Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Criterion Summer

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Criterion Summer

by Tony Dayoub

Harriet Andersson in Summer with Monika (1953)

In the land of Criterion, the conversation at the moment is a quite funny non-debate (because the person who started it is wrong) over the aspect ratio of a release that isn't due to come out until October. But it eclipses some more relevant news. Namely, that Barnes & Noble is again hosting one of their biannual 50% off Criterion sales. If you are a heavy user of the tony Blu-ray/DVD label then now is the best time to stock up since, as you well know, SRP is usually between $30 and $40. And if you are willing to lay out +/- thirty bucks to become a B&N member, the thing practically pays itself off with the extra 10% off it garners you. The sale runs until 7/30. After the jump, a look at some of Criterion's most recent releases for you to consider.

Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort in Harold and Maude (1971)

The most notable is Hal Ashby's cult favorite Harold and Maude (1971). Feisty then-74-year-old Ruth Gordon enlivens what might have been a mawkish paean to living life to its fullest. In it, her Maude awakens 17-year-old, death-obsessed Harold (Bud Cort) to the joys of living, leading to a romance that was daring even in the midst of the social and sexual revolution of the time. The former Cat Stevens (now Yusuf) supplies the enchanting soundtrack. Criterion's disc bears a gorgeous digital transfer (just like the rest of the stills in this post, the one above is a screen capture taken directly from the new Blu-ray) that preserves the original softness of John Alonzo's cinematography, and the booklet included features a wonderful tribute to Ashby's film by my editor at Press Play, Matt Zoller Seitz.

Maj-Britt Nilsson and Stig Olin in Summer Interlude (1951)

Also making their debut on the label are two little seen films by Ingmar Bergman, Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) (1951) and Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika) (1953). The first is a mesmeric evocation of nostalgia and its sometimes unshakable grip on the present. Maj-Britt Nilsson plays emotionally burdened ballet dancer Marie with startling precision—both in a post-tragedy present and in flashback, before the pivotal events that left her closed off to romance. With this early film, Bergman starts to play with themes such as the fleetness of time and love's ephemeral nature as he buttresses carefree romance with unspeakable grief in the unique way that no other filmmaker has yet been able to match. Summer with Monika is a character study in which a naive young man (Lars Ekborg) falls prey to the seductive wiles of an immature temptress (Harriet Andersson). Their ill-fated move to abandon their small town and live in a boat docked in a small inlet is momentarily idyllic and reminiscent of a similar sequence in Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, so much so that I believe Anderson's staging of the passage could qualify as conscious homage.

The cast of Metropolitan (1990)

Out next week are a pair of Whit Stillman films which Criterion is reissuing on Blu-ray, Metropolitan (1990) and The Last Days of Disco (1998). Some would say Stillman's erudite humor is articulate to the point of insufferability, like stereotypical Woody Allen/New York intellectual plus one. But I am definitely a fan if only because Stillman captures a heretofore unexamined subculture, the preppie-deb class, so expertly that this subject alone conjures up a distinct auteurial style all its own. The Last Days of Disco is a little more polished, starring recognizable actors like Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny. But I think Stillman purists would rightly lean to the quirkier, rougher Metropolitan, his film debut and our introduction to two Stillman regulars, Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols.

1 comment:

Sam Juliano said...

Well, Sir, the July and November sales have wrecked majot havoc on my wallet for the past four years or go, and the last two weeks are no exception, I did but several you have noted here in this terrific round-up plus some others that I waited on from the last time, and a few upgrades from standard Criterion DVDs:

Summer Interlude
Summer with Monika
The Gold Rush
Harold and Maude
Letters Never Sent
David Lean/Noel Coward set
The 39 Steps
Shock Corridor
The Naked Kiss
Pearls of the Czech New Wave
The Organizer
The Lady Vanishes
Le Cercle Rouge
8 1/2

Of course many of us Criterion addicts are already lining up the August, September and October announcements for the November sale. (Rosemary's Baby and In the Mood for Love for example, just announced are sure buys)

And the essential Eclipse Jean Gremelion set streets this coming Tuesday, so the sale price is in effect!