Cranky with Criterion…and Other Ruminations

Recently I received an email from Criterion, notifying me about one of their periodic sales.  This time around I could save 50% on every title in their impressive catalog; my heart hammered with joy at the thought of adding Fassbinder’s “World on a Wire” and Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” and “Fanny & Alexander” to my collection at discount rates.

I selected my films, started the checkout process, but when I got to the shipping info, I received a rude surprise.  Because I was ordering from Canada, I would have to pay the astronomical price of $19.95 for the first DVD and $3.95 for each movie thereafter.

I immediately cancelled my order and wrote a letter to Criterion, stating my grievance with their shipping fees.  A chap from Criterion was good enough to get back to me, explaining that the company had issues with Canada Post because of lost packages and therefore went with a different, more expensive carrier.

I didn’t buy it and told him so.  I’m an independent publisher and book fanatic and I regularly ship books back and forth across the border.  Particularly valuable parcels/cartons can be insured for a relatively nominal fee.

I won’t remove Criterion from my blogroll—they perform an invaluable service to cineastes—but I won’t ever buy direct from them until they lower their onerous shipping rates to my home and native land.  There are plenty of venues out there where I can pick up Criterion films–including good, used copies–on the cheap, for nominal shipping.  And I’m sure that goes for a lot of their foreign patrons…

* * * * *

Want to give a shout out to a new film blog I can across:

Chandler Swain Reviews is cheery, knowledgeable and self-effacing. I like the candor I see in evidence, exemplified by the following quote:

“The usefulness of Internet film sites cannot be underestimated, but it is a fatal mistake to think they are a substitution for published critical thought found in either book form or in the still numerous serious film journals available from around the globe.

Film sites are merely another resource not an end to themselves. Similar to the incontrovertible concept of actually seeing film in an intended large screen format (regardless of the film’s vintage), it is imperative that the serious cinephiles avail themselves with as much legitimately valuable information and viewpoints on the cinematic as possible. Much of what exists on the Net, in regard to film is fan-based in origin (as is much of the existing newsstand magazine output), and while some are endearingly enthusiastic in nature,it is important for the serious cinephile to not be led by the short leash of sentimental favoritism as opposed to solid philosophic views on the Art of Cinema, based on legitimate avenues of Critical Thought and not merely the winds of nostalgic romanticism.”

Wise words.  I’m going to be keeping an eye on this “Chandler Swain”.  Our views certainly gibe on a number of crucial points.

With the rise of the internet/blogosphere, we’ve also seen the emergence of the “cult of the amateur”.  Now everyone with a computer can have a platform (bully pulpit?) for their favorite enthusiasm or hobby horse—unfortunately that also gives many folks an inflated sense of their importance and a highly distorted view of their level of “expertise”.

I love films, consider myself something of a connoisseur, but I’m hardly an expert on the theories and nuances of film-making, nor do I have more than a basic, fundamental grasp of the technical aspects of optics, lighting, composition, editing, etc.  I’ve seen a lot of great movies but Andre Bazin or Sergei Eisenstein I am not.

You want an in-depth and scholarly look at cinema from someone with academic credentials, sporting a Ph.d in General Brilliance, better try your luck elsewhere. I never had the good luck to attend a posh film school or tramp around the boulevards of Paris, arguing the fine points of the latest John Ford or Rossellini flick with fellow flaneurs like Truffaut and Godard and then scribbling an article about it for Cahiers Du Cinema..

I learned everything I know from the late, late show.

Right from the beginning it was my intention to use Cinema Arete to identify and highlight well-made, interesting or innovative films that might have slipped past viewers’ radar. Back when I first started this blog, there were still video outlets around–much has changed in a few years. But when I did visit these now defunct stores, I was depressed and annoyed to see multiple titles of the newest releases, whole walls taken up by the latest comic book adaptation, but very little in the way of older, classic cinema.

Fast-forwarding to today, I hear people complaining about the limited selection on NetFlix and read an article on how expensive it is to transfer movies to DVD and, now, Blu-Ray. A process that costs tens of thousands of dollars. And so some films (older, foreign, more obscure) aren’t going to make the cut or, at the very least, won’t be available for some time. While last month’s big-budget CGI orgy elbows its way to the head of the queue…

* * * * * *

Three cheers for “The Artist” coming up big at the Oscars.  Looking forward to seeing it on the big screen in Saskatoon. Would love to see the new adaptation of “Coriolanus”— thrusting Shakespeare into the present day and handing him an M-16.  “Git some!” Ralph Fiennes looks appropriately menacing and the production first rate. Let’s hope it’s as good as it appears…

 * * * * *

My son Sam and his creative partner Sean have shot another short movie and you’ll excuse this proud parent for posting a link to their site.  Their films get better and better and they’re always trying new approaches, experimenting with composition and focus. If you like what you see, drop them a few words of encouragement.  Sixteen years old and already displaying so much promise. It’s spooky.

* * * * *

Not much in terms of film-watching these days.  I’ve been wrapping up work on my novel (slide over to my main blog for further info) and too tired and burnt out after ten or twelve hours of line editing to spend more time in front of a %&#ing screen.

Watched “Inception” (dull, overlong, terrible soundtrack) and “The Wolfman” (promising opening half, then a full-scale blood-letting, with silly sub-plots)…but most nights we’ve been unwinding to HBO’s “Rome” series, a couple of lovely boxed sets gifted to us by our pal Dan. Gore and sex in the ancient capital of the world, what more could you ask for? Great TV and pretty accurate in terms of history, as far as I can tell.  It never leaves one feeling stupid and these days that’s saying something.  Perhaps that’s why “Rome” only lasted two seasons.

That, of course, says something too. And it’s not very complimentary or fit to repeat in polite company.

Until next time…

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

About Cliff Burns

I'm a literary writer, specializing in slipstream/ alternative/surreal/science fiction. My influences include Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, David Cronenberg, Rene Magritte, any artist who defies convention and busts open genres, attacking the status quo.
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2 Responses to Cranky with Criterion…and Other Ruminations

  1. Wow, that’s insane that they wanted to charge that much. I love the Criterion collection, but they’re so expensive I’ve only bought one (Richard III) so far. That’s why I was so happy when Hulu partnered up with them and now a big chunk of their catalog is streamed online.

    • Cliff Burns says:

      Unfortunately I think Canadian viewers still have trouble accessing all of Hulu’s catalog.

      My greatest resource as far as films go these days is my provincial library system, which allows me to bring in movies from all over the province. Regina Public Library, for instance, has a wonderful selection of Fassbinder films (must be a fan on staff). I’ve watched some real (reel?) treasures for absolutely free, stuff that would be hard to find anywhere else. God bless public libraries!

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