Oh boy, after a few delays and in the midst of the ensuing uproar in some parts of the internet, The Criterion Collection has announced its releases for October 2019. This looks a bit sparse: two new releases and two upgrades. And it looks like it is missing a key release . . . namely, spine #1000 (the two new releases this month are #998 and #999), a milestone that may have been the hold-up in making this announcement. We might hear more over the next few days, or maybe they’re putting it off until next month. But, regardless, I’m very excited in particular by the upgrade (and because it brings the films back in print) of 3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg.

The blurbs are from The Criterion Collection’s website (so are the links) — go there to see the details on the supplements.


October 8, 2019

3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg
-Underworld (1927)
-The Last Command (1928)
-The Docks of New York (1928)

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From The Criterion Collection:

Vienna-born, New York–raised Josef von Sternberg directed some of the most influential and stylish dramas ever to come out of Hollywood. Though best known for his later star-making collaborations with actor Marlene Dietrich, von Sternberg began his career during the final years of the silent era, dazzling audiences and critics with his films’ dark visions and innovative cinematography. The titles in this collection, made on the cusp of the sound age, are three of von Sternberg’s greatest works, gritty evocations of gangster life (Underworld), the Russian Revolution (The Last Command), and working-class desperation (The Docks of New York) rendered as shadowy movie spectacle.


October 15, 2019

Häxan (1922)
d. Benjamin Christensen

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From The Criterion Collection:

Grave robbing, torture, possessed nuns, and a satanic Sabbath: Benjamin Christensen’s legendary silent film uses a series of dramatic vignettes to explore the scientific hypothesis that the witches of the Middle Ages suffered the same hysteria as turn-of-the-century psychiatric patients. Far from a dry dissertation on the topic, the film itself is a witches’ brew of the scary, the gross, and the darkly humorous. Christensen’s mix-and-match approach to genre anticipates gothic horror, documentary re-creation, and the essay film, making for an experience unlike anything else in the history of cinema.


October 22, 2019

When We Were Kings (1996)
d. Leon Gast

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From The Criterion Collection:

In 1974, Leon Gast traveled to Africa to film Zaire 74, a music festival planned to accompany an unprecedented sports spectacle: the Rumble in the Jungle, in which late-career underdog Muhammad Ali would contend with the younger powerhouse George Foreman for the boxing heavyweight championship title—“a fight between two blacks in a black nation, organized by blacks,” as a Kinshasa billboard put it. When the main event was delayed, extending Ali’s stay in Africa, Gast wound up amassing a treasure trove of footage, capturing the wildly charismatic athlete training for one of the toughest bouts of his career while basking in his role as black America’s proud ambassador to postcolonial Africa. Two decades in the making, When We Were Kings features interviews with Norman Mailer and George Plimpton that illustrate the sensational impact of the fight, rounding out an Academy Award–winning portrait of Ali that captures his charm, grace, and defiance.


October 29, 2019

Matewan (1987)
d. John Sayles

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From The Criterion Collection:

Written and directed by John Sayles, this wrenching historical drama recounts the true story of a West Virginia coal town where the local miners’ struggle to form a union rose to the pitch of all-out war in 1920. When the town of Matewan’s miners go on strike, organizer Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper, in his screen debut) arrives to help them, uniting workers white and black, Appalachia-born and immigrant, while urging patience in the face of the coal company’s violent provocations. With a crackerjack ensemble cast—including James Earl Jones, David Strathairn, Mary McDonnell, and Will Oldham—and Oscar-nominated cinematography by Haskell Wexler, Matewan taps into a rich vein of Americana with painstaking attention to local texture, issuing an impassioned cry for justice that still resounds today.

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