This Week on the Criterion Channel

Inside Criterion / On the Channel — Dec 15, 2017

Orson Welles brings his incomparable charisma to two dark gems, now available to stream on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck. In Hilton Edwards’s short Return to Glennascaul (1951), the actor stars as himself driving through the Irish countryside, where he picks up a man with car trouble and a chilling ghost story to tell; in Carol Reed’s shadow-drenched noir masterpiece The Third Man (1949), he delivers one of his most iconic performances as the enigmatic Harry Lime, whose sudden death draws a childhood chum into a perilous journey through postwar Vienna.

Also up this week: a gorgeously mounted period epic from Luchino Visconti, an evocative World War II drama from Christian Petzold, two revolutionary explorations of politics and sexuality in 1960s Sweden, and a spotlight on Werner Herzog’s monumentally ambitious epic Fitzcarraldo.

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The Leopard: Criterion Collection Edition #235

An epic on the grandest possible scale, Luchino Visconti’s 1963 masterpiece recreates the tumultuous years of Italy’s Risorgimento—when the aristocracy lost its grip and the middle classes rose and formed a unified, democratic Italy. Burt Lancaster stars as the aging prince watching his culture and fortune wane in the face of a new generation, represented by his upstart nephew (Alain Delon) and his beautiful fiancée (Claudia Cardinale). Awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this lavish adaptation of Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel is presented in two distinct incarnations: Visconti’s original Italian version and the alternate English-language version. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: an audio commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie; an hour-long documentary featuring interviews with Claudia Cardinale, screenwriter Suso Ceccho D’Amico, Rotunno, filmmaker Sydney Pollack, and many others; and more.

Phoenix: Criterion Collection Edition #809

Christian Petzold’s 2014 drama, set in rubble-strewn Berlin in 1945, is like no other film about post–World War II Jewish-German identity. After surviving Auschwitz, a former cabaret singer (Nina Hoss) has her disfigured face reconstructed and returns to her war-ravaged hometown to seek out her gentile husband, who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. Without recognizing her, he enlists her to play his wife in a bizarre hall-of-shattered-mirrors story that is as richly metaphorical as it is preposterously engrossing. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a new introduction by critic Imogen Sara Smith; a conversation between director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss; The Making of “Phoenix,” a 2014 documentary featuring interviews with Petzold, Hoss, actors Nina Kunzendorf and Ronald Zehrfeld, and production designer K. D. Gruber; and more.

I Am Curious: Criterion Collection Edition #179

Seized by customs upon entry to the United States, subject of a heated court battle, and banned in cities across the United States, Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious—Yellow is one of the most controversial films of all time. This document of Swedish society during the sexual revolution tells the story of a searching and rebellious young woman, and her personal quest to understand the social and political conditions in 1960s Sweden, as well as her bold exploration of her own sexual identity. In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, I Am Curious—Yellow is presented here with its companion piece I Am Curious—Blue, a parallel film featuring the same characters and in which the lines between documentary and fiction are even further blurred. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: excerpts from director Vilgot Sjöman’s Self Portrait 92, a documentary made for Swedish television; a video introduction by the director; a selected scene audio commentary by Sjöman; and more.

Friday Night Double Feature: Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams

The limits of human endurance are put to the test in German iconoclast Werner Herzog’s 1982 Fitzcarraldo, an epic portrait of a rubber baron’s attempts to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. The film was the result of a notoriously nightmarish five-year production, glimpses of which are captured in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams, an unsparing behind-the-scenes look at Herzog’s quest to bring his impossible vision to the screen.