The Criterion Collection - March 2020 - New Releases
This March the Criterion brings to its hallowed collection another eclectic group for its monthly releases. It's always interesting to see which films have been gathered together since there's never a theme nor rhyme or reason to the films selected in a specific month. At least, I never seem to notice one. And I prefer it that way. It's like having a playlist on shuffle. The more varied your interests the more exciting and robust the rotation of songs. The same is true of cinema. And the Criterion Collection is nothing, if not robust.
Here's a quick breakdown for you: Leave Her to Heaven is a visually stunning Technicolor melodrama making its Blu-ray debut in a new 2K restoration. Spike Lee's provocative satire Bamboozled will appear on Blu-ray for the first time. Irene Dunne and Paul Robeson star in James Whale's screen version of Show Boat. Director-producer-star Barbra Streisand's The Prince of Tides will appear in a new 4K restoration. And the Maysles brothers' documentary classic Salesman and Mikhail Kalatozov's visually exhilarating Soviet-cinema landmark The Cranes Are Flying will both arrive on Blu-ray, newly restored. Below are more detailed explanations of each film.
I love the film, Salesman (1968). I first saw it when I was in junior college. It's a documentary in the style similar in many respects to cinéma vérité, which is characterized by capturing reality and representing it truthfully. Which brings up the questions of whether this film is a documentary or a narrative? There are claims that the salesmen's situations were fabricated, if not out and out scripted. Either way, this radically influential film captures the pursuit of the American dream and the disillusionment that follows. From cinema pioneers David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin, Salesman unfolds against a backdrop of cheap motels, smoky diners, and suburban living rooms in an observational style as it reveals subjects' bravado, frustration, disappointment, and despair.
Similarly, Spike Lee's Bamboozled is also a reflection of American culture, but with a much more insidious topic. The film is a scathing indictment of pop culture, using confrontational satire to examine racism in America. Lee has always been an artist that pushes the envelope past the edges and then some. He utilizes cliches and stereotypes to great effect to shine a spotlight on the dehumanization regularly practiced in the most "advanced" country in the world. The use of "early" digital video lends a "documentary" feel to a very clever, stinging indictment of mass entertainment at the apex of the twentieth century. As we look back at Lee's vision, we can't help but view it as more damning with each passing year.
Filmmaker Mikhail Kalatozov was heralded as a revelation in the post-Stalin Soviet Union and the international cinema community in general. The Cranes are Flying tells the story of Veronica and Boris, a couple who are blissfully in love until the eruption of World War II tears them apart. With Boris at the front, Veronica must try to ward off spiritual numbness and defend herself from the increasingly forceful advances of her Boris' draft-dodging cousin. Winner of the Palme d'Or at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, the film is a superbly crafted drama with impassioned performances and viscerally emotional, gravity-defying cinematography by Kalatozov's regular collaborator Sergei Urusevsky.
Although Leave Her To Heaven is considered to be a Technicolor masterpiece, infused with the darkness of film noir and graced with a chilling performance by Gene Tierney, I could never really appreciate it. I think its because it's so intensely Technicolor and I prefer my Noir cinematography to be in the "Ansel Adams" varying degrees of Black and White. Cornel Wilde becomes enamored of a beautiful socialite who initiates a whirlwind romance and steers him into marriage before he can think twice. Yet, it becomes clear rather quickly, that her devotion has monstrous depths, is shockingly possessive, and may be capable of destroying anyone who comes between them. Tierney's femme fatale persona is a woman whose love is as pure as it is poisonous, and that's just about as fatale as a femme can get.
Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern's Show Boat has been made and remade several times in movies and on Broadway. The classic American musical is a musical adaptation of Edna Ferber's sprawling novel. And in this 1930s version it receives its most faithful and enduring cinematic interpretation under the elegant direction of James Whale - yes, the same James Whale who directed Frankenstein. The story follows the fortunes of a stage-struck Irene Dunne) as she goes from her family's humble floating playhouse in the 1880s South to the height of fame in the 1930s North. The legendary cast includes Hattie McDaniel and the great Paul Robeson, whose soul-shaking rendition of "Ol' Man River" is one of the crowning glories of the American screen. No kidding, it's absolutely amazing in the way it stirs a deep emotion that will profoundly move you.
When Barbra Streisand was at the height of her directing career she was quite a force to be reckoned with. And she was most certainly at her best with The Prince of Tides, a gut wrenching, emotional adaptation of Pat Conroy's best-selling novel. Nick Nolte stars as a man reckoning with the traumas of a southern childhood after a sister's attempted suicide. He ends up examining his own repressed pain and falls in love with the woman who has helped him - Streisand. The resulting film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including best picture and best actor for Nolte. Just like Streisand's other films, The Prince of Tides is a life-affirming tale of healing and renewal from a true Hollywood triple-threat.
All of these films will be available on Blu-ray and DVD, with some featuring 4K restorations and others 2K. Like other notable releases, the bonus material is extensive, including director's commentary, contributions from notable critics, and many other unique extras. If you already have a Criterion release then I don't have to convince you of the benefits of having the best of the best.