Brass Tacks (and Brooches)

Nov 3, 2006

I don't know if it's the question we get asked most often or just the one that people ask with the greatest sense of urgency, but here it is: Where does Criterion stand on HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray Disc?

As you may have noticed, Jon Mulvaney has been under strict orders to duck the question, not only for reasons mentioned in Wednesday's post but also because, for the moment, ducking the question may be the only sensible thing to do. Consumers shouldn't have to take a stand in a format war. You shouldn't have to decide between a Casablanca player or one that plays Lawrence of Arabia. That either means buying two machines, which doesn't seem fair, or giving up on seeing some of the movies you love in HD, which doesn't seem like a good solution either. From Criterion's angle, the only answer would be to publish in both formats in order not to leave anyone out, but that would mean doubling our costs and keeping two sets of inventory, which would effectively make it impossible for us to publish the kinds of titles that, despite their modest sales, are critical to the Collection and its mission.

Don't get me wrong: we'd like nothing better than to have an HD disc marketplace emerge. We know how good our films can look in high definition, because we’ve been doing all our mastering and restoration in HD for years. I don't think any customer base will benefit more from the upgrade to HD than Criterion collectors with their discerning eyes, appreciation of the texture of the filmed image, etc. That said, I don't hear many people lamenting that they have no decent way to watch movies at home. No movie lover could keep up with the bounty of films that have been released on DVD, and most people I know still have plenty left to watch, whether in shrink-wrap on the shelf or waiting in their Netflix queues.

So in the end, while this is a hotly debated topic among consumers, it's not really a consumer problem. Whether it's a player that plays everything or a format that wins out or a compromise, any solution is going to have to come from the industry, and from much bigger players than Criterion. This isn't just a matter of quality or features. The format war has as much to do with patent licenses and pressing plants as it does with putting gorgeous images on your screen. At this point, any solution that would let consumers upgrade with confidence would be a step in the right direction, and as soon as that solution emerges, we'll be there. Meanwhile we are sticking to our knitting. There are too many important films still unavailable on DVD (more Mizoguchi, anyone?), and too many customers still waiting for those films, for us to spend time speculating. Just know that when Jon Mulvaney says, “As the formats continue to develop, we will decide which is the best way for us to proceed,” he's not avoiding giving an answer. That's the answer.

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On a completely different note, congratulations to Albert, Gillian, Michael, Tanja and all our friends at Maysles Films on the success of the new musical inspired by their film Grey Gardens, which New York Times reviewer Ben Brantley writes, “opened last night like a full-blown, petal-dropping peony at the Walter Kerr Theater.” If you haven't seen the movie, you should. It will change your life and give you a hundred memories you'll be so happy to have in your head, you may never be lonely again. I haven't seen the show yet, but I'm going to get over there soon. Kim Hendrickson, who produced the Grey Gardens disc, saw it in its Off-Broadway incarnation, and she says Christine Ebersole is fabulous. Brantley in the Times calls her “ravishing,” and says that just hearing Ebersole's “da-da-da-dum” is “an experience no passionate theatergoer should miss” and that “any doubts that this show belongs on Broadway are sent packing." Bravo!