The Criterion Component: Overlooked Titles #1
The Criterion Collection offers us a plethora of movies from every corner of the world, from the silent era to the current year, and while it would be nice to see every film they have donned with a spine number we all know that’s not exactly feasible. Ergo, it goes without saying that some titles are going to slip through the cracks, because without a Blu-ray release or re-release from their first generation of pressings it can be easy to overlook some fantastic movies that Criterion has released. Of course, these films aren't any less important, but it’s worth it to look at some lesser mentioned movies in The Criterion Collection.
The Browning Version (1951)
With some films, it’s easy to understand why it’s something of a blind spot, and The Browning Version is one of them. It’s a restrained tale of an embittered schoolmaster whose reconciling the shortcomings of life, his failing marriage, but discovers something in himself when a young pupil bonds with the seemingly shut off task master. Sure, The Browning Version doesn’t sound like the most enthralling film out there, but don’t be fooled, Anthony Asquith’s seems to understand the value of inner turmoil again and reconciling one's past failures. It’s a quiet and tender film that is capably heart wrenching. Criterion doesn’t sell the movie very well, and it’s beige-brown cover art of a scowling Michael Redgrave (who is amazing in the lead role) is easy to skim past. However this is a great film from Britain's postwar fifties era.
Fanfan la Tulipe (1952)
This swashbuckling romantic comedy to have emerged from Christian Jaque (a director with tons of credits, none of which I have honestly heard of) is brilliantly fun, light hearted and a breezy good time. One reason it seems to be a less essential title could be the name recognition factor. Christian-Jaque doesn’t have the same resonance of the Truffaut’s, Godard's, Rohmer’s, or Malle’s which could account for the lack of love for Fanfan la Tulipe. If you find yourself perusing Criterion's website, or Barnes & Noble and happen to come across it, give this bawdily romantic, swashbuckler a second glance because it’s a jumping good time.
The Fire Within (1963)
Louis Malle’s dour portrait of a suicidal writer might not be the cheery title mentioned above, but The Fire Within is an assured film from one of the best directors to emerge from France. Louis Malle was a brilliant auteur for his versatility, at times humorous and warm, pole vaults to this elegiac portrait of frayed psychosis following the last twenty-four hours of Alain Leroy, as he resolves to kill himself. Malle’s presence had a solid boost by the time of The Fire Within’s release (spin #430) following The Lovers (spine #429) and the now out of print 3 Films by Louis Malle set (Lacombe Lucien, Murmur of the Heart, and Au Revoir Les Enfants. There’s a lot of Malle out there, and I can see why the dour The Fire Within could be overlooked against the nostalgic romanticism of his peripheral works, but regardless it's immensely powerful.
The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (1975)
A bristling narrative about a woman wrongfully lambasted by police and media for harboring a terrorist is a thoughtfully intense tale of intrigue that has only become more than relevant in recent years. Now this is a confusing blind spot in Criterion’s library. The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum is a political/social thriller at its finest, with the tone of John Le Carré and cold war brevity crackling with Cold War paranoia, and a stylistic panache that recalls the New German Cinema (a la Rainer Werner Fassbinder). Thankfully this is still in circulation, but why it hasn’t received a Blu-Ray upgrade is beyond me.
Martha Graham: Dance on Film (1959)
I know absolutely nothing about ballet, or dancing, raised from things I picked up from Black Swan, The Company and All That Jazz, which is a “cute” attempt at saying “ I know nothing.” So what would Martha Graham: Dance on Film have any appeal to someone with no knowledge on its subject? Perfectly understandable, but this compilation is a hidden treasure in The Criterion Collection, a loaded double DVD set includes filmed performances of two complete performances of Graham’s ballets; Appalachian Spring and Night Journey, along with A Dancers World; a look into her company and the nature of her craft. Bonus features include a PBS Masters series and interviews and illustrated essays. Ballet fan or not, if you appreciate art and theater, this is a significant release worth your attention.