A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents A Place in the Sun.

criterion logoBased on Theodore Dreiser’s landmark novel An American Tragedy, George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun is a swooningly noir-stained melodrama featuring Montgomery Clift as a handsome young man eager to win a place in respectable society. His ambitious dream seems to fall into place when he accepts a job offer from a wealthy relation and falls deeply in love with a beautiful socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), however a secret relationship with a factory girl (Shelley Winters) and her pregnancy threatens his future and inspires his murderous impulses. Called “the greatest movie ever made about America” by Charlie Chaplin, Steven’s film skillfully alternates between affluent, sun-washed romance and shadowy, fateful film noir, crafting an idealized vision of movie love against a sour portrait of the American dream and what lies beneath it.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary with George Stevens Jr. and associate producer Ivan Moffat
  • New interview with film critic Imogen Sara Smith
  • George Stevens and His Place in the Sun, a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film
  • George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him, archival interviews with Warren Beatty, Frank Capra, Joe Mankiewicz, Rouben Mamoulian, Antonio Vellani, Robert Wise, Alan J. Pakula, and Fred Zinnemann
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional English subtitles
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Laurent Jullier

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Criterion Made Mine! The Streetwise Edition

Criterion Streetwise and TinyIt’s another month of Criterion announcements and another example of MMC!’s Collection wishes coming true. This month sees the Criterion Collection announcing the release of Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) in a collected edition. MMC! imagined this release back in 2015 and it’s good to see we accurately predicted the inclusion of some short film work and Cheryl McCall’s 1983 Life magazine article. Once again cineastes, you’re welcome!

Screenings of Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition (1959) were scheduled at MMC! headquarters in April, but those plans will be delayed to June to coincide with the release of Criterion’s blu-grade in June. Also coming in June will be an upgrade of MMC! favourite and past Top Ten entrant Pickup on South Street (Sam Fuller, 1953), a stand-alone release of the excellent Olympic documentary Visions of Eight (1973), Dee Rees’s queer coming-of-age story Pariah (2011), and an electrifying and exhaustive collection – The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs.

Straight Time (Ulu Grosbard, 1978)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Straight Time.

In this highly underrated classic of ’70s crime cinema, Dustin Hoffman shrewdly stars as Max Dembo, an ex-con just released from a six-year stretch in prison for armed robbery and struggling to go straight while under the oversight of his smug parole officer. Despite finding a job, a home, and even a girl of his own, Max remains trapped in an unrelenting criminal system until he breaks free with ruthless, criminal abandon and tragic consequences. Adapted from Edward Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce, featuring a score by David Shire, and boasting a terrific supporting cast including Theresa Russell, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, and Kathy Bates, Ulu Grosbard’s Straight Time is a lean and bitter portrait of inevitable recidivism.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New 4K digital master with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary from 2007 with director Ulu Grospard and actor Dustin Hoffman
  • New interviews with actors Hoffman, Theresa Russell, and Kathy Bates
  • Straight Time: He Wrote It For Criminals, a 1978 documentary on writer Edward Bunker and the making of the film
  • Theatrical trailer
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by novelist Jonathan Lethem

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Bandits of Orgosolo – Ten Documentary Shorts (Vittorio De Seta, 1955-1961)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Bandits of Orgosolo • Ten Documentary Shorts by Vittorio De Seta.

Heralded by Martin Scorsese as “an anthropologist who speaks with the voice of a poet,” Italian director Vittorio De Seta produced a string of extraordinary short documentaries in the 1950s that distill their subjects to pure cinema. Shooting in vivid color in the rural villages of Sicily, Sardinia, and Calabria, De Seta captured the rhythms and rituals of everyday life among the fishermen, miners, shepherds, and farmers who continued to live and work according to the preindustrial traditions of their ancestors. These shorts were followed by Bandits of Orgosolo, which presented with neorealist authenticity the tragic plight of a poor Sardinian shepherd unfairly accused of rustling and murder. Together, these miniature marvels and this hardscrabble feature-film debut stand as essential, ennobling records of a vanished world.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New, restored 4K digital transfers of all eleven films, overseen by the World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays:
    • The Age of Swordfish (1954 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Vittorio De Seta’s rhythmic editing adds drama to this chronicle of a Sicilian spearfishing expedition.
    • Islands of Fire (1954 • 11 minutes • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) This prize-winning short is a poetic portrait of life on the coast of Sicily before, during, and following a volcanic eruption.
    • Solfatara (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Harshness and beauty exist side by side in this look at the lives of sulfur mine workers and their families in southern Italy.
    • Easter in Sicily (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2:35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta captures the music and pageantry of an Easter celebration in Sicily.
    • Sea Countrymen (1955 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The rhythms of the sea set the tempo for this vivid account of a day in the lives of Sicilian fishermen.
    • Golden Parable (1955 • 10 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) Filming amid the flaxen wheat fields of Sicily, De Seta documents the everyday rituals of farmers during harvest time.
    • Fishing Boats (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The unpredictable nature of the sea governs the world of Sicilian fishermen as they work, rest, and seek refuge from a storm.
    • Orgosolo’s Shepherds (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) The striking landscapes of rural Sardinia provide the backdrop to this lyrical look at the hard-earned lives of the region’s shepherds in winter.
    • A Day in Barbagia (1958 • 11 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) From sunrise to sunset, De Seta chronicles the lives of Sardinian women who look after both home and fields while their shepherd husbands are away tending their flocks.
    • The Forgotten (1959 • 21 minutes • Color • Monaural • 2.35:1 aspect ratio) De Seta travels to a remote province in southern Italy to capture a unique celebration known as the “Feast of Silver.”
    • Bandits of Orgosolo (1961 • 95 minutes • Black and White • Monaural • 1.37:1 aspect ratio) Returning to the Sardinian countryside, De Seta presents a ruinous portrait of a poor shepherd wrongfully associated with some bandits and forced to flee, taking his flock and his younger brother into remote, inhospitable lands.
  • Introduction by Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival chief Gian Luca Farinelli
  • New interview with director Martin Scorsese
  • Détour De Seta, a 2004 documentary by Salvo Cuccia
  • The Filmmaker is an Athlete: Conversations with Vittorio De Seta, Vincent Sorrel and Barbara Vey’s 2010 interview with De Seta
  • New English subtitle translations
  • PLUS: Essays by scholar Alexander Stille and critic J. Hoberman

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Well, It Finally Happened!

I’ve long feared the hazard of imagining a Criterion release of a given film only to have the Collection announce it mid-month as a forthcoming title, thereby leaving my research and writing wasted. Alas, that day has finally arrived with the Criterion Collection announcing Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley as a May 2021 release, leaving my work over the past couple of weeks sunk. Nightmare Alley may be MMC!’s favourite film noir of all time and it’s a timely choice with Guillermo del Toro’s remake scheduled to arrive later this year. Criterion’s other announcements for May 2021 are equally superb – a stand-alone edition of Ahmed El Maanouni’s Trances, the iconic and star-studded Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the tantalizingly salacious Merrily We Go to Hell, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai featuring an absolutely gorgeous cover treatment!

MMC!’s intended discussion of Nightmare Alley attended to the film’s fascinating production history, its horror noir adjacency, and to the distinctive manner by which the film explicitly dealt with film noir’s organizing force: fate. For the curious, I’ve provided below a glimpse of what an MMC! package of Nightmare Alley might have looked like (minus that partially drafted discussion of the film).

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David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Deeply reflective and exceptionally high-spirited, David Byrne’s theatrical concert American Utopia stormed Broadway with the ex-Talking Head’s mix of iconic music and quirky ideas. With a collection of eleven talented musicians, singers, and dancers supporting him and informed by the work of James Baldwin, Janelle Monáe, Hugo Ball, and Kurt Schwitters, the show plucked at the connections between us and aimed to start making sense of it all. With director Spike Lee commemorating the show for the screen, David Byrne’s American Utopia transforms the stage production into an immersive, dynamic cinema experience that radiates with astounding performances, inventive contemporary dance, and political urgency. A clarion call for protest, compassion, and shared responsibility and a new masterpiece among concert films, David Byrne’s American Utopia is the life-affirming rock-doc arriving at precisely the right time, ready to burn down the house.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • 4K digital master, approved by director Spike Lee and David Byrne, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Start Making Sense, a roundtable conversation with Lee, Byrne, musician Janelle Monáe, and critic Ashley Clark
  • One Fine Day, a new program of interviews with Lee, Byrne, and the film’s cast of performers
  • Slippery People, a conversation between choreographer Annie-B Parson and cinematographer Ellen Kuras
  • Remain in Light, an exploration of American Utopia stage design and its innovative lighting
  • Promotional discussions featuring Lee and Byrne
  • Meet the Band, introductory videos for the cast and crew
  • Additional performance of “Hell You Talmbout”
  • Trailer and teaser
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Robert Daniels

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