Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Criterion Collection


New York Times - "Sure, It Won an Oscar. But Is It Criterion?"

"Each year, Criterion selects 50 or 60 new entrants to add to its catalog, which now includes 1,650 films. Some Hollywood directors campaign relentlessly for their films — or their favorite films from the past — to make the list. For legions of film fans, Criterion is akin to the Louvre, but with “an aura of hip,” the writer and director Josh Safdie told me in an email. When Safdie’s film “Uncut Gems,” which he directed with his brother, Benny, entered the Criterion Collection with the spine No. 1101, he said they couldn’t help feeling as if they had “snuck in” to the museum that they had admired for so long."


"Before the emergence of the home-video market in the late 1970s, Hollywood studios had little use for films whose theatrical runs had concluded. They ceased to be commodities and were often destroyed or transferred to public archives where they remained vulnerable to fire, deterioration and discoloration; nonprofits led the nascent movement to preserve and restore motion pictures until Criterion helped create a market for them. The company’s first release was a LaserDisc edition of “Citizen Kane” that included supplementary materials like a video essay and extensive liner notes on the provenance of the negative from which the restoration was made. Next came “King Kong,” which featured the first ever audio-commentary track, inspired, as an afterthought, by the stories that the film scholar Ronald Haver told while supervising the tedious process of transferring the film from celluloid. The novelty of the LaserDisc meant licensing fees cost virtually nothing compared with the dominant VHS tape format. Acquiring the rights to “Citizen Kane” and “King Kong” from RKO Pictures cost Criterion around $10,000.

Securing the best surviving print of a film often required assiduous detective work. “The original negative for ‘Dr. Strangelove’ was lost,” says Morgan Holly, who served as an in-house producer for the Criterion LaserDisc of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Cold War satire. “There was one print that was struck from the original negative that was somewhere in the world.” One of Criterion’s editors, Maria Palazzola, tracked it down only to learn that on its journey to the United States, it took a detour through Japan, where strict anti-pornography laws prompted customs officials to order a test screening that would almost certainly have degraded or destroyed Kubrick’s sole personal print of the film. “It was this battle,” Holly told me, but in the end, they persuaded the Japanese authorities to send the print on its way unscreened and unscathed."

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