Love on the Run
My most prized DVDs throughout all of film school were the Adventures of Antoine Doinel box set. Months would pass where I was never not rewatching bits and pieces of these films. The supplements here are outstanding and plentiful. All I ever wanted was to understand the magic of these films, to make a film like Stolen Kisses, to understand the energy and spirit of Léaud. I loved when Criterion put the Cinéastes de notre temps episodes on their special features. What a world to live in, where there is a whole well-produced television show dedicated to brilliant directors.
Where a DVD ceases to be entertainment and becomes a fully immersive educational package about film history, film marketing, the purity of a director’s control, and also one of the greatest films ever made. This was a big deal to acquire; I coveted it for a long time and could not justify the purchase since it was always fairly expensive. I went to a test screening of The Brothers Grimm and met Terry Gilliam for fifteen seconds, and he was so nice and polite that I went home and bought it immediately.
Down by Law
I purchased this around the time that I decided I needed to own as many Criterion titles as possible. Also may hold my personal record for shortest time between first seeing a film and spending thirty dollars to own it. I just loved this film and was always rewatching it. Jarmusch was fairly major for me in my early discovery of truly lo-fi independent cinema, and I often found myself returning to his earlier films to study just how simple a film can be and still seem wildly innovative and truly, idiosyncratically the director’s own.
Withnail and I
Possibly the first film I rented only because it was on Criterion, without ever having heard a single thing about it. Now it is one of my favorite films of all time. Beautiful example of the company putting support behind a film and elevating it from “cult” to “canon.” I wonder how many fewer people would know about this film if it, like many others, had not been given a proper home video release by the most reputable of companies at exactly the right time.
The Royal Tenenbaums
The making-of documentary on this DVD is one of my all-time favorites. When I first started watching special features, often the making-of documentaries would be for gigantic, complicated movies like The Matrix or Fight Club. Watching a small, personal, character-driven film be made was quite a fascinating revelation to me.
The Third Man
The first, and to date one of maybe three, film I ever bought a second, superior edition of. I have seen this film perhaps ten times in the theater, and watched it at home maybe twice but still felt the need to own it, and then own it again. I came to this film because, my freshman year of film school, we did a class on cinematography, one on music, one on acting, one on editing, etc., and then watched this film as an example of something that does every one of those things with sublime perfection. I never get tired of revisiting it.
A perfect example of how something they won’t teach you is a masterpiece in school can in fact be a masterpiece. Because this was a Criterion Collection DVD, there was no argument over whether it was essential and must be taken seriously. Also the first time I understood the importance of getting something “out of print.”
I loved when Criterion started making these massive box sets, like this and the Rohmer Six Moral Tales. The idea of including a second edition of a film you already love (in this case, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie; see also: Brazil) is genius and shows a complete mastery of the importance of supplements. I guess this is a fairly obvious and oft-cited pick, but oh, well. It’s incredible, and learning that the five films are included because they are the ones Cassavetes produced independently and that Gena Rowlands ended up owning the rights to was fascinating. Tricky rights issues can unfortunately cause masterworks to languish in undeserved obscurity, so the partnership that brought us this collection feels particularly monumental.
I probably watched this DVD twenty times within a year of buying it. Like Robocop, an example of “I liked this film, but now that it is on Criterion, it is probably more of a masterpiece than I remembered.” Also, my favorite Criterion package design, with the fake videocassette look.
Another one with a massive text resting on that second disc. How delightful it was to marvel in the splendor of this film and then watch the Godard–Fritz Lang special feature! Also, a truly beautiful cover of which I was always quite fond. This spot could just as easily be Masculin féminin, my favorite Godard for years. Criterion’s support of sixties Godard has always been remarkable.
Alison Maclean’s Top 10
Canadian-born director Alison Maclean’s films include Jesus’ Son (1999) and the newly released The Rehearsal, an official selection of Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival.