Each month, Paste 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 July:
My Beautiful Laundrette
Stephen Frears Year:
Thirty years is a long time to go without giving Stephen Frears’ and screenwriter Hanif Kureishi’s My Beautiful Laundrette proper reconsideration. Maybe 2015 is the right moment to examine the film’s messages and social import anew, though Frears’ focus on British social politics doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to interpretation through an American lens. Yet, national identity and era aside, My Beautiful Laundrette bears a deep and abiding humanism that compliments its layered critiques of Maggie Thatcher’s England. Frears dissects several flavors of prejudice—unspoken homophobia, the anti-immigration fascism of the National Front, and the London Pakistani community’s bristling disdain for its English neighbors—but the film doesn’t preach in its more impassioned moments, as in its climactic spurt of violence outside the eponymous laundromat. Instead, he uses Omar’s (Gordon Warnecke) relationship with reformed skinhead Johnny (an up-and-coming Daniel Day-Lewis) as a safe haven from cultural insularity and racism, both overt and muted. The presentation looks great—Criterion’s 2K digital transfer retains the film’s textured 16mm grit—but do check out the thirty minute chat between Frears and producer Colin MacCabe, recorded this past Spring, as well as an insightful interview with Kureishi himself. —Andy Crump
The Black Stallion
Carroll Ballard Year:
On the one hand, it makes all the sense in the world that Criterion would repackage Carroll Ballard’s 1979 achievement, The Black Stallion: Though originally marketed as a family-friendly action-adventure presented by Hollywood mogul Francis Ford Coppola, the film looks and moves like art house cinema., driven visually with little dialogue and a simplistic plotline, invoking the silent era and proving to be a mesmerizing achievement for the director’s first feature. On the other hand, this release feels slightly out of place given our current cultural landscape, specifically as it relates to subjects such as race and gender, given the film’s untamed masculinity and overt racism.
Indeed, for all the beauty beheld by a seamless marriage of sound and image, The Black Stallion conceives a world in which women have no place and where only white Americans can be trusted. Nevertheless, because of these contradictions and complexities, there is something altogether fascinating, if not troubling, about Ballard’s film that makes it worth exploring and discussing. The extras, from interviews to a compelling essay by Michael Sragow, that come with this Criterion edition only bolster the experience. —David Roark
Robert Siodmak; Don Siegel Year:
Criterion’s stuffed Blu-ray release of The Killers marks one of their most singularly complete offerings to date: It’s a two-for that packs not only Robert Siodmak’s 1946 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, but Don Siegel’s 1964 take on the material. Siodmak bows to Papa’s literary stylings, marrying the master’s words with the curving, potent melancholy of Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. He keeps his film washed in shadow. Siegel, on the other hand, shoves the tale clear into the daylight in a lurid, vibrant recalibration that’s as far away from Hemingway as the filmmakers Siegel’s efforts inspired—like Tarantino—are from Siegel himself. Siodmak goes for moody gumshoeing where Siegel prefers flash suffused with staccato violence.
Quite a steal, that. You’re probably naturally inclined toward one version of The Killers more than the other, but that’s fine: Criterion has more on tap than just Siodmak and Siegel interpreting the master. Have you ever heard Stacey Keach read Hemingway? Probably not, but now that you know there’s an audio track of Lou Ford rumbling about button men in an Illinois backwater, you probably want to. And while both features muse about the existential questions raised in the original story, Andrei Tarkovsky makes them his thesis in a mesmerizingly deadpan 20-minute short. (One might argue that Tarkovsky’s focus makes his film the most faithful of the three.) If the Blu-ray boasted only one version of The Killers with the usual standbys—audio commentary, interviews, and terrific essay work (provided here by Jonathan Lethem and Geoffrey O’Brien)—it’d still be a worthy enough purchase. (The alternately sharp and lush restorations help with that.) But Criterion has jammed so much value into one disc that you’d have to be a real bright boy to pass it up. —A.C.