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April 09, 2018

Criterion: A Mark of Quality

Criterion: A Mark of Quality

By: Joseph Wooley

“…a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films…”

If you consider yourself a film buff, you probably already know the valuable work done by the fine distribution company, the Criterion Collection. Founded in the mid-1980s as a CD-ROM and Laserdisc publisher, Criterion has since blossomed into one of the most respected film publishers in the industry.

The films making up the collection are very diverse. Titles range from small independent films to high budget action films, screwball comedies to esoteric documentaries, silent films from the Twenties to foreign films from last year. The collection is sometimes derided as only obscure, pretentious art films, but the variety of choices is so much more. When asked why I appreciate a Criterion title, I have three natural responses.

First, Criterion does some incredible work restoring films and presenting them at the highest quality available. As new technologies become available, this is a process that is never truly complete. A recent example is the 1991 classic horror, The Silence of the Lambs. One of their earliest DVD releases from 1998, the team remastered the film for another release earlier this year. With this new 4K Blu-ray release (essentially the highest quality that is also widely available), I have beenassured the new version is superb.

Also, they go above and beyond collecting supplementary materials to enrich the experience of the film. For instance, take the 1923 silent comedy Safety Last!  Inaddition to the restored film, the package includes an essay booklet, an audio commentary, three short films, and a feature-length documentary. This makes a worthy addition for anyone passionate about film history.

Finally, their covers are so pretty. A walk through the Barnes & Noble aisle proves what I mean. This is such a superficial, yet common sentiment that a cottage industry has sprung up of people creating and sharing fake Criterion covers of desired films. Don’t judge a movie by its cover? I mean, just look at some of these:

The Royal Tenenbaums                   Days of Heaven                          Dazed and Confused



As you walk through the DVDs and Blu-rays at Hamilton East Public Library, keep an eye out for the now-iconic spine labels indicating a piece of the Criterion Collection. We have quite a few on our shelves! I am working my way through the series, but it is a slow process. I have maybe seen only a tenth of the 900 movies, and more are released every month. Of course, not every film is for everybody, but the collection is diverse enough that there is a quality film for most tastes. Give one a try, and you might find appreciation for a new film!