Sunday, 13 March 2016

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS - THE CRITERION COLLECTION

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

66. THE CRITERION COLLECTION

13/03/2016


Back in 2005, on a family trip to California, which also took in Las Vegas, my brother bought a DVD copy of Terry Gilliam's film "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". It was quite appropriate for the time, as we had stayed in the Circus Circus hotel, described by Hunter S. Thompson, in the original book, as looking like what the United States would be if Nazi Germany had won the Second World War - well, they did send up a guard, with a gun, because one room's key card didn't work, so I am still not sure what to think about that.

Anyway, the copy of the film my brother bought was a comprehensive box set by the Criterion Collection, known by me as the company that produced expensive and exhaustive special features and definitive versions of classic films, imported by advanced film nuts that had hacked their DVD player to accept region 1 discs. However, in the case of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", the chance to hear an audio commentary of the film by the writer of the original book would be worth the price.

The Criterion Collection invented the DVD and Blu-Ray package as much as Sony and Phillips did. This second release in 1984, "King Kong" - the first was "Citizen Kane," because it really had to be - invented the audio commentary, by using laser-disc technology to provide something other than a foreign language soundtrack. Their VHS release of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" introduced "letterboxing" of the picture, showing the film as intended, now preferred, even on television, to the bowdlerisation of "pan-and-scan." Add in special features to inform the audience, especially useful to the pre-Internet causal viewer, and we now have the DVD or Blu-Ray that I would rather continue to buy over film downloads - mind you, I prefer a physical book to an e-book too.

In April, The Criterion Collection launches in the UK for the first time, into competition with Eureka Video's "Masters of Cinema" series, both Curzon Artificial Eye and Arrow Films' comprehensive back catalogues, and the feature-laden discs that the main film companies are expected to release of their own films. In the crowded market they created, their choice of films are what will be needed to distinguish themselves - so far, I want their releases of "Grey Gardens" and "Tootsie," and I hope they release their collection of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" too... 


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