and wartime ally Britain. Although patriotism and alliance is the goal at task, the film is ingenious, smart, and extremely entertaining. A great choice for a Criterion addition.

And then there's the box set celebrating the collaboration between Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg. Tasked by studio executives with finding the next great screen siren, visionary Hollywood director von Sternberg (The Devil is a Woman, Morocco) joined forces with rising German actor Dietrich (Touch of Evil, Witness for the Prosecution), kicking off what would become one of the most legendary partnerships in cinema history. Over the course of six films produced by Paramount in the 1930s, the pair refined their shared fantasy of pleasure, beauty, and excess. Dietrich’s coolly transgressive mystique was a perfect match in which the provocative roles von Sternberg cast her, including a sultry chanteuse, a cunning spy, and the hedonistic Catherine the Great. The filmmaker captured Dietrich’s allure with chiaroscuro lighting and opulent design, conjuring fever-dream visions of exotic settings from Morocco to Shanghai. Suffused with frank sexuality and worldly irony, these deliriously entertaining masterpieces are landmarks of cinematic artifice.

Don't miss out on the opportunity to see these great films and collaborations in the best presentation possible, thanks to the Criterion Collection.

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