In this week’s Friday Night Double Feature, now playing on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, ragtag crews band together to fight the good fight in a landmark samurai epic and the Hollywood western it directly inspired. One of the most influential works in the history of cinema, Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 film Seven Samurai is a thrilling tale of courage and honor in which a sixteenth-century village, led by a septet of wandering ronin, mounts a spirited defense against marauding bandits. Six years later, John Sturges’s The Magnificent Seven—a rousing classic in its own right—transposed the action of Kurosawa’s film to the Old West, turning the swordsmen into gunslingers, and recruiting such actors as Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, and Charles Bronson to fill out the star-studded cast.
Also up this week:
Norman McLaren and Stanley Kubrick take aim at the appalling carnage of the twentieth century in these visually inspired satires. McLaren’s 1952 Oscar-winning short film combines live-action photography and stop-motion animation to illustrate the mindlessness of war through the story of two neighbors who come to blows over a flower growing between their houses. Pablo Picasso, no doubt smitten with McLaren’s ingenious technique as well as the urgency of his message, called it the greatest film ever made. Kubrick’s hard-hitting 1964 comedy, starring Peter Sellers in three roles, tracks a group of military goons, bureaucrats, and politicians hurtling headlong toward global annihilation, in a vision of nuclear politics as terrifying as it is hilarious.
Tracing the life of a renowned icon painter, the second feature by Andrei Tarkovsky vividly conjures the murky world of medieval Russia. This dreamlike and remarkably tactile film follows Andrei Rublev as he passes through a series of poetically linked scenes—snow falls inside an unfinished church, naked pagans stream through a thicket during a torchlit ritual, a boy oversees the clearing away of muddy earth for the forging of a gigantic bell—gradually emerging as a man struggling mightily to preserve his creative and religious integrity. Appearing here in the director’s preferred 183-minute cut as well as the version that was originally suppressed by Soviet authorities, the masterwork Andrei Rublev is one of Tarkovsky’s most revered films, an arresting meditation on art, faith, and endurance. Supplemental features: the original 205-minute version of the film, Tarkovsky’s 1961 student thesis film, a making-of documentary, and more.