We are quite naturally very excited to announce our participation in The Criterion Blogathon! Big thanks to Aaron West at Criterion Blues for the invitation and to him, Kristina at Speakeasy, and Ruth of Silver Screenings for organizing the event!
We obviously love the Criterion Collection, but the nature of this blog usually has us only touch upon the label and its library tangentially, focusing instead on potential additions to the Collection. This is a choice that has been consciously made, something we’ve always been comfortable with given the existence of great bloggers like Aaron already discussing the Collection and its titles. We’ve also chosen to usually frame MMC!‘s discussions of our proposed Criterion films in fairly objective terms, avoiding discussing our “personal journeys through cinema” (read: eye-roll). In this rare instance of speaking about the Criterion Collection directly, we’ll break from our usual tone and format.
It looks like I’ve been granted my first choice in a proposal – crafting a “Criterion Top 10 List” of my own. Being completely overwhelmed by the array of choice offered in the Collection and aware that Criterion is unlikely to ever approach me to add to its already numerous set of Top 10s, I’ve short circuited the “one title per person” rule so I can speak about 10 titles meaningful to me. Thanks very much to the organizers for letting me do so.
With that said, I should maybe take a moment and talk about why the Criterion Collection is so important to me.
I count myself lucky to have grown up in a home that loved movies, even if it was purely for entertainment and popcorn consumption. I can specifically point to watching Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) as a teenager and thinking that film might be an art as well. I went to see film noir retrospectives and contemporary foreign films at my local cinematheque and started to read books like Donald Spoto’s The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Christopher’s Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City. I had good friends who were happy to take cinematic chances with me, even if it meant that they fell asleep halfway through some movie we knew barely nothing about when we entered the theatre. I greatly appreciate all of those things, but it was truthfully the Criterion Collection that fundamentally shaped my understanding of film. I’ll guess that many others have the same experience.
I first became aware of the Criterion Collection in 2002, probably when it was announcing DVD spine numbers in the high-150s or low-160s. The first one I bought was Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998), and while the audio on the menu screen was way too loud, I was awestruck over the original artwork, the plethora of extra features, and the fold-out insert. From there, I dove into Akira Kurosawa, Seijun Suzuki, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Carol Reed, Michelangelo Antonioni, Jules Dassin, Preston Sturges, and Ingmar Bergman, and I’ve never looked back. It was through the Criterion Collection that the world of cinema was opened up to me. I gained access to filmmakers, actors, technicians, national cinemas, and film movements that I had only read about, assuming I had any awareness of them at all. It has been through the Collection that I’ve learned to look beyond the Collection, searching out other labels and other films and expanding my understanding of cinema.
Perhaps most important to me, the Criterion Collection and its contributors revealed to me that film appreciation and film scholarship (and even filmmaking) went hand-in-hand, and that the study of film was something done by real people (who didn’t necessarily live and work in Hollywood). The Criterion Collection kept me watching films, reading about film, and thinking about film. It ultimately pushed me into film school. Because of the Criterion Collection, I’ve been able to study film, teach film, and even write about film, all in my own modest ways. And while most of my time now is spent with a career and a family (neither of which has anything to do with film), the Collection is still there encouraging me to love cinema and still pressing upon me to participate in film, at least to the extent that I am able to nowadays. I am deeply grateful for what the Collection has given to me, and less thankful for what it has taken out of my wallet.
In 3 short and agonizing months (during which time the Collection will announce new titles for December, January, and February that will also require consideration – see, more cheating!), I will hopefully have distilled that appreciation down to 10 specific examples. Cheers.