Yes, you read that right. When I was but a lad, I was dissatisfied with the VHS format. (My colleague at the time, Chuck, used to call it “Fuzzy-vision.”) I turned to the enormous spinning platter of silver for better picture, better sound, and the then-new wonder of BONUS FEATURES. Alas, laser discs were expensive (even by today’s standards) and one of the first things that the cheaper DVD format did was to kill laser disc as a format dead dead dead. Like, “as a doornail” dead. Thankfully, the fine folks at Criterion moved into DVDs and later Blu-ray discs. I think we can all agree that, although we love the archival releases of boutique labels like Shout Factory, Vinegar Syndrome, Arrow Video, Indicator Films, Severin, and Kino-Lorber, the Criterion Collection remains the king* of this particular hill. King* Disc!
And lo! It came to pass that the Movie God did smile upon film fanatics who were not in possession of trust funds or mattresses stuffed with hundred-dollar bills or even decent, well-paying jobs, and the Movie God, in his** greatness and beneficence, did declare a twice-yearly Criterion sale. Sure, if the title in question was delicious*** enough, a simple pilgrim could pay full price, but if said pilgrim were in possession of just a modicum of patience, a local Barnes & Noble taberna libraria, and twenty bucks, yea, the sacred disc in question could be HIS** as early as July or November!
Could one reason the Barnes & Noble Criterion sale is getting so much attention on the Internet machine this summer be that it somehow signals that the world is returning to normal after its COVID adventure? Is the world returning to normal? Will the world ever return to normal? Was there a B&N Criterion sale last year? WAS there a last year? Aunty Em? Aunty Em?
Obviously, every Criterion disc is great; their quality standards for both content and presentation are quite high. You could do worse than to just pick five random discs for a blind buy this summer. (SATAN: “DO IT!”) But if you ask me (Hey, you’re the one who clicked “Read More.”) the following are the ones to pick up now. Consider it an investment in happiness. When you finally win the lottery, you can buy every single Criterion disc, from Chimpan-A to Chimpanzee.
When I was taking my first college film classes at the University of Illinois, a confluence of circumstances converged to render this film unwatchable by me. Female star Katherine Hepburn has a very high voice. The screening facilities in the basement of the undergraduate library left something to be desired. The university’s print was not in the best of shape. The projectionist may have futzed with the volume or fiddled with the treble… but I could not listen to Katherine Hepburn’s voice. It made me physically uncomfortable, made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. For years, I could not get past this. It held up my appreciation for this great film for a decade or more.
One year, in the high-school talent show I used to supervise, we did a sketch titled “Women of Annoyance” that made fun of my Hepburn-phobia. The scene was a parody of any generic scene in any MGM “women’s picture” (think The Women; Now, Voyager; Mildred Pierce; All About Eve; or All that Heaven Allows) in which my cast of high school students played Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer. As the scene went on, their voices rose in both volume and pitch until they could only be heard by dogs.
That’s fifteen films for a grand total of $300 plus tax and license. Buy those, watch them, and then come back and I’ll give you more recommendations before July—and the sale—end. Promise. Fingers crossed.
*** “Live deliciously.” –Black Phillip