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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Criterion Collection - December 2019 - New Releases

This December, The Criterion Collection will be releasing Wim Wenders' magnum opus Until the End of the World in a new 4K restoration. Additionally, Kelly Reichardt's breakout feature, Old Joy, will make its Blu-ray debut in a new 2K restoration. And the "never before available on Blu-ray or DVD" pre-Code melodrama, The Story of Temple Drake, will also be among the month's releases, as well as Ronald Neame's classic military drama Tunes of Glory, will appear on Blu-ray in a new 4K restorations. As always, The Criterion is offering something for everyone, and everything worth baring the Criterion name.

Until the End of the World is described as a globe-trotting sci-fi epic featuring a dizzyingly eclectic soundtrack. The very unusual story was decades-in-the-making, and director Wim Winders' first feature following Wings of Desire. Wenders (renown for his fanciful work) follows a restless woman across continents as she pursues a mysterious stranger in possession of a device that can make the blind see and bring dream images to waking life (that's pretty fanciful). The eclectic soundtrack gathers a host of the director's favorite musicians, reflecting Wender's own expressive sensibilities. And cinematographer Robby Müller (Breaking the Waves & Paris, Texas) creates gorgeous images of an adventure in the shadow of Armageddon. It's not a film for everyone, and actually flopped in theaters upon its initial release, but Winders fans will undoubtedly be celebrating the 4K restoration.

As a matter of fact, the film has actually appeared in four separate versions. The first is drastically cut and released in American theaters. The second is a 179-minute cut that appears only on Japanese LaserDisc. Another is Wenders' 300 minute director's cut, which significantly expands some scenes and has additional scenes shot in Japan and in San Francisco. This version was intended to be shown as three separate films, and is now only available on DVD in parts of Europe. The fourth version, running 287 minutes, premiered in 2015 at the Museum of Modern Art as part of a Wim Wenders retrospective presented in one part. This is the version that will be released by the Criterion Collection.

In Ronald Neame's Tunes of Glory, Alec Guinness (Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope) plays a heavy drinking, self made commanding officer who expects respect and loyalty from his men (not unlike his Oscar winning role in The Bridge on the River Kwai). His carefully laid out way of life is upset when an educated, by-the-book John Mills (Hobson's Choice, Ryan's Daughter) comes along as a replacement. Based on the novel by James Kennaway, Tunes of Glory uses rigid military life as an allegory for the institutional contradictions and class hierarchies of English society. As stuffy as that may sound, it's a moving drama, which should be of no surprise given the gigantic talent involved. After all, anything with Guinness in it is worth watching if only for his performance. The special features and extras of this release include the new 4K digital restoration, a filmed interview with director Ronald Neame, a recorded Interview with actor John Mills, and a Television interview with actor Alec Guinness.

Loosely adapted from William Faulkner's novel "Sanctuary", The Story of Temple Drake is a notorious pre-Code melodrama starring Miriam Hopkins as the title character of a Southern Bell born to wealth, which is actually the circumstances of her own upbringing. However, in this tale Temple experiences a series of unfortunate events, which leads to acts of nightmarish sexual violence, and plunges her into a criminal underworld that threatens to consume her life. Cinematographer Karl Struss creates a layered atmosphere, steeped in southern-gothic shadows that heightening the sense of moral ambiguity. In The Story of Temple Drake, Hopkins portrayal of sin and salvation is a tour de force performance that marked the high point of her career. Special Edition Features include a High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, a conversation with cinematographer John Bailey, archival materials, and a new interview with critic Mick LaSalle about the film, censorship, and the Production Code. And did I mention, this film has never before been available on Blu-ray or DVD.

Lastly, Kelly Reichardt's breakout feature, Old Joy, is a study of masculinity that introduced one of modern cinema's most independent artists. It is a tale of an Oregon road trip where two estranged friends make fumbling attempts to reconnect, and ultimately come to grips with just how much their paths have diverged. Adapted from a short story by Jonathan Raymond and accompanied by an atmospheric Yo La Tengo score, Old Joy's modest scale counter balances the depth and complexity of its inner meaning. This is truly one of those films that provokes long conversations over coffee after viewing. This revelatory micro-budget indie, will make its Blu-ray debut in a new 2K restoration supervised by the director and cinematographer. Among other bonuses are conversations with the filmmakers with a new introduction, a behind-the-scenes program, deleted scenes, and trailers.

That's all for this month. Come January there will be four to five more releases that will vary in plot, style, and magnitude as much as those from any other previous month. The excitement is in guessing just what will they be.


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