Chungking Express has a relatively small offering in terms of extras, but the box art and restored digital transfer make one of the most beautiful films ever made look even more impressive; Kar Wai is an extraordinary visual stylist and his regular cinematographer Christopher Doyle (who contributes to the UK Artificial Eye DVD) has created some of the most memorable images of the last 20 years. This Criterion DVD could be framed as a work of art and the entire disc is really just a celebration of aesthetic, best exemplified in the excerpt from BBC series Moving Pictures which features Kar Wai and Doyle discussing the film. Their collaborations are among the more interesting in today’s cinema and they are celebrated in the audio commentary by Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns (who also contributes to Masters of Cinema) and in a booklet featuring an exclusive new essay by critic Amy Taubin. A masterpiece of 90s cinema, I wish this release had a bit more meat on its bones (the political allegory in the film is fascinating, as is the implementation of auteur themes such as identity, time and food) but it’s still an essential purchase for anyone with even a passing interest in cinema. Aficionados should lap it up.
The controversial thriller that ended Michael Powell’s career, Peeping Tom is a film of extraordinary importance and power which put 60s audiences in the shoes of an obsessive voyeur who films women as he kills them. Looking back it is obvious that Powell was ahead of his time and now the film is rightfully proclaimed a masterpiece, especially by its most famous champion Martin Scorsese. Strangely he’s nowhere to be found here (although he does introduce the UK Optimum release) but the extras are fascinating nonetheless. Firstly there is an audio essay by film theorist Laura Mulvey, a feminist who wrote the excellent ‘Visual Pleasure And Narrative Cinema.’ There is also a brilliant Channel 4 Documentary (where is this on the UK edition?) entitled ‘A Very British Psycho’ which charts the life of screenwriter Leo Marks, as well as the production and critical reception of Peeping Tom, which many forget was released only months apart from Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Alongside this feature there are the usual slew of rare on-set production photos and the original trailer. It may not be the most expansive package (indeed we have two extra documentaries in the UK) but the features here are fascinating for fans of the cult thriller, and the rich, saturated colour has never looked better than in this restored, widescreen transfer.
One of my favourite films, this package actually has pretty slim extras but they’re all of a brilliant quality, and the film has never looked better than in this restored, high-definition transfer. In fact the Criterion edition of Claire’s Knee might be the most beautiful film of all time, shot by master DoP Néstor Almendros, who here provides one of the most absorbing, sumptuous portrayals of Summer ever filmed; crisp green grass, arching trees of shade, vibrant sun and sparkling lakes provide an intoxicating landscape of love. I’ve never wanted to live in a film as much as I have with Claire’s Knee – the people and the environment are just so inviting it’s unforgettable. The DVD extras include Rohmer’s short film The Curve (1999) and an excerpt from French TV show Le journal du cinéma featuring interviews with cast members Jean-Claude Brialy, Béatrice Romand and Laurence de Monaghan, all of which are brilliant. The film isn’t on release in a singular edition however, but rather comes in a Box Set of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales, also including the renowned but less accomplished Love In The Afternoon (1972; although Zouzou is stunning). It’s worth buying just for this film but the other five shorts, archival interviews and epic essays also included in the Box Set are undeniably essential.
One of Cronenberg’s best films, this media-challenging sci-fi contains groundbreaking special effects by Rick Baker and a surprisingly engaging performance by Deborah Harry in one of her earliest film roles. Cronenberg’s key themes of infection and eradication make up this tale of conspiracy theories, body horror and social commentary as James Woods delivers his finest performance and reminds us on every re-watch of why he should by now have an Oscar and be headlining dramas, rather than appearing in redundant supporting roles and voicing cartoon animals. The Criterion treatment serves the film well and has some of the most fun extras of any movie I can think of. Firstly there are two commentaries – one by Cronenberg and DoP Mark Irwin, and the second with cast members Woods and Harry. Camera (2000) is a Cronenberg short starring Les Carlson, Forging The New Flesh is a new 30-minute documentary about the makeup effects of Videodrome and Fear On Film is a brilliant 26-minute roundtable discussion dated 1982, with Cronenberg, John Carpenter (Halloween, 1978), John Landis (An American Werewolf In London, 1981) and Mick Garris (Critters 2, 1988). A stills gallery of rare on-set production and publicity photos complement the original trailers and a feature called Bootleg Video, containing the complete footage of Samurai Dreams, which rounds off a perfect edition that every film fans owes it to themselves to own.
Lang’s serial killer masterpiece is one of the most powerful and influential films of all time (perhaps its strangest mark is left on Lucio Fulci’s New York Ripper, 1982). Peter Lorre turns in an astonishing performance as Hans Beckert, a whimpering slither of a man who is utterly despicable yet strangely engaging, as Lang bravely portrays both the child killers’ fractured psyche and the police struggle to catch him with even-handed honesty – indeed, all of the characters are painted as human and therefore can be sympathized with. The DVD comes packed with extras – but the long lost English version is exclusive to Blu Ray (it can be found on the Masters Of Cinema DVD in the UK, however). Also present is a 50 minute interview with Lang conducted by William Friedkin (The French Connection, 1971) and a short film by Claude Chabrol entitled M. le maudit (1982) inspired by Lang’s feature – and the disc also showcases an exclusive interview with Chabrol. The audio commentary with film scholars and authors would round off this package nicely but there is also a fascinating documentary on the production and distribution history of M, right up to the recent digital restoration. An essential package – now we just need a Criterion Metropolis (1927).
My favourite Godard also showcases his finest Criterion treatment, with a double-disc package providing one of the most fascinating DVD extras I’ve ever seen; The Dinosaur And The Baby (1967), a conversation between Godard and filmmaker Fritz Lang (Metropolis, 1927) who appears in the film as himself. DoP Raoul Cotard (Godard regular, interviewed on the disc) delivers his finest work as the film looks stunning – rich, sumptuous reds and sparking blue oceans, shot in Cinemascope, overwhelm the screen, as does a terrific Brigitte Bardot who delivers her best performance; coincidentally she has never looked better. It’s a dramatic deconstruction of marriage on the verge of breakdown and an essay on the art of filmmaking that richly rewards re-watches, especially with the Robert Stam commentary which is as informative as you would expect from a renowned film scholar. The widescreen treatment has been approved by Cotard himself and the subtitle track is more accurate than ever, but only true Godard buffs would care about such things. For everyone else there are two documentaries featuring Godard on the set of Le Mépris, and an excerpt from an interview with the director, dated 1964. A rapturous, intellectually stimulating and heartbreaking masterpiece, make sure yours is a Criterion.
Terry Gilliam famously took out a full-page ad in Variety to ask Universal chairman Sid Sheinberg (who had recut and basically butchered the film) “When are you going to release my film?” This genuis marketing, along with Gilliam and Robert De Niro’s appearance on “Good Morning America” eventually led to the film being released the way the director intended, and it is now seen as a rightful masterpiece. Anyone interested in seeing what it could have been however, look no further than this Criterion edition which contains the 94-minute ‘Love Conquers All’ edition with all the changes Gilliam was desperately against. There is also a fascinating documentary entitled ‘The Battle Of Brazil’, which recounts the aforementioned battle between Gilliam and the films producers. It’s an informative and hugely entertaining doc and is complemented by a treasure trove of artwork and production stills for fans of the visionary filmmaker. Also present in this crammed edition is an audio commentary by Gilliam himself, behind the scenes footage, interviews, essays and an on-set documentary entitled ‘What Is Brazil?’ It’s also worth noting that this latest 3-Disc release has some of the best Criterion artwork, something for which the company are famed and respected. The original poster image is located among beautifully shaded clouds; an unforgettable image.
I haven’t seen The Battle Of Algiers in years, but I remember it being an overwhelming experience that often feels more like documentary than fiction – yes it is based on truth, but not a single reel of news footage is used in the recounting of one of the most violent and disturbing revolutions in history. It’s an electrifying tale, unflinching and harrowing in its depiction but beautifully shot by DoP Marcello Gatti. The extras are too numerous to even list here but highlights include documentaries Remembering History, an exclusive feature that reconstructs the Algerian revolutionary experience including interviews with historians, Five Directors, showcasing five filmmakers (including Spike Lee and Steven Soderbergh) discussing the films importance and lasting appeal, and finally Gillo Pontecorvo’s Return To Algiers, a 1992 record of the filmmaker revisiting the Algerian people three decades after regaining their independence. There is also a Making Of, Case Study (with Richard A. Clarke and Michael A. Sheehan) and numerous essays to accompany the standard production stills and trailers. You’ll spend days absorbing the DVD of The Battle Of Algiers and it’ll be an informative, saddening and enriching experience. Pontecorvo’s brilliant Kapò (1959) is also available on Criterion, in the Essential Art House edition.
This makes it onto the list for grouping together Bergman’s three greatest works; his trilogy of faith. The auteur famously struggled with his relationship with God and these films come from a period where he questioned the celestial and challenged its relevance. The first and third pictures are brilliant but Winter Light is not just his best film, but for me one of the greatest films of all time. A quietly haunting, beautiful meditation on a crisis of faith in a small community, it’s a masterpiece of feeling with one of the most devastating scenes in cinema history. Extras wise the fantastic five-part TV documentary ‘Ingmar Bergman Makes A Movie’ is included, which chronicles the director on the set of Winter Light, the film he regarded his best and most personal. Watching his creative process is fascinating and the interviews are moving to say the least. Bergman is complemented by new video interviews with biographer Peter Cowie and various essays (including one by Vilgot Sjöman, director of the aforementioned documentary). Honestly though, the films speak for themselves in this package; just absorb yourself into Bergman’s world and watch a master filmmaker emotionally deconstruct at his peak, providing fascinating philosophical questions that resonate far beyond the films all-too-brief running times.
Akira Kurosawa’s seminal masterpiece is, along with Citizen Kane (1941), often cited as the greatest film of all time. I’m not that enamoured with it but the film certainly has a masterpiece of a DVD with this 3-Disc Edition boasting the full 207 minute version in a restored Dolby Digital transfer. The film is an epic essay on traditional values and the way of the samurai; an elegiac drama which ends in an hour-long battle sequence – certainly it’s about as rich and exciting as Japanese cinema comes. Spread over two discs the film is here complemented by two commentaries, original trailers/teasers and rare production stills (worth the price tag alone). But what really makes this edition special is the two-hour interview between Kurosawa and Nagisa Ôshima (In The Realm Of The Senses, 1976) entitled ‘My Life In Cinema’ – which, as the title suggests, charts Kurosawa’s journey through films and filmmaking. There are also several documentaries and a huge essay booklet featuring work from the likes of Kenneth Turan and Peter Cowie. Even if you don’t like this particular film (and lets face it, that’s a minority) the extras are fascinating for any Kurosawa fan and the boxed packaging ensures that it’s a must-have for the collection.