I first saw this film on a Criterion laserdisc in the study center at USC. Fifteen years later (jeezus), if I had a favorite film, this would probably be it. In fact, I’ve just spent twenty minutes typing then erasing inane superlative descriptions of it. For me it redefined what a film could be-both singularly cinematic and as dense, delicate, and complex as a great novel. That was no less inane than the others, but I’m going to let it slide.
For our little group of starving filmmaker friends muddling through our twenties, this particular box set was sort of a holy grail. I’m barely exaggerating when I say that it was mythic-like Harry Smith’s Anthology in the West Village folk scene in the sixties. If somebody had the Criterion Brazil at their apartment, it would draw a crowd. A beautiful transfer, exhaustive supplements, and the “Love Conquers All” cut is a holy terror of a revelation.
F for Fake
Poetic and oh-so-funky, Orson Welles’s filmic essay on deception has balls of experimental steel. Cobbled together in his later years of European exile, it’s both a cheeky thesis on the nature of fakery and the best example I can imagine of filmmaking as giddy, childlike play. Now if someone would only do a decent DVD of The Trial, we’d be in business. (Nudge, nudge.)
Fanny and Alexander — The Television Version
Existential angst, black-and-white landscapes that feel cut out of slate and bone, quivering ruminations on mortality, and symbolic self-reflexive experimentation in film form-that’s all very masterful and inspiring and well and good, but I didn’t fall in love with Bergman until I discovered (via this box set) Fanny and Alexander. A rich adult fairy tale about how we use storytelling in our lives, not for pleasure alone.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday
When I try to describe Jacques Tati’s hypnotic portrait of a summer season at a seaside resort to uninitiated friends, I ramble for a bit then cough up something like “Chaplin by way of Fellini.” In my defense I usually feel so guilty about this ridiculous description I end up buying them the disc.
Scenes from a Marriage
The television (read: long) version of Bergman’s X-ray of a married couple is, of course, insightful, heartbreaking, painfully true, and oddly hilarious, but it’s also one very unexpected thing: riveting. Put the first episode on at a decent hour and see if you can stop watching the entire set. It’s like the Swedish 24, except you can still go to parties and claim not to watch television.
The Bad Sleep Well
Although any one of the recent godsend rush of Kurosawa releases could go in this slot. For years now this gem (and much of his filmography) has only been available for us poor Region 1 sods on crappy import discs, and though the broken English subtitles via a bad Chinese translation had a sometimes poetic dadaistic flair, it’s a relief to finally have a beautiful, intelligible disc of it. The film itself stands easily up to Stray Dog and High and Low as one of Kurosawa’s best contemporary crime dramas.
Down by Law
My personal favorite from Jim Jarmusch, one of our finest American auteurs. If as filmmakers we’re all just laboriously trying to simulate the rush of texture and emotion you get from listening to great music, no one has ever come closer to smacking the heart of a Tom Waits tune up there on the screen than Jarmusch.