Best of Criterion's New Releases, January 2017

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Best of Criterion's New Releases, January 2017

Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of January:


His Girl Friday

Director: Howard Hawks
Year: 1940

Adapted from the 1928 Broadway play The Front Page, Howard Hawks’ 1940 masterpiece His Girl Friday is not only the dictionary definition of a classic Hollywood screwball comedy, it’s also a damned funny movie, and it plays as well 75 years later as it did to its original audiences. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell’s rat-a-tat dialogue and the flawless immersion in newspaper culture have made this one a favorite for decades. The film’s debut on Blu-ray would be cause enough for celebration, but The Criterion Collection has put together a truly outstanding set of supplements to accompany the film. The audio of an interview, for example, that Peter Bogdanovich conducted with Hawks in 1972 is supplemented by stills and video. Hawks recounts a story of running one of the film’s dialogue scenes side by side with the same scene in the original, 1931 film adaptation, and on the screen we see them side by side. The Hawks version, to his surprise, was considerably faster. And David Bordwell, a film scholar and co-author of the industry-standard textbook for Cinema Studies 101, recounts his 45-year love affair with the movie. It’s a fitting tribute to one of the era’s greatest films. —Michael Dunaway


Something Wild

Director: Jack Garfein
Year: 1961

Few would argue that the influence of New York’s Actors Studio on 20th century American filmmaking came anywhere near its influence on American film acting—a legacy that continues to this day. Indeed, the most lamentable flaw in Jack Garfein’s acting class film treatment of Alex Karmel’s 1958 novel Mary Ann is that the director’s cinematic ideas are nowhere near as groundbreaking as his cast’s performances. Still, with Criterion’s painstaking restoration and re-release of Something Wild (1961), we are reminded of an era when great acting mattered; when the myth of New York City was edgy, adult, dangerous; and when a preview screening of a tiny, independent feature could inspire Aaron Copland—the premier American composer at the time—to do your score.

Something Wild bears little resemblance to its 1986, Jonathan Demme-directed, screwball namesake. This is a grim and gritty film that after showing us the rape of an innocent teenager on her way home from choir practice in its first five minutes refuses to brighten for the rest of its 113-minute run. Star Carroll Baker (wife of co-writer, director Garfein) shines throughout, though it may be her co-star Ralph Meeker who ultimately steals the show with his simmering and scary Stanley Kowalski-like savior, Mike. (Meeker replaced Marlon Brando in the original Broadway production of A Streetcar Named Desire.) —Chris White


Black Girl

Director: Ousmane Sembène
Year: 1966

The white characters represented in Ousmane Sembène’s landmark feature debut probably don’t think that they’re racist. They probably think that sneaking a kiss from a lovely young Senegalese woman just to check “kiss a black person” off their bucket list is a victimless crime. They probably think there’s nothing wrong with being hard on the help, either, and that’s probably why Black Girl ends on so shocking a note as it does: to drive home Sembène’s thesis about the insidious psychological effects of racism of all stripes, conscious or unconscious, intended or unintended, and to remind us that one does not need to ascribe to racist ideology to be racist. Black Girl is a story of two worlds, which Sembène’s protagonist, Diouana, has to reconcile with for the sake of her survival. In one, she has freedom and agency. In the other, she is robbed of both and struck by the chilling realization that her freedom was only ever just an illusion. We concern ourselves much with concepts like diversity and inclusion in 2017, but rarely do we willingly confront the world’s legacy of prejudice and subjugation by peering at ourselves in the mirror. Sembène’s film is that mirror, and when we look into it, we may just see reflections of ourselves. —Andy Crump