Criterion tried playing a fast one this week by releasing all the new films while we were recording our super two year anniversary special. Sneaky Criterion, how could you do such a thing? But lo and behold they gave us another 11 titles, which again just goes to show that Criterion/Janus have multiple tricks up their sleeves. Especially this week, they gave us a couple of catalog titles and the rest are new and exciting, especially one that is the original edit of a particular film that was put on the page last week. Once again, if you want to join what a million other people are enjoying right now, please sign up here. It will help the series of articles and you’ll get to experience the best bang for the buck.
First up is the original version of a film that was put up last week, which is IshirÅ Honda’s seminal classic Gojira (1954), the monster movie that started a revolution and the kaiju genre. This film was going to be on the first episode of cineAWESOME! but we had decided against it because it was actually a whole lot more depressing than I remembered. Less than a decade after the end of World War II, it’s a vision of a nuclear world
Each week there’s always a film that has the best title and Criterion doesn’t disappoint, this time with René Clair’s I Married a Witch (1942). In 1672, two witches are about to be burnt at the stake by puritan Jonathan Wooley, which they vow vengeance for by putting a curse on his future generations. The men will always marry horrible men and be miserable until they die. It goes into comedic territory and a love potion is involved, with hilarious results. This was a great surprise, which tends to come about when Criterion adds these films that they’ve acquired and not in any collection yet.
One more from John Cassavetes this week, another from his amazing box set, this time with his filmShadows (1959). Focusing on the 1950’s beat scene in Manhattan, showing the connections between Benny, Leila and Hugh. The film is one of the closest visual jazz experiences you’ll ever see, interweaving between the three of them and if life and love can be one. It’s just a fantastic film that is one of the perfect examples of the beginning of American independent cinema.
What’s this? Another Simone Signoret film that Criterion picked up? Room At the Top (1959), directed by Jack Clayton, is another example at why she was one of the top actresses of her time and sadly doesn’t get as much attention as she deserves. It focuses on a young man named Joe (Laurence Harvey) who sees the perfect opportunity to move up in the world by marrying into a rich family business. He then meets Alice (Simone Signoret), an older unhappily married woman, who he meets in a theater group he belongs to. He believes he can get away with seeing both women, one he’s fully attracted to and the other he is using to move up in the world. A wonderful surprise this week.
Definitely one of the more overlooked Criterion films is Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain (1995), the newest film to be featured this week. Starring one of my favorite actors Rade Serbedzija (you know him from Snatch or Batman Begins), it takes place during the war in Bosnia. A young Albanian girl is fleeing from a group of Christians who believe she has killed one of their own and then also features a photographer who goes back to his village he hasn’t visited in years. We see how differing opinions and the division of people’s beliefs is a very human thing. It’s a film that I hope we cover soon on the podcast and definitely deserves the recognition. Now you can check it out as well.
This week’s second great title goes to Kon Ichikawa’s Princess From the Moon (1987), based on a Japanese fairy tale. The simple way to describe this film is that it is a sweet version of Superman (or vice versa). A family find a baby girl in some bamboo and take her home to raise her as their own. It even has a bit of a Close Encounters of the Third Kind feel, which I was not expecting at all.
Quartet (1981) is part of the Merchant Ivory collection, a James Ivory directorial effort. Marya Zelli’s (Isabelle Adjani, who I absolutely adored in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu) husband is put in prison for being a thief and now penniless, she moves in with a strange English couple H.J. and Lois Heidler (Alan Bates and Maggie Smith) due to her inability to get a job because of lack of working papers. Seduction is part of the deal and set in the 1920’s (the jazz age), it’s a beautiful film and one I’m glad they’re featuring on their Hulu page.
It’s always a great surprise to get another Mikio Naruse film, especially when it’s not in the collection. His film Wife (1953) is a battle of the sexes, something you don’t expect from many early 50’s Japanese films. A wife is disappointed by her husband’s lack of financial support and show how lofty dreams sometimes cannot be attained. It doesn’t start off like a typical Naruse film, with very short cuts but by the second half we get the long thought provoking shots that made people fall in love with him.
Each week we’ve been getting a Louis Malle film, and this weeks film, Lacombe, Lucien (1974), is already in the collection and sadly I have not seen yet (I can’t see them all). Set in a small town in France in 1944, 18 year old Lucien Lacombe fails to join the resistance against the Nazis. His father is in a German prison and his mother is dating her employer, who works for the German police. It sounds like a ‘not so typical’ coming of age tale, which could push some people away, but considering it’s Louise Malle, I will always give his films a chance.
Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (1959), also known as The Ghost of Yotsuya, directed by Nobuo Nakagawa (who has Jigoku in the collection) is another horror film that I hope gets into the collection big time. One of Japan’s classic horror films, this one is based on the Nanboku Tsuruya classic tale of a woman who dies a horrible death and continues to haunt her samurai husband. Creepy and wonderful and hope to hear about a release in the coming months.
Kenji Mizoguchi comes back this week with his film Princess Yang Kwei-fei (1955), another ‘princess’ release this week but couldn’t be any different. Taking place in 8th Century China, the Emperor Xuan Zong (Masayuki Mori) is grieving over his wife’s death. This of course gives other families the idea to gain more power in the court, so the Yang family being the ones who want to grab it. With the help of General An Lushan (SÃ´ Yamamura), they present a young woman who works in their kitchen and the emperor falls in love. But the position Lushan wanted isn’t given to him and he begins a revolt against the Yang family. I fell in love with this film and with a ton of other Mizoguchi films being put up, does this mean a future Eclipse set? Or will a few come out in the Criterion Collection? Let’s hope for either of those paths.
Another week, another great release list. Sorry again for being late, but I wanted to check out as many of these films (10 for 11) before speaking about them. Hopefully you enjoy these films as much as I did and let us know below which films you’ve found on their page that you want us to talk about in the near future. We might do a Hulu Plus special episode for all you know. Until next week, keep on streaming.