Norman McLaren!

NFBIf the Criterion Collection were to devote a spine number to a single NFB filmmaker, the consensus pick would likely be experimental animator Norman McLaren. The Scottish-born filmmaker received various honours over his career, including an Oscar (and 4 more nominations), a Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement in animation, 3 BAFTA awards, a Silver Bear and Silver Plaque at Berlin, and a short film Palme d’Or at Cannes. The NFB headquarters in Montreal is named after McLaren, as is the electoral district it is located within, and the Film Board commemorated its 70th anniversary with a comprehensive DVD collection of McLaren’s work, Norman McLaren: The Master’s Edition. That set, despite being somewhat confusing in its organization, is just waiting for a blugrade by Criterion. Until such time as that happens, a Criterion Collection set devoted to the NFB would necessarily need to include at least a sampling McLaren’s work. Provided here are three of McLaren’s finest films – Begone Dull Care (1949), winner of a Silver Plaque at the Berlin International Film Festival; Neighbours (1952), Oscar-nominated in the Short Subject category and Oscar-winning as a Documentary Short; and Blinkity Blank (1955), winner of the Short Film Palme d’Or and a BAFTA award.

As per the NFB:

In this extraordinary short animation, Evelyn Lambart and Norman McLaren painted colours, shapes, and transformations directly onto their filmstrip. The result is a vivid interpretation, in fluid lines and colour, of jazz music played by the Oscar Peterson Trio.

As per the NFB:

In this Oscar®-winning short film, Norman McLaren employs the principles normally used to put drawing or puppets into motion to animate live actors. The story is a parable about two people who come to blows over the possession of a flower.

As per the NFB:

This experimental short film by Norman McLaren is a playful exercise in intermittent animation and spasmodic imagery. Playing with the laws relating to persistence of vision and after-image on the retina of the eye, McLaren engraves pictures on blank film, creating vivid, percussive effects.

Canada Carries On, Twice

NFBWith the establishment of the National Film Board of Canada in 1939, John Grierson, the British documentarian and the NFB’s first commissioner, set upon a project to foster and shape the national identity, and the outbreak of World War II was a timely context for Grierson’s nationalist aims.  One of the NFB’s first efforts was Canada Carries On, a series of theatrical shorts aimed to boost morale during wartime.  Its producer, British documentary filmmaker Stuart Legg, found early success in the endeavour when he received two Oscar nominations for the new documentary short category.  Relying heavily on stock footage and “voice-of-God” commentary, Legg’s Churchill’s Island (1941) and Warclouds in the Pacific (1941) are remarkable documents of their periods.  Churchill’s Island won that first documentary Oscar, but Legg has failed to garner the kind of recognition given to his close colleague Grierson.

As per the NFB:

This film won the NFB its first Oscar® and was also the first documentary to win this coveted award.  It presents the strategy of the Battle of Britain, showing with penetrating clarity the relationships between the various forces made up the island’s defences.  Here is the Royal Air Force in its epic battle with the Luftwaffe, the Navy in its stubborn fight against the raiders of sea and sky, the coastal defences, the mechanized cavalry, the merchant seamen and behind them all, Britain’s tough, unbending civilian army.

As per the NFB:

This short film examines the Japan that emerged at the beginning of the 1900s and was firmly established as an industrialized nation by the outbreak of World War II.  Facing the greatest threat in their history, the democracies of the Pacific took careful stock of this new Japan and its strength, and erected a vast system of defence across the world’s greatest ocean.

Thy Broad Domain: Essential Works of the NFB

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Thy Broad Domain: Essential Works of the NFB.

criterion logoFor 75 years, the National Film Board of Canada has been a pioneer in film art, producing and distributing more than 13,000 films and winning more than 5,000 awards. The NFB’s collection represents some of film history’s greatest and most influential works of social documentary, auteur animation, experimental film, web series, and interactive productions. Across an endless of variety of filmmaking techniques, these inventive works represent domestic and international concerns from a distinctly Canadian perspective and provide a cinematic influence still felt today. This collector’s set brings together some of the NFB’s most celebrated films since its establishment under the watchful eye of famed British documentarian John Grierson to its present day innovations in digital media.

Disc Features:

  • New digital restorations, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray
  • New introductions and audio commentaries to the films by critic Leonard Maltin, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, director Guy Maddin, scholars Mick Broderick and Rodney Hill, physician and activist Dr. Helen Caldicott, music scholar Paul Sanden, comedians Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and others
  • New and archival interview programs featuring filmmakers including Kaj Pindal, Ishu Patel, Cynthia Scott, Terre Nash, Cordell Barker, and Katerina Cizek
  • New and archival documentaries on the making of these films, including Alter Egos, Laurence Green’s hour-long documentary on the making of Chris Landreth’s Ryan
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring a foreword by Government Film Commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur and essays by film scholars Gary Evans, André Loiselle, Gene Walz, and Zoë Druick

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Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Miracle on 34th Street.

criterion logoHired by Macy’s flagship store at Herald Square to be its department store Santa, a jolly, white-whiskered man calling himself Kris Kringle soon has everyone in the Christmas spirit, all except his no-nonsense boss Doris Walker and her skeptical daughter Susan. Kris proves himself a valuable asset to Macy’s until the store psychologist has the kind old man committed to a mental hospital and he becomes the subject of a public trial. With his lawyer Fred Gailey at his side, Kris sets out to prove himself to be the one true Santa Claus, defending himself against Scrooges and skeptics alike. Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and a winner for Best Original Story, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor for Edmund Gwenn’s performance as Kringle, Miracle on 34th Street was a summertime hit for 1947 and holiday classic ever after.

Disc Features:

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Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963)

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

criterion logoPaul Newman is Hud Bannon, the man with the barbed-wire soul, a charismatic hellion tearing through his small, Texas panhandle town in his pink Cadillac and seducing the local housewives.  His reckless and unscrupulous behavior is tolerated by his principled father Homer (Melvyn Douglas) and their weary housekeeper Alma (Patricia Neal), and admired by his teenage nephew Lonnie (Brandon deWilde).  When hoof-and-mouth disease threatens their entire herd, a bitter struggle ensues over control of the ranch and their livelihood with Lonnie in the middle.  Garnering 7 Academy Award nominations and wins by actors Patricia Neal and Melvyn Douglas and cinematographer James Wong Howe, Hud is a beautifully stark depiction of generational conflict and an unforeseen measure of the changing culture in America.

Disc Features:

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In the Midst of Life (Robert Enrico, 1963)

criterion logoThe Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents In the Midst of Life.

Robert Enrico’s triptych of Ambrose Bierce adaptations, “The Mockingbird,” “Chickamauga” and “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” is a rarely seen masterpiece of French cinema.  An eerily complex film fashioned through unreliable narrators and subjective experiences, each story oscillates uncertainly between the brutality and bloodshed of the American Civil War and the idyllic, pastoral existence interrupted by combat.  These puzzling works of the macabre were promptly broken into separate films following its initial release, but In the Midst of Life is finally available after 50 years in its original format.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Introduction by filmmaker Steven Spielberg
  • Complete 1959 Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
  • Complete 1964 The Twilight Zone episode presenting Enrico’s La rivière du hibou
  • Radio dramatizations of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” for Escape and Suspense, featuring starring performances by Harry Bartell (1947), Victor Jory (1956), Joseph Cotten (1957) and Vincent Price (1959)
  • Dreaming Forward, a new video piece on Bierce’s fantastical literary legacy, featuring interviews with The Sopranos creator David Chase, Lost creator J.J. Abrams and filmmakers Christopher Nolan and Terry Gilliam
  • PLUS:  A booklet featuring essays by scholar Richard J. Hand and Twilight Zone historian Marc Scott Zicree, as well as artist and critic Steve Bissette’s 1988 article for Deep Red magazine

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