The Criterion Collection: A Retrospective in Five Films

 

the-criterion-collection-logo

Please read the previous five reviews on my blog for: Harold & Maude, Persona, The Darjeeling Limited, Dazed and Confused, and Sisters. These five film reviews are the supporting components for this essay.

 

The Criterion Collection has dedicated itself to gathering the most influential pieces of cinema ever made. Updating their collection monthly they remain on the cutting edge of cinema, adding classic and modern cinema to their repertoire to keep a constantly updated collection of influential movies. Ranging across a wide range of genres, the Criterion Collection has collected films that have been revered by critics, have gained cult status, or are seen as influential within the world of cinema and its creation.  I originally started with five different films than the one’s I ended up watching. This just speaks to the sheer volume that the Criterion Collection is made up of. Regardless if a film is currently in rotation or not, it’s still considered a part of the collection. I also learned that the only thing standing in the way of a lot of films getting added to the collection is disputes over distribution rights, which is why viewers don’t get as many animated films as people would like.

In my analysis, I viewed the films Dazed and Confused directed by Richard Linklater, Harold & Maude directed by Hal Ashby, Persona directed by Ingmar Bergman, The Darjeeling Limited directed by Wes Anderson, and Sisters directed by Brian De Palma. These films make up only a sliver of the massive catalog that Criterion has in their stock. These films offer a wide range of what the collection has to offer from cult classics to art-house thrillers to outright horror. I picked a range of films from different genres and decades to get a view of what makes the Criterion Collection classify as a critically important film in the canon of cinema.

Let’s start with the cult classic Harold & Maude, which is a heart-warming film. It’s inclusion in the Criterion Collection is without question upon viewing, however it at first seems to be an odd choice. Criterion is not one to take things upon first glance, by putting it in the collection they must’ve seen something important in it. This low-budget dramedy has some incredible shots, has a fantastic script, and best of all it’s funny. Criterion clearly defines cult classics as influential cinema due to their word-of-mouth hype, which can often be more powerful and accurate than any critic. This film being added to the collection is a testament to all independent filmmakers that just because no one has heard of your film, doesn’t mean it’s a failure.

The next thing I decided to tackle was a strict genre film. So I watched a film entitled Sisters. I chose this film as it fit into the genre of horror, and as it’s a genre that often lacks respect from most movie goers, I was curious at to why it would be in the collection. I quickly found out when my screen split into two. Criterion keeps an eye out for radical cinematic techniques. The split-screen effect in Sisters is clearly the main draw to the film (as well as generally being well made) and it’s wildly successful in execution. The Criterion Collection doesn’t discriminate against genres, it’s definitely an organization that just looks for talent and creativity.

Criterion also continuously adds films to its repertoire for example The Darjeeling Limited was released in 2007 but is still a part of the collection. This is due to the absolutely stunning color palette of the film. While I personally find the film to be appropriative of Indian culture, it doesn’t change the fact that movie is fantastic to look at. The importance of the film lies in its technique rather than its content in this particular example.

I had to do a double-take when I was scrolling through the list of the movies in the collection when I saw Dazed and Confused. I thought it was it just another high school movie. I was incredibly, stupidly wrong. The movie is a testament to youth, growing up, and leaving your hometown. It’s funny and most of all it’s poignant monologs  always give you something to think about and above all else, it feels realistic. This movie deserves its place in the collection because it is astoundingly good for its genre and content. It’s further proof that the Criterion Collection doesn’t care what your movie is about, it only cares if the movie is good, well made, or brings something new to the table.

I chose a classic for the last film to view; Persona. Ingmar Bergman’s film is a fabulous romp through two different realities and personalities. It’s a mind-bender of a thriller and its tense until the very last scene. My theory as to why it’s in the collection is due to its editing and controversial nature. The film was very controversial upon its initial release due to its explicit description of a woman having intercourse with a young boy. It’s a disturbing scene that’s for sure, but once you look past this tidbit you see a film that edits you into the reality of the film. You as a viewer are a conscious part of the movie, as Bergman continuously references that these characters are within a movie.

The Criterion Collection does not care what your movie is about, it doesn’t care if everyone hated your movie, it doesn’t care if everyone loved your movie. Your movie could have made millions of dollars, one every award, and it still might not end up in the collection. However, if your film brings something new to the table, something that takes viewers aback, then maybe your film is worthy of being included. All of the films I watched to figure out what Criterion describes as a good film point to one thing: uniqueness. There is something individual about each film that I watched that I’ll never forget. The burning out of the celluloid in Persona, the doll house like train compartment scene in The Darjeeling Limited, the split-screen technique in Sisters, the cemetery shot in Harold & Maude, and finally the characters in Dazed and Confused. The Criterion Collection looks for films that you will remember, films that bring new things to the table, and films that flawlessly execute their technique.

Advertisements

Dazed, Confused, and a little bit worried about the future

dazed-and-confused-title-card

Dazed and Confused is a touching letter to small town life, growing up, and starting your own journey. It’s a story of learning the rules and learning when to break them, a tale about finding out how to love yourself. Richard Linklater’s famous film tackles many subjects, and seemingly defies genre by being comedic in the best and most natural ways, but maintaining it’s dramatic side without taking itself too seriously. This film is a precursor to many of the movies that Linklater would make later on like Boyhood, and Slacker in which, to be honest, nothing happens. The characters exist as we do, trying to make the best of what they’ve got. What we see is life, there’s no plot to it, rather there is a certain amount of common philosophy and debate. Linklater explores the dumb stuff that comes off as meaningful only in context, in other words, he explores the conversations we have with our friends.

57208-dazed_confused

What Dazed and Confused excels at is its believable dialogue, all of these conversations about stupid stuff like whether or not George Washington smoked weed, if going to parties is worth it, the relevancy of your generation. All of these topics are explored by a huge ensemble of fully fleshed out characters. Even though there is almost no ground work to go off of in the beginning of the film, by the end you know each and every character and what they’re like. Most films would crumble under the sheer amount of characters but Linklater balances his cast of characters by having them all be unique in who they are and how they interact. So that when certain characters are discussing if the 70s will be culturally important in one corner of the party you know who’s talking about it because it fits their aesthetic. It works remarkably well, especially when the party is so large that there’s another group of character’s at the kegger talking about whether or not George Washington’s wife had a bowl packed and waiting for him at the end of every night.

tumblr_o183eg7Okh1tjydheo2_500

Normally, any film that tried to have this much-extended dialogue filled with useless philosophizing and general babble about life would fall apart chronologically. Due to the uniqueness of each ‘crew’ of characters though the movie becomes completely believable as being in one night. Linklater gives the viewer a large view of an entire small town, and then gives us tiny vignettes of different groups and friends within the town, then widens the view again back to the entirety of the school at a party. We as viewers know and understand that when we’re witnessing the nerdy seniors getting burgers, that the jocks are still at the bar shooting pool. We know that all of these stories and events are happening at the same time, some people are just taking a bit longer to find the party. The viewer knows this because we’ve been catching up with all the characters the entire movies, we’ve seen them at the bar or at the burger joint and we’ve been following everyone from the jocks to the popular girls to the stoners. Linklater makes sure that we always have the upper hand in knowing what’s going on and where everyone is going.

hqdefault

Dazed and Confused is a perfectly balanced film and a hysterically entertaining watch, it’s bold amount of characters and endless memorable conversations make it a movie that’s surely a cult classic. It’s a great look at how detailed and memorable any type of film can be as usually coming-of-age films fall into a stoically typical type of plot-line. With Dazed and Confused however we’re entertained from the ending of the school day at the beginning to the kegger that ends it all.