The general cinephile consensus is that the folks over at The Criterion Collection can never do wrong. That their personal tastes in the films lined up for the whole restoration and remastering shebang is devoid of anything that might warrant a rethink. Likewise, as we contemplate of invoking the trite aphorism of “taste is relative-yadda-yadda”, we might as well begin to peek into some of the films in question—films that I will be enumerating—and decide if their inclusion is, in any way, justified.
Modesty aside, I have around three hundred sixty Criterion films in my own personal collection, a number that is surprisingly small considering the most hardcore collectors out there have in their possession. And in that amount, almost a quarter is still unwatched; and five percent is sealed in their plastic wrapping.
Nonetheless, not everything included in the collection deserves the appropriate treatment, basically a contradiction to their philosophy of “a continuing series of great contemporary and classic films”. As “great” is a broad term in this instance, Criterion’s selection process may be attributed to licensing availability and personal preference of the people behind the company—not to mention, at the urging of the filmmakers they represent.
However, this list is my own—personal predilection, so to speak- –and may or may not attempt to influence anyone in their filmic proclivities. And such a list, whether treated as canonical or otherwise, does not demonstrate a collective aversion to the films cited.
1. Sweet Movie (Dusan Makavejev, 1974)
Makavejev’s radical approach to sexuality and political displeasure is a screw-up on its own. Avant-garde to the point of being made at the right era of social upheaval, the film dwells on the eclectic surrealism that pervades the Eastern European filmmaking of the 60s and 70s. Sweet Movie’s scatological metaphors notwithstanding, rely on its attempt at pornography with substance, but really do not prove any. And oh, yeah, you will never look at chocolate the same way again.
2. Man Bites Dog (Remy Belveaux, 1992)
Gaspar Noe’s is probably an unrepentant advocate; its over-the-top violence is discomforting and unnecessary. Frothy and rarely exhibiting any agreeable sense at all, the film’s attempt at harvesting controversy is its underlying aim. Of course, if you would look beyond its face value and discover the undeniable reach of media in the manipulation of public consciousness, then perhaps, you are a much more intelligent viewer than I am.
3. Dodes’ka-den (Kurosawa Akira, 1971)
The weakest of the Kurosawa’s films that nearly driven him to suicide is also, in my opinion, one of Criterion’s less-than-stellar release. Aside from the fact of Criterion’s objective at releasing every single film of the Japanese director into their catalogue, Dodes’ka-den’s poor critical and commercial reception back when it was first shown is enough justification. The film is for the completist, nothing more.
4. W.R. Mysteries of the Organism (Dusan Makavejev, 1971)
Makavejev’s avant-garde “masterpiece” that attempts to signify a drastic social commentary through the use of eroticism imbued with political blatancies. Godardian stylish yet wearisome, its nod to the rancorous tumult of the Sixties radicalism is a tiptoe to skew conventions, but personally, the films ‘s activism is neither a free-form expression nor a cute stab at authority.
5. La Commare Secca (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1962)
Bertolucci’s debut is a Pasolini screenplay that imitates Kurosawa’s Rashomon. I believe its inclusion is basically in parallel to Criterion’s nod to “debut” films. Its incoherence is amplified by texture and ruined by tone, the storytelling, muddled at most, yet the film struggles with Pasolini’s rough neorealism and the Bertolucci’s non-identity. Aside from that is the lack of special features and materials to accompany it.
6. The Rock and Armageddon (Michael Bay, 1996/1998)
Both cinematic abominations and a homoneurotic clinker of vast proportions, Bay must have bribed the good folks at Criterion for his films to slip past their so-called meticulous standards—somewhat practically the same reason why a Lino Brocka or a Mike de Leon ouerve never made it far beyond a suggestion. Okay, we can say that The Rock is the lesser bad of any of Bay’s filmography, but to look at cinematic style as the ultimate gauge of a director’s talent, is a definite no-brainer.
7. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith, 1997)
Chasing Amy is…well, Chasing Amy. Though I am quite fond of Kevin Smith’s penchant for witty and vulgar dialogues, and the intricate hilarity of human romanticism, the film still does not remove itself from the banality of the Hollywood popcorn. Smith’s independence is dictated by Miramax, and of Redford and Sundance, and despite the abhorrence of studio financing and its pseudo-independent disguise, never distances from it.
This shortlist might somewhat manage to point out several quirks in Criterion’s blemish-free reputation for choosing the masterpieces of cinematic history. Do not get me wrong, I love the brand and their treatment of the films picked out for inclusion is undeniably topnotch.
And with that, I guess I’ll have to start saving up for the new 27-disc Zatoichi set to be released in November.