New Releases from the Criterion Collection, June 2019
This June, the trailblazing rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch will join the Criterion Collection, making its Blu-ray debut in a new 4K restoration. With this trailblazing musical, writer-director-star John Cameron Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask brought their signature creation from stage to screen for a movie as unclassifiable as its protagonist. Raised a boy in East Berlin, Hedwig (Mitchell) undergoes a traumatic personal transformation in order to emigrate to the U.S., where she reinvents herself as an internationally ignored but divinely talented rock diva, characterized by Mitchell as a "beautiful gender of one." The film tells Hedwig's life story through her music, an eclectic collection of original punk anthems and power ballads by Trask, matching them with a freewheeling cinematic mosaic of music-video fantasies, animated interludes, and moments of bracing emotional realism. A hard-charging song cycle and a tender character study, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a tribute to the transcendent power of rock and roll.
Also being released in June is Sergei Bondarchuk's Oscar-winning epic War and Peace, an awe-inspiring adaptation of Tolstoy's classic novel, appearing in a major new restoration. At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet film industry set out to prove it could outdo Hollywood with a production that would dazzle the world. The titanic, awe-inspiring adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's classic tome in which the fates of three souls (the blundering, good-hearted Pierre; the heroically tragic Prince Andrei; and the radiant, tempestuous Natasha) collide amid the tumult of the Napoleonic Wars. Employing a cast of thousands and an array of innovative camera techniques, director Bondarchuk conjures a sweeping vision of grand balls that glitter with rococo beauty and breathtaking battles that overwhelm with their expressionistic power. As a statement of Soviet cinema's might, War and Peace succeeded wildly, garnering the Academy Award for best foreign-language film and setting a new standard for epic moviemaking.
Then there's the release of a film featuring the most iconic dance duo in cinema history. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers play out a fine romance and perform some of Hollywood's greatest dance numbers in the irresistible musical comedy Swing Time, which is appearing on Blu-ray for the first time. In this irresistible musical, the legendary dancing duo Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are at the pinnacle of their art as a feckless gambler and the shrewd dancing instructor in whom he more than meets his match. Director George Stevens laces their romance with humor and clears the floor for the movie's showstopping dance scenes, in which Astaire and Rogers take seemingly effortless flight in a virtuosic fusion of ballroom and tap styles. Buoyed by beloved songs by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern-including the Oscar-winning classic "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time is an exuberant celebration of its stars' chemistry, grace, and sheer joy in the act of performance.
La vie de JésusL'humanitéIn addition, the French iconoclast Bruno Dumont explores the human condition through the brutality and beauty of small-town life in his first two films, , both appearing in new 4K restorations approved by the director. With his stunning debut feature, the risk-taking auteur Bruno Dumont immediately established his reputation as both a spiritual heir to Robert Bresson and an uncompromising iconoclast on the cutting edge of French cinema. Blending unflinching realism with moments of startling, light-filled beauty, La vie de Jésus finds unexpected philosophical richness in the quotidian, small-town existence of Freddy (nonprofessional David Douche in a revelatory, one-off performance), an aimless young man with epilepsy who, in his childlike simplicity, embodies both great tenderness and terrifying brutality. Leaving the film's cryptic title tantalizingly open to interpretation, Dumont dares viewers to see the divine in a seemingly dead-end world. With L'humanité, Dumont probes the wonder and horror of the human condition through the story of a profoundly alienated police detective (Emmanuel Schotté, winner of the best actor prize at Cannes for his first film performance) who, while investigating the murder of a young girl, experiences jolting, epiphanies moments of emotional and physical connection. Demonstrating Dumont's deftness with non-actors and relentlessly frank depiction of bodies and sexuality, L'humanité is at once an idiosyncratic police procedural and a provocative exploration of the tension between humankind's capacity for compassion and our base, sometimes barbarous animal instincts. and
And finally, the Criterion's year of releases commemorating Ingmar Bergman's centennial, draws to a close with a Blu-ray edition of the Swedish master's trilogy of chamber dramas exploring faith and alienation, which includes Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence. These are the director's work on three of his most powerful and representative films. Already a figure of international acclaim for such masterpieces as The Seventh Seal and The Magician, Bergman turned his back on the expressionism of his fifties work to focus on a series of chamber dramas exploring belief and alienation in the modern age. Once again collaborating with the distinguished cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and eliciting searing performances from his refined cast of regulars (Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Gunnel Lindblom, Ingrid Thulin, and Max von Sydow) Bergman unleashed the three films in rapid succession, exposing moviegoers worldwide to a new level of intellectual and emotional intensity. Drawing on Bergman's own upbringing and ongoing spiritual crises, the films of the trilogy examine the necessity of religion and question the promise of faith.
As you can see, Criterion has once again come up with a package of iconic films to add to their already impressive collection. Many of these films are rarities, and others are revered favorites, which makes the monthly additions an event for film lovers who look forward to these announcements with great expectations, almost like Christmas, or a birthday. And when the day comes there are no disappointments because there's always something for everyone. And you can be sure the same will be the case a month from now. You'd think that eventually the esteemed provider of the best there is in DVD releases would eventually run out of exceptional films. But with so many films already in existence, and the constant barrage of new films being produced every year, it looks as though Criterion will be providing the best of the best for many years to come.