Mission Accomplished (gulp)

Dec 14, 2006

Well, it’s not exactly writer’s block, but it’s related. I’ve been trying to get this blog entry posted since Tuesday afternoon, but there’s always something that takes me away from the task at hand. I’m procrastinating, and I know why: It’s really kind of a momentous occasion. We are launching a new line. The news will be official on Friday when we ship out PDFs of the first sell sheets for Series 1: Early Bergman. For the past couple of days, we’ve been ironing out the last details of the packaging and finalizing the twenty-six words that will appear on the back of every cover: “Eclipse presents a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed films in simple, affordable editions. Each series is a brief cinematheque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer.”

There’s something perilous about writing mission statements. Jon mentioned the famous one from Kane in an earlier blog. That one comes up in conversation a lot. It’s hard to walk the line between idealism and practicality, but that is exactly what we are trying to do with this new line. We’re nine years into the DVD market, and there are still hundreds of important films that can only be seen in old VHS versions or, if you’re lucky enough to live in a town with a good repertory theater, a new print might come around once every ten years or so.

We want those films to be more readily available, and that’s why we’re creating Eclipse. Each month we’ll present a short series, usually three to five films, focusing on a particular director or theme. There will be no supplements and the master materials will be the best we can find, but they won’t be full Criterion restorations. Retail pricing for each set will average under $15 per disc, and we are examining the logistics of making the sets available at an even more favorable rate on a subscriber or club basis. The goal here is to make these films available, to make sure that Criterion’s own work style doesn’t contribute to the continuing unavailability of these films. Once our producers and restoration crew get started on a Criterion edition, the project takes on a life of its own. Months later, with a little luck, we’ll have something really special to show for it, but at that rate we can’t make a dent in the number of important unreleased films that we’d like people to be able to see.

The early films of Ingmar Bergman, the documentaries of Louis Malle—these are extraordinary and important films that are very hard to find outside the revival-house circuit. At the moment, you’ll find more Mizoguchis in theaters (thanks to a traveling retrospective) than in the video store, and that’s certainly also true for Naruse, Ozu, and Imamura. While Criterion is working on new special editions of individual pictures by all of these filmmakers, at a rate of maybe one or two a year, we’ll never be able to represent the breadth of their bodies of work. Eclipse will help to fill that gap.

And then there will be discoveries. When you work at Criterion, everyone introduces you to films you’ve never seen, many of which have never been released in the United States It’s surprising how many films of extraordinary quality have never been seen here. (If you don’t believe it, just check out the New York Film Critics’ Circle awards, where Army of Shadows, a 1969 film, was selected as best foreign film of 2006. Congratulations to our friends at Rialto on doing a spectacular job bringing this film out from the shadows!) We’re looking forward to introducing quite a few new filmmakers to U.S. audiences, starting with Raymond Bernard whose 1935 Les miserables is the best version of Victor Hugo’s novel ever brought to the screen, and it deserves to be seen alongside his antiwar masterpiece, Wooden Crosses.

Okay I’m going to post this now before I start tinkering with the mission language again.