This Week on the Criterion Channel

Inside Criterion / On the Channel — Feb 16, 2018

Fifty years after George A. Romero first shocked audiences with his cult sensation Night of the Living Dead, the film joins our collection in a just-released edition, available on Blu-ray and DVD and also streaming on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck. Shot outside Pittsburgh on a shoestring budget, this horror classic is a great story of independent cinema: a midnight hit turned box-office smash that became one of the most influential films of all time. A deceptively simple tale of a group of strangers trapped in a farmhouse who find themselves fending off a horde of recently dead, flesh-eating ghouls, Romero’s claustrophobic vision of a late-1960s America literally tearing itself apart rewrote the rules of the horror genre, combined gruesome gore with acute social commentary, and quietly broke ground by casting a black actor (Duane Jones) in its lead role. Check out our bumper edition, which includes a never-before-presented work-print edit of the film, two audio commentaries, and archival interviews.

Also up this week: a celebration of iconic actor and activist Paul Robeson, a swoon-worthy romance from Wong Kar-wai, a pair of balloon-themed fables, and two dramas set against the backdrop of the Russian Civil War.

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Tuesday’s Short + Feature: Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist and The Emperor Jones

Courageously outspoken and wildly talented, Paul Robeson was one of the most commanding performers of his time. As a singer, actor, athlete, and activist, he broke barriers in Jim Crow–era America, campaigning for social justice and striving to reshape the public’s idea of who a black man could be. Saul J. Turell’s Oscar-winning documentary short, narrated by Sidney Poitier, traces the evolution of Robeson’s career using a series of his performances of “Ol’ Man River,” a song that took on layers of meaning over time. That booming voice made its first appearance in sound cinema in The Emperor Jones, a 1933 adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play about a Pullman porter who muscles his way to power on a Caribbean island. Though the fearsome Brutus Jones may not have been the type of stereotype-busting role that Robeson hoped to bring to the screen, the character made him the first African-American leading man in mainstream cinema.

In the Mood for Love: Edition #147

At once delicately mannered and visually extravagant, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love is a masterful evocation of romantic longing and fleeting moments. In 1960s Hong Kong, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk) move into neighboring apartments on the same day. Their encounters are formal and polite—until a discovery about their spouses creates an intimate bond between them. With its aching musical soundtrack and exquisitely abstract cinematography by Christopher Doyle and Mark Lee Ping-bin, this film has been a major stylistic influence on the past decade of cinema, and is a milestone in Wong’s redoubtable career. SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: a documentary on the making of the film; Hua yang de nian hua (2000), a short film by Wong; Toronto International Film Festival press conference from 2000, with Cheung and Leung; and more.

The Red Balloon and The Black Balloon

Floating from midcentury Paris to contemporary Manhattan, these two portraits of urban life breathe a whimsical sensibility into a particular inanimate item. In Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon (1956), a boy embarks on a series of adventures with an inflatable—yet sentient—companion. A gritty variation on that beloved classic, Josh and Benny Safdie’s The Black Balloon (2012) follows the stray object of the title on an odyssey through the streets of the filmmakers’ native New York City.

Friday Night Double Feature: A Slave of Love and Knight Without Armor

The Russian Civil War provides the roiling backdrop for these two sweeping romantic adventures. Nikita Mikhalkov’s A Slave of Love (1976) tells the tale of a silent-film star who falls for a Bolshevik on set. Jacques Feyder’s Knight Without Armor (1937) revolves around a British spy posing as a revolutionary (Robert Donat) and the countess whom he loves and seeks to save (Marlene Dietrich).