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The "Criterion" For What Is Coming in DVD

by Jesse Shanks

At the dOc's choice of online forums, Home Theater Forum (run by Ron Epstein and Parker Clack), over 120 Home Theater Forum members met with Peter Becker, President of Criterion Company, and Jon Mulvaney, the company's Customer Liaison, in a lively Internet chat session on October 23, 2001. The discussion ranged from suggestions for possible Criterion releases to the status of current releases on the schedule.

One of the most popular topics of the night were the films of Japanese directing master, Akira Kurosawa. Mulvaney told the audience, "We have several Kurosawa titles tentatively on the 2002 schedule, including Rashomon." Becker commented on the planned release, "The new Rashomon master has taken more time than we'd hoped. The rest of the release is more or less complete." He then added, "As for more Kurosawa, there is a great deal of chatter about Red Beard and Ikiru, in addition to Dodeskaden, which has been announced and pushed for too long..."

When asked about how Criterion goes about transferring a Japanese film to DVD, Becker said, "We work with the Japanese studios to find the best elements available. Very often we transfer those elements in Japan according to standards that we make very clear and do additional digital work in the States. In other cases, we acquire pristine preprint elements, such as fine-grain masters and do the telecine here under our direct supervision."

One fan asked about Kurosawa's Dreams and Mulvaney had to disappoint. "Dreams is one of our most-requested titles. We'd love to release it, but we don't hold the rights."

Much excitement was stirred as Becker described some aspects of the upcoming Criterion rendition of a legendary 1960s rock festival.

"You might be interested to know that we just made a deal with Eddie Kramer to do the sound mix on the upcoming Monterey Pop box set. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I think it's going to be amazing."

Kramer, a veteran studio master, has engineered and/or produced albums for Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Curtis Mayfield, and Blind Melon, among many others. He was the sound engineer for the The Song Remains the Same, Led Zeppelin's tour document film in 1975.

Becker continued, "Monterey is the only music-based title that's currently in production. The current plan is to make a three-disc set incorporating as much of the festival as possible. The Pennebaker crew shot everything, and our hope is to be able to present the complete Monterey experience. There will be some extras, but the core of the project is the first-ever complete presentation with amazing sound."

Mulvaney summed it up with "Monterey Pop will be one of our biggest and most loaded releases of 2002."

Of interest was Becker's description of areas where Criterion is developing ways of expanding their offerings. He said, "We're always looking for ways that we might bring the Criterion idea and the content we've developed to new media."

A major focus of this effort is increasing Criterion's online presence "We've been developing a web site that we hope may someday feature rich content," he noted, "and we're even developing content outside of our disc releases, or starting to, in the FOCUS section of the web site where we're currently featuring a gallery of players from Preston Sturges' stock company, which we hope will complement Criterion viewers' enjoyment of the Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels discs we just released.

When asked about modern American films being added to the Criterion Collection, Mulvaney hinted, "There are one or two exciting, recent American films on the schedule for next year, but nothing that we can talk about yet."

Another title in production Mulvaney mentioned—but with no release date—was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Becker commented "Colonel Blimp is in the works. We are hoping to have a new high def master done before the end of the year. I don't know how much digital restoration the film will require, but I am certain that we're going to give it the best we have. Michael Powell was, after all, the first director whose commentary we ever recorded on a film... although no one here really remembers which was recorded first, Blimp, or Black Narcissus."

In most cases, the pair were cagey about hard release dates and faced this issue when one fan asked about titles listed in the old catalog, but omitted from the new one, like Tales of Hoffman, Knife in the Water, Olympia and the Eisenstein: The Silent Years box set.

Becker answered straightforwardly, "Well, we were probably being overly optimistic when we announced these. We've learned our lesson. We're still working on them all. [With] Hoffmann, the issue is the film elements. A new IP may need to be made, so we are far from a master. Knife has been delayed for Polanski's schedule. The Eisenstein Silent box is, we hope, due before the end of 2002. There are many bridges to cross between here and there, of course. New scores to be recorded. Actual film restoration work. Plus additional digital stuff."

Another fan asked about a possible re-pressing of Discreet Charm of the Bourgoise that contained numerous spelling and grammatical errors in the subtitles. Mulvaney replied, "We're aware of this problem and attention is being devoted to it."

Other releases described by the pair included the upcoming new transfer of Marcel Carne's Children of Paradise (Les Enfants du paradis) due in January, and what Mulvaney called "a glorious two-disc edition" of Hitchcock's Rebecca in the middle of next month. (Look for a dOc/Criterion giveaway of this and his Notorious about that same time!) He also noted that Hitchcock's thriller, Spellbound, is set for later in 2002

Becker noted firmly that William Dietrle's 1941 classic, The Devil and Daniel Webster, will be a Criterion DVD, but gave no other details. Another fan's favorite, Victor Erice's Spirit of the Beehive, was described by Becker as "a distinct possibility, but we haven't even begun to look at the film elements, so I have no details or projections about when you might actually see a Criterion edition." One fan asked about the Federico Fellini masterpiece, La Dolce Vita and Becker replied, "We've been in discussions with Artisan... hope for the best."

Another future Criterion release, Peter Weir's The Last Wave was described by Becker as "wrapping up nicely" and added, "We're helping Peter Weir put together new materials for Cars That Ate Paris, and you should get a good version on DVD soon. I believe it will be coming out from Home Vision as a part of their line." Australian director, Weir, made his feature-film debut with the low-budget horror and black comedy film, The Cars That Ate Paris and the follow-up, Picnic at Hanging Rock in 1975. In addition to the respected The Last Wave, he has helmed many other successful pictures including Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Dead Poets Society and Witness.

One fan, an owner of the Marx Brothers classic A Night at the Opera on laserdisc, was disappointed when Becker noted that the film was "not on the slate. Many regrets, but not likely in the near future."

Another fan asked about the chances of seeing more Russian films in the Criterion Collection. Becker replied positively saying, "We are working on Ballad of a Soldier and Cranes Are Flying right now." Mulvaney added that Criterion plans a 2002 release of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 science fiction drama Solaris, but did not provide a definite date.

Becker provided a positive reply to one fan's query about Francois Truffaut's 400 Blows, which is currently out of print, and other Truffaut films, when he stated coyly, "Some wishes do come true, so keep hoping."

For a full transcript of the chat with Criterion, check here: Home Theater Forum.