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The Criterion Channel’s September 2021 Lineup

On the Channel

Aug 30, 2021

The Criterion Channel’s September 2021 Lineup

The Criterion Channel’s September 2021 Lineup

On the Channel

Aug 30, 2021

This September, we’re celebrating the city that never sleeps with one of our biggest series yet, a century-spanning survey of New York on-screen. But that’s not all: next month also brings retrospectives dedicated to the graceful trans-Atlantic screen star Deborah Kerr, the wildly influential émigré directors Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, and Jia Zhangke, hailed as contemporary China’s most important filmmaker.

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* indicates programming available October 1
** indicates programming available only in the U.S.


New York Stories

From the fiscal crisis of the 1970s to the September 11 attacks twenty years ago to a global pandemic that swept through America’s largest city, New York has seen its share of troubles over the years—but its resilience and vibrancy remain indomitable. Surveying a century of cinematic history, this panoramic celebration of films set in the five boroughs captures the mix of grime, glamour, and anything-can-happen energy that has made the Big Apple an unforgettable canvas for generations of filmmakers. Swoon-inducing romance (The Clock), street-level desperation (The Panic in Needle Park), subway snafus (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three), creative cool (Downtown 81), racial tension (Do the Right Thing), queer liberation (Paris Is Burning), criminal ambition (The King of New York), immigrant struggle (Man Push Cart), and moral education (Margaret)—these are just some of the eight million stories that make up life in the world’s most exciting city.

FEATURING: The Immigrant (1917), The Crowd (1928), Speedy (1928), The Clock (1945), The Naked City (1948), Little Fugitive (1953), On the Bowery (1956), An Affair to Remember (1957), The Garment Jungle (1957), Shadows (1959), The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961), The Incident (1967), The Queen (1968), Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968), Putney Swope (1969), The Angel Levine (1970), The Out-of-Towners (1970), Born to Win (1971), Little Murders (1971), The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Ciao! Manhattan (1972), Sisters (1972), Super Fly (1972), The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), God Told Me To (1976), News from Home (1977), Eyes of Laura Mars (1978), Town Bloody Hall (1979), Permanent Vacation (1980), Escape from New York (1981)*, My Dinner with Andre (1981), Stations of the Elevated (1981), Smithereens (1982), Variety (1983), Los Sures (1984), Old Enough (1984), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), After Hours (1985), Five Corners (1987), Moonstruck (1987), Do the Right Thing (1989), Sidewalk Stories (1989), The King of New York (1990), Metropolitan (1990), Paris Is Burning (1990), Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994), Rhythm Thief (1994), Smoke (1995)*, The Daytrippers (1996), Mr. Jealousy (1997), Dark Days (2000), Downtown 81 (2000), In the Cut (2003)**, Brother to Brother (2004), Man Push Cart (2005), The Squid and the Whale (2005)**, Chop Shop (2007), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010), Margaret (2011), Frances Ha (2012), The Hottest August (2019)

Plus: New York Shorts

Bumping Into Broadway (1919), Daybreak Express (1953), Bridges-Go-Round 1 (1958), Bridges-Go-Round 2 (1958), Skyscraper (1959), What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963), Surface Tension (1968), Joyce at 34 (1972), Italianamerican (1974), Clotheslines (1981), So Far from India (1983), The Bowery (1994), 11’09”01—September 11 (2002), How Can It Be (2008), The Acquaintances of a Lonely John (2008), John’s Gone (2010), Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011), The Black Balloon (2012), Me the Terrible (2012), A Guide to Breathing Underwater (2018), Hair Wolf (2018), Fit Model (2019)

Starring Deborah Kerr

Whether playing a repressed nun in the Himalayas or an adulterous army wife engaged in a passionate beachside tussle with Burt Lancaster, the Scottish-born Deborah Kerr—whose one-hundredth birthday we’re celebrating this September—exuded both a refined elegance and an undeniable inner strength and fire. Displaying preternatural poise in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s British classics The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and Black Narcissus, Kerr soon captured the attention of Hollywood, where she proved her versatility with her boldly sensual turn in From Here to Eternity, sensitive portrayal of an unfulfilled faculty wife in Vincente Minnelli’s Tea and Sympathy, and heartfelt performance in Leo McCarey’s classic romance An Affair to Remember. To each of these roles, she brought an intelligence and equanimity that made her the epitome of dignified grace.

FEATURING: Major Barbara (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), Vacation from Marriage (1945), I See a Dark Stranger (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Hucksters (1947), Edward, My Son (1949), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953)*, The End of the Affair (1955), Tea and Sympathy (1956), Heaven Knows Mr. Allison (1957), An Affair to Remember (1957), Bonjour tristesse (1958), The Sundowners (1960), The Innocents (1961), The Night of the Iguana (1964), The Chalk Garden (1964)***, Eye of the Devil (1966)

*** indicates programming available November 1

The Lubitsch Touch

A delicate hand, effervescent humor, and an economy with words and images define the subtle but instantly recognizable style of the émigré master of the Hollywood comedy Ernst Lubitsch, whose celebrated “touch” lent a special elegance and sophistication to each project he helmed. This selection of some of the director’s later gems—made during a period when his risqué wit had to craftily evade the Production Code censors—features a subversive foray into melodrama starring Marlene Dietrich (Angel), the fizzy romantic charmer that introduced audiences to a lighter side of Greta Garbo (Ninotchka), a supernatural farce in divine Technicolor (Heaven Can Wait), and an audacious anti-Nazi satire (To Be or Not to Be) that only Lubitsch could pull off.

FEATURING: Angel (1937), Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), Ninotchka (1939), That Uncertain Feeling (1941), To Be or Not to Be (1942)**, Heaven Can Wait (1943), A Royal Scandal (1945), Cluny Brown (1946)

Plus, coming in October: Lubitsch Musicals

China Lost and Found: Eight Films by Jia Zhangke

Featuring Walter Salles’s 2014 documentary Jia Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang**

Among the greatest filmmakers working today, Chinese master Jia Zhangke is the foremost chronicler of the vast changes that have transformed his country over the last half century in its transition from communism to a globalized, increasingly market-based society. Working without state approval on his early underground Hometown Trilogy—Xiao Wu, Platform, and Unknown Pleasures, all set in the province of Shanxi, where he grew up—Jia transitioned to state-sanctioned filmmaking with 2004’s The World, but his films remain deeply critical of China’s modernization and the disillusionment it has wrought among the country’s youth. Employing rigorously composed long takes, unblinking naturalism, and audacious narrative structures, Jia captures the ironies, ennui, and often surreal metamorphoses of a country suspended between the past and an accelerating future.

FEATURING: Xiao Wu (1997), Platform (2000), Unknown Pleasures (2002), The World (2004), Still Life (2006), 24 City (2008), A Touch of Sin (2013), Mountains May Depart (2015)

Plus: Jia Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang (2014)

Five by Billy Wilder

Featuring Billy, How Did You Do It? A 1992 documentary by Volker Schlöndorff with Gisela Grischow

Although—or perhaps because—he was born in Austria, writer, director, and Hollywood legend Billy Wilder saw America more clearly than most, probing its absurdities and hypocrisies with a witty yet lacerating eye. This sampler of five of his finest—including the Tinseltown tragedy Sunset Boulevard, scathing media satire Ace in the Hole, and gripping POW drama Stalag 17—showcases the pitch-perfect blend of human understanding and barbed cynicism that defines Wilder worldview.

FEATURING: Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954)**, The Apartment (1960)


maɬni—towards the ocean, towards the shore


A poetic experimental documentary circling the origin of the death myth of the Chinookan people in the Pacific Northwest, maɬni—towards the ocean, towards the shore follows two individuals as they wander through nature, the spirit world, and something much deeper. At its center are Sweetwater Sahme and Jordan Mercier, who take separate paths contemplating the afterlife, rebirth, and death. Probing questions about humanity’s place on Earth and other worlds, Sky Hopinka’s debut feature takes viewers on a journey through language and belief that will leave them thinking—and dreaming—about it long after.

Center Stage


International superstar Maggie Cheung embodies tragic screen siren Ruan Lingyu, known as the Greta Garbo of China, in this unconventional biopic by Hong Kong New Wave master Stanley Kwan. Though Ruan was praised for her moving and emotive screen presence, her private life, which was frequent fodder for the vicious Shanghai tabloids, began to mirror the melodramas that brought her fame, culminating in her suicide at age twenty-four. Kwan and Cheung paint a kaleidoscopic yet intimate portrait of the ill-fated actor, deftly blending lush period drama, archival footage, and metatextual documentary sequences of Cheung reflecting on Ruan’s legacy. The result is as exquisitely moving as the indelible films that Ruan left behind.

The Perfect Candidate


The latest from trailblazing Saudi Arabian director Haifaa al-Mansour (Wadjda) is a courageous critique of patriarchal oppression in her home country and a vivid portrait of a singularly determined woman. When Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani), a hardworking young doctor in a small-town clinic, is prevented from flying to Dubai for a conference without a male guardian’s approval, she seeks help from a politically connected cousin but inadvertently registers as a candidate for the municipal council. Seeing the election as a way to fix the flooded road in front of her clinic, Maryam becomes her town’s first female candidate and, with the help of her sisters—and a viral campaign video—takes on her community’s ingrained sexism.


Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)

Criterion Collection Edition #97

Spike Lee’s politically and emotionally charged portrait of one day in the life of a single Brooklyn block confirmed him as a filmmaker of peerless vision and passionate social engagement.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: Audio commentary featuring Lee and other cast and crew members, a making-of documentary by St. Clair Bourne, extensive interviews with cast and crew members, behind-the-scenes footage, and more.

Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 1998)

Criterion Collection Edition #1077

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s gorgeous period reverie unfolds as an intoxicating, time-bending experience as it traces the romantic intrigue, jealousies, and tensions swirling around a late-nineteenth-century Shanghai brothel.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: An introduction by critic Tony Rayns, a documentary by Daniel Raim and Eugene Suen on the making of the film, and excerpts from an interview with Hou.

Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996)

Criterion Collection Edition #1074

Olivier Assayas’s live-wire international breakthrough stars a magnetic Maggie Cheung in a hallucinatory, postmodern-cool reflection on the tension between art and commercial entertainment.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: Interviews with Assayas, Cheung, and actor Nathalie Richard; an episode from Louis Feuillade’s Les vampires; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and more.

Cluny Brown (Ernst Lubitsch, 1946)

Criterion Collection Edition #997

The final film completed by Ernst Lubitsch, this zany, zippy comedy of manners—starring Jennifer Jones in a rare comedic turn—is one of the celebrated director’s most effervescent creations.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: A conversation between film critics Molly Haskell and Farran Smith Nehme, a video essay by film scholar Kristin Thompson, an interview with film scholar Bernard Eisenschitz, and more.

La Cage aux Folles (Edouard Molinaro, 1978)

Criterion Collection Edition #671

The hilarious, ahead-of-its-time queer classic celebrates the importance of nonconformity and being true to oneself.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: Interviews with director Edouard Molinaro and author Laurence Senelick and archival footage featuring actor Michel Serrault and Jean Poiret, writer and star of the original stage production of La Cage aux Folles.




Julie Taymor transforms Shakespeare’s most gruesome play into a mesmerizing visual spectacle and a terrifyingly relevant commentary on modern political violence.

Laura Poitras’s 9/11 Trilogy


Intrepid documentarian Laura Poitras chronicles the rise of the American security state in the aftermath of 9/11 in these trenchant looks at the far-reaching effects that the war on terror has had on both geopolitics and individual freedoms. Documenting Iraqi life under American occupation in My Country, My Country, the fates of two men linked to Al Qaeda in The Oath, and the behind-the-scenes story of Edward Snowden’s exposure of NSA surveillance in the Oscar-winning Citizenfour, these brave, eye-opening works of cinematic journalism offer a sobering look at the myriad ways our world has changed in the twenty years since 9/11.

FEATURES: My Country, My Country (2006), The Oath (2010), Citizenfour (2014)**

SHORTS: O’Say Can You See 1 (2011), O’Say Can You See 2 (2016)

Old Enough


Two young women from very different backgrounds form a surprising bond during a hot New York summer in Marisa Silver’s sensitive coming-of-age story.

Working Girls (Lizzie Borden, 1986)

Criterion Collection Edition #1087

Lizzie Borden’s richly detailed look at society’s most stigmatized profession offers an empathetic, humanizing, often humorous depiction of women for whom sex work is just another day at the office.

SUPPLEMENTAL FEATURES: Audio commentary featuring Borden, director of photography Judy Irola, and actor Amanda Goodwin; a conversation between Borden and filmmaker Bette Gordon; a roundtable discussion among sex workers; and more.

More women filmmakers featured in this month’s programming: Under the SoCal Sun, Open City Mixtape: Short Films by A. V. Rockwell, Little Fugitive (1953), Bridges-Go-Round 1 (1958), Bridges-Go-Round 2 (1958), Skyscraper (1959), Joyce at 34 (1972), News from Home (1977), Town Bloody Hall (1979), Clotheslines (1981), Smithereens (1982), So Far from India (1983), Variety (1983), Old Enough (1984), Paris Is Burning (1990), Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), The Bowery (1994), 11’09”01—September 11 (2002), In the Cut (2003), How Can It Be? (2008), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010), Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011), Me the Terrible (2012), And Nothing Happened (2016), A Guide to Breathing Underwater (2018), Freedom Fields (2018), Hair Wolf (2018), The Hottest August (2019), Fit Model (2019), Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams (2019), The Perfect Candidate (2019), What Is a Woman? (2020)


Two by Menelik Shabazz


The groundbreaking Barbados-born British filmmaker Menelik Shabazz, who passed away this June, was one of the leading lights of Black British cinema. Part of a generation of filmmakers who built their own institutions in order to bring their visions to the screen, Shabazz cofounded the Ceddo Film and Video Workshop, named after Ousmane Sembène’s 1977 masterpiece in an act of diasporic solidarity. His passionate engagement is evident in these two politically charged nonfiction works: the genre-defying sci-fi documentary Time and Judgement, which spans four hundred years to tell the sweeping story of the African liberation movement across the world, and The Story of Lovers Rock, an affectionate look at the Black British musical phenomenon often called “romantic reggae” and its development amid a society riven by institutional racism and police violence.

FEATURING: Time and Judgement (1988), The Story of Lovers Rock (2011)

Freedom Fields


Three women attempt to establish the first female soccer team in postrevolution Libya in this inspiring love letter to sisterhood and the power of sport.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston


Director Jeff Feuerzeig explores the relationship between genius and mental illness in this revealing portrait of the late outsider musician and cult icon Daniel Johnston.

Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life


This astonishing 1924 documentary from the future creators of King Kong finds unparalleled drama and adventure in an epic human migration across Iran.

Fear of a Black Hat


Gangsta rap gets the Spinal Tap treatment in this gag-a-minute mockumentary about a controversy-inciting trio with a penchant for outrageous headwear, questionable lyrics, and a seriously NSFW approach to turntablism.

More documentaries featured in this month’s programming: Laura Poitras’s 9/11 Trilogy, Open City Mixtape: Short Films by A. V. Rockwell, On the Bowery (1956), The Queen (1968), Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968), Joyce at 34 (1972), Italianamerican (1974), News from Home (1977), Town Bloody Hall (1979), Clotheslines (1981), Stations of the Elevated (1981), So Far from India (1983), Los Sures (1984), The Bowery (1994), Paris Is Burning (1990), Dark Days (2000), 24 City (2008), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010), Jia Zhangke, A Guy from Fenyang (2014), Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams (2019), The Hottest August (2019), maɬni—towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020)


Crimson Gold**


Two master filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, teamed up as writer and director, respectively, for this singular crime thriller, which blends truth and fiction into a gripping look at class conflict in Iran. Based on an actual botched robbery attempt at a Tehran jewelry store, Crimson Gold follows Hussein (Hossain Emadeddin, a real-life pizza delivery worker with paranoid schizophrenia), a wounded war veteran delivering pizzas by night. After a humiliating encounter with a jewelry-shop owner who won’t allow him in his store and, later, a brush with a wealthy man who gives him a taste of luxury, Hussein comes to feel that he can no longer accept his lowly status and takes matters into his own hands.

More twenty-first-century films featured in this month’s programming: China Lost and Found: Eight Films by Jia Zhangke, Laura Poitras’s 9/11 Trilogy, The End of Innocence, Saints Alive!, Dark Days (2000), Downtown 81 (2000), In the Cut (2003), Brother to Brother (2004), The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005), Man Push Cart (2005), The Squid and the Whale (2005), The Man Without a Past (2002), Lights in the Dusk (2006), Chop Shop (2007), Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (2010), Margaret (2011), Frances Ha (2012), The Rocket (2013), Freedom Fields (2018), The Hottest August (2019), 11’09”01—September 11 (2002), How Can It Be (2008), The Acquaintances of a Lonely John (2008), John’s Gone (2010), Forever’s Gonna Start Tonight (2011), The Story of Lovers Rock (2011), The Black Balloon (2012), Me the Terrible (2012), Jason and Shirley (2015), A Guide to Breathing Underwater (2018), Hair Wolf (2018), Fit Model (2019), Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams (2019), The Perfect Candidate (2019), maɬni—towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020), What Is a Woman? (2020)


Aki Kaurismäki’s Finland Trilogy


The chilly landscapes of Helsinki are warmed by the stubborn humanism and wry humor of Finland’s greatest filmmaker in this trio of poignant, deadpan tales of life on the social and economic margins.

FEATURING: Drifting Clouds (1996), The Man Without a Past (2002), Lights in the Dusk (2006)**


The Prisoner of Zenda


This rousing adaptation of the classic adventure novel by Anthony Hope features swashbuckling heroics, spectacular Technicolor, sumptuous period costuming, and a star-studded cast.

Abel’s Island and The Story of the Dancing Frog


The charming hand-drawn animation of Michael Sporn is on delightful display in these sensitive and imaginative tales of an elegant mouse stranded on a deserted island and a talented frog on a grand theatrical tour.

The Rocket


This tender, beautifully observed family tale about a boy’s quest to win a rocket-building competition is steeped in the landscapes, traditions, and folklore of rural Laos.

Koshien: Japan’s Field of Dreams


This revealing documentary explores Japanese culture through the intimate story of the country’s hundredth annual high-school baseball championship.


Short + Feature: Under the SoCal Sun
Words, Planets** and Border Radio


The sunbaked desert landscapes and laid-back cool of Southern California permeate a playful avant-garde short and a postpunk road movie, both shot in evocatively lo-fi 16 mm.

Short + Feature: Summer Wonderlands
A Day with the Boys and George Washington


Drift into the dreamy realm of childhood imagination with these ethereal visions of endless summer from Clu Gulager and David Gordon Green.

What Is a Woman?


Tackling complex issues head-on in a frank, naturalistic style, Norwegian director Marin Håskjold examines the everyday prejudices that trans and nonbinary people face in the course of their everyday lives.

Short + Feature: The End of Innocence
Da yie and Munyurangabo**


The illusions of youth come to an abrupt end in two heartrending tales of innocence lost set along the coast of Ghana and in Rwanda in the wake of the genocide.


Two by Stephen Winter
Chocolate Babies and Jason and Shirley


One of the most exciting and iconoclastic voices in radical queer cinema, Stephen Winter makes films that are as politically explosive as they are riotously entertaining. In his outré satire Chocolate Babies, a band of self-described “raging, atheist, meat-eating, HIV-positive, colored terrorists” fight back against homophobic politicians on the streets of 1990s New York City. Its searing statement of Black queer power is echoed in his latest film, Jason and Shirley, an audacious reimagining of the making of Shirley Clarke’s 1967 cinema verité landmark Portrait of Jason.

Double Feature: Saints Alive!
Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc and Joan of Arc


The ever-surprising French iconoclast Bruno Dumont reimagines the story of Joan of Arc first as an ecstatic heavy-metal musical, then as an uncanny, absurdist mood piece.

Double Feature: Boardwalks of Life
The Entertainer and Wish You Were Here


The dingy, decaying landscapes of Britain’s seaside towns mirror the trajectories of the unforgettable misfits at the center of these darkly funny character studies.

Double Feature: Pipe Dreams
Cluny Brown and The Plumber


A zippy screwball farce from Hollywood’s golden age and an absurdist home-invasion comedy from the Australian New Wave revolve around a topic sorely under-explored on-screen: the challenges of finding a good plumber.

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