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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Criterion Releases for November 2018

This November, the Criterion Collection has a lot to bring to the avid cineaste. To begin with is a first-ever Blu-ray release of Orson Welles's haunting second feature, The Magnificent Ambersons. Packed with supplemental features, this is one bound to be on the “must-have” list of and adamant film fan. Also making its Blu-Ray debut is David Byrne’s exploration of Texas’ own wild, wild life (see what I did there?)” In what can only be described as Post -Modernist musical odyssey, True Stories’ Blu-ray debut is a special edition that also includes a never-before-released CD of the film's complete soundtrack.

Included in this month’s releases is another standout among the best in cinema history. Billy Wilder’s gender-bending Some Like It Hot is the pinnacle of Hollywood comedy. Stars Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis appear in this new 4K restoration. Another 4K restoration is Kenji Mizoguchi's long-unavailable late-career classic A Story from Chikamatsu. And don’t forget the previously announced Blu-ray box set Ingmar Bergman's Cinema. It has arrived in time to celebrate the visionary Swedish director's 100th birthday with the most comprehensive collection of his films ever released on home video.

A Story from Chikamatsu is one of a string of late-career masterworks made in the early 1950s by Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi. The film is a moving tale of forbidden love struggling to survive in the face of persecution. Based on a classic of eighteenth-century Japanese drama, the film traces the injustices that befall a Kyoto scroll maker's wife and the scroll maker's apprentice after each is unfairly accused of wrongdoing. Bound by fate in an illicit, star-crossed romance, thepair go on the run in search of refuge and to avoid the punishment of death. Shot in a gorgeous, painterly style by master cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa, this indictment of societal oppression was heralded by Akira Kurosawa as a "great masterpiece that could only have been made by Mizoguchi." That’s high praise, indeed. The special addition includes a new interview with actor Kyoko Kagawa and new English subtitle translations.

Some Like It Hot is one of the most beloved films of all time. This sizzling masterpiece by Billy Wilder set a new standard for Hollywood comedy. After witnessing a mob hit, Chicago musicians Joe and Jerry (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) skip town by donning drag and joining an all-female band en route to Miami. The charm of the group's singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe) leads them ever further into extravagant lies, as Joe assumes the persona of a millionaire to woo her and Jerry's female alter ego winds up engaged to a tycoon. With a whip-smart script by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, and sparking chemistry among its finely tuned cast, Some Like It Hot is as deliriously funny and fresh today as if it had just been made. The special addition features a 4K restoration, three “making of” documentaries, an appearance of director Billy Wilder on The Dick Cavett Show, a conversation between actor Tony Curtis and film critic Leonard Maltin, AND a French television interview from 1988 with actor Jack Lemmon. That’s a heck of a lot, and there’s so much more!

True Stories is music icon David Byrne’s only foray into feature film directing. Inspired by tabloid headlines, Byrne created an ode to the extraordinariness of ordinary American life and presented it from the perspective of his own idiosyncratic mind. Byrne plays a visitor to Virgil, Texas, introducing us to the citizens of the town during preparations for its Celebration of Specialness. As shot by cinematographer Ed Lachman, Texas becomes a hyper-realistic landscape of endless vistas, shopping malls, and prefab metal buildings. In True Stories, Byrne uses his songs to stitch together pop iconography, voodoo rituals, and a singular variety show all in the service of uncovering the rich mysteries that lurk under the surface of everyday experience. Presented in a newly restored 4K digital transfer with 5.1 master audio soundtrack, this edition includes a new documentary about the film's production, a CD with 23 songs, containing the film's complete soundtrack.

The Magnificent Ambersons is Orson Welles's beautiful, nostalgia-suffused second feature (after Citizen Kane). The film harks back to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Indianapolis, chronicling the decline of the fortunes of an affluent family. Adapted from an acclaimed Booth Tarkington novel the film features inventive camera work and powerful performances from a cast including Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, and Agnes Moorehead. The film traces the rifts deepening within the family at the same time as the forces of progress begin to transform the city they once ruled into something they no longer recognize. Though RKO excised over forty minutes of footage (now lost to history) and added an upbeat ending, The Magnificent Ambersons is an emotionally rich family saga and a masterful elegy for a bygone chapter of American life. The special addition showcases a new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack, Welles on The Dick Cavett Show, two Mercury Theatre radio plays orchestrated by Welles, and excerpts from an unfinished 1982 memoir by Welles.

That’s a heck of a lot Criterion is offering up this month, and just in time for the holiday gift-giving season. And if you’re going to give anyone the gift of cinema then you should give him or her the best there is to offer by checking to see if Criterion has an addition of the title. If they do, then THAT’s the one to get. And if they don’t, well maybe some day they will. It might just be worth waiting for when they do.

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