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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Criterion Collection's December Releases

This December the Criterion Collection adds four fine examples of classic films to its already impressive collection; A Dry White Season, Forty Guns, Panique, and Sawdust and Tinsel. An eclectic and varied array of cinema from around the world. Special bonuses include 4K digital restoration on some, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a new 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray on others, audio commentaries, interviews, shorts, documentaries, trailers, and critique articles.

A Dry White Season is a chronicle of injustice and resistance in apartheid South Africa. With this bracing drama, made at the climax of the anti-apartheid movement, director Euzhan Palcy issued a devastating indictment of South Africa's racist government-and made history in the process, becoming the first black woman to direct a Hollywood studio film. Donald Sutherland plays a white schoolteacher Ben Du Toit who lives in Johannesburg and remains blissfully incurious about the lives of his black countrymen until a wave of brutal repression comes crashing down on his gardener (Winston Ntshona). The incident brings Sutherland face-to-face with harsh political realities. The story is based on a celebrated novel by André Brink and rooted in the first-hand research on the way black people lived under apartheid. A Dry White Season is unflinching in its depiction of violence and its chronicling of injustice, making for a galvanizing tribute to those willing to sacrifice everything to fight oppression.

Samuel Fuller's unconventional western, Forty Guns stars Barbara Stanwyck. The film is a thrilling example of the director's no-holds-barred approach to genre filmmaking. This is the pulp maestro's most audacious western, a boldly feminist spin on the genre that pivots effortlessly between sexy humor, visceral action, and disarming tenderness. Stanwyck plays high-riding rancher Jessica Drummond, who commands a forty-strong posse of cowboys, ruling Cochise County, Arizona. A wrench is thrown into the works when a U.S. marshal (played by Barry Sullivan) arrives in town with a warrant for one of her hired guns. Stanwyck falls for him despite his challenge to her authority. With astonishing black-and-white CinemaScope photography, hard-boiled dialogue laced with double entendres, and a fiery performance by Stanwyck, Forty Guns is a virtuoso display of Fuller's sharpshooting talents.

Julien Duvivier's long-unavailable Panique, is an atmospheric thriller shot with postwar paranoia. Proud, eccentric, and antisocial, lead actor, Michel Simon has always kept to himself. However, after a woman turns up dead in the Paris suburb where he lives, he falls for a pretty newcomer to town (Viviane Romance), discovers that his neighbors suspect him, and is framed for the murder. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon, Duvivier's film finds the poetic realist applying his consummate craft to darker, moodier ends. Propelled by its two deeply nuanced lead performances, the tensely "noirish" Panique exposes the dangers of mob mentality.

And then there's Ingmar Bergman's piercing psychological drama, Sawdust and Tinsel. The film (an early breakthrough for the legendary filmmaker) presents the battle of the sexes as a ramshackle, grotesque carnival of humiliation. This is one of the master's early works, as well as his first collaboration with the great cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. The story of the charged relationship between a turn-of-the-twentieth-century circus owner and his young, horseback riding mistress, features dreamlike detours and twisted psychosexual power plays, making for a piercingly brilliant depiction of physical and spiritual degradation.

Criterion's 2018 December additions offer a broad selection of masterful filmmakers, which are likely to appeal to cinephiles and movie fans alike. Pick any one and you'll see that great cinema is not limited to the modern age, nor the borders of Hollywood.

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