13-minute mini-doc on the cult of the Criterion Collection

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/12/23/13-minute-mini-doc-on-the-cult-of-the-criterion-collection.html


The term he’s grasping for is…

These kinds of products all have their cultists. Sometimes they’re douchebags or insufferable snobs about it, but as long as the collecting obsession doesn’t crowd out more important aspects of life (family relationships, a liveable home, etc.) it’s usually harmless geekery.


You probably know a few Criterion cultists.

No. No idea even what The Criterion Collection was - but I do now.


Baseball cards for film geeks.


I’ve never understood why Michael Bay’s The Rock is in the Criterion Collection. Sure, Bay is good at what he does, but what he does is not comparable to Fellini.


I don’t get it either, except that for some cognoscenti, a form of one-upmanship is to show appreciation for “low” as well as “high.” So a coffee connoisseur may one-up another coffee connoisseur by lauding Dunkin Donuts coffee. What you must never do is praise “middle”, such as Yuban. (for the record, I really like Criterion)


The fact that I still can’t understand why these sell for 4 times the price on sale when it’s the same movie just tells me I will probably never understand marketing.

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Simple. He is (or was) on the board of directors. Even more awe-inspiring is that Armageddon is also in the collection. Although, to give the disc its due, I’ve heard that Criterion’s edition of Armageddon has some really great NASA behind the scenes material.


There’s an archival/scholarly aspect to the Criterion Collection that doesn’t judge movies on the basis of quality. Bay’s over-produced and incoherent movies are arguably the apotheosis (or nadir) of big-budget 1990s studio empty-calorie action pictures.

Also, that’s two more premium-priced Blu-Rays they can sell to the cultists.


I have little interest in sitting through a 13-minute YouTube, but I can say that for someone who first encountered many classic movies via mediocre 16 mm prints shown at campus film programs, having access to restored Blu-ray versions is pretty attractive. Ideally, of course, there would be a revival theater with a full-size screen and restored 35 mm prints, but them days is pretty much gone, outside of major metro areas.

Decades ago, we saw a 35 mm print of Horse Feathers in a Paris cinema. It was a revelation how good even a routinely-produced Hollywood movie could look in its original condition. Then I imagine seeing, say, The Seven Samurai or Citizen Kane the same way, and I feel the loss of the movies as they once were.


One of the Beastie Boys is a collector. I think there was a video of him (can’t remember which BB member) going through his collection, possibly even featured here.


I recall that in some/many/most/? cases, they go through and remaster/refurbish as needed (color, timing, audio, various other technical bits). Or at least that used to be a selling point. No idea if they still do that, or how much of it they ever actually did.


I’m under the impression they generally do the best they can, although they have released some relatively mediocre transfers which were later bested by other companies. But that’ll happen.


That would explain this:


It’s because you’re not just getting the movie - you’re getting a ton of exclusive content and a carefully done master. Criterion was also notable back in the day for being one of the few distributors that presented movies in their original aspect ratio rather than letterboxed. They also have limited runs which drives collectibility. It’s reminiscent of those fancy gold-plated MFSL album releases.

If you’re not a film snob or if a favorite film isn’t part of the collection, it’s unlikely any of this stuff will be important to you - and that means you’re probably not the target audience anyway.

ETA and if you watch the video many of these things are addressed directly


It’s getting harder, since Criterion hasn’t released 4k blurays. Occasionally, the original bluray release is beset by technical issues, and Criterion ends up doing a much better job. For instance, the original US release of Pan’s Labyrinth was digitally scrubbed of all noise-- and grain, and humanity. The characters looked as if they had waxy skin.

Most of the Criterions in my collection are arthouse films… I never did pick up their version of Pan’s Labyrinth.


I own exactly one Criterion Blu-Ray: Until the End of the World directed by Wim Wenders, It was a whole saga getting a directors’ cut made. I saw the original theatrical release on VHS a thousand years ago, watched it a bunch and longed for the version Wim Wenders intended (but, dang, would have settled for a DVD of the bastardized version if there was one to be had) for bleeping-forever. My heart…is content. :slight_smile:


There’s definitely something to the experience of seeing a movie as originally intended. When I was in high school I went to a special revival screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey” at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. A few people (probably stoned) laid on their backs in the area just under the screen during the final “light show” sequence. It was a memorable experience.

I also saw “Lawrence of Arabia” in its original aspect ratio on a massive screen in an old Hollywood theatre (maybe the Egyptian) when I was a teenager. I can’t imagine experiencing that shot of Peter O’Toole’s eyes or the transition of him blowing out the match in the same way as I did on that viewing.

I just looked up the Criterion release of my favourite movie and, yes, there’s more than enough in terms of extras to justify the $40 price. Unfortunately, it’s out of print (no doubt part of the marketing strategy – collectors love artificial scarcity and “limited editions”) and the copies available on Ebay are almost $400!


I gathered it adds to its collection because of how “notable” the film/show is.

A great example is the low-budget quirky pseudo-fishing show, Fishing with John. It’s not good, exactly. But it sure is unique.


I need stronger reading glasses to read the fancy booklets.

Bottle Rocket’s booklet (“75 year Plan”) is typeset in a hand lettered font. It’s very charming, but the Martin Scorsese essay remains largely unread.