Essential Art House, Volume 1

Essential Art House, Volume 1

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Director: Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau

Cast: Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, Ingmar Bergman, Jean Cocteau

     
 

Janus Films was one of the premiere U.S. distributors of classic European cinema in the 1950s and 60s, bringing key works by Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa to American audiences when viewers in the United States were just beginning to discover the power of international filmmaking. The Criterion Collection,… See more details below

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Overview

Janus Films was one of the premiere U.S. distributors of classic European cinema in the 1950s and 60s, bringing key works by Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Roman Polanski and Akira Kurosawa to American audiences when viewers in the United States were just beginning to discover the power of international filmmaking. The Criterion Collection, America's best and most prestigious DVD label, has often partnered with Janus Films to bring classic titles from their library to the digital format, and in 2006 Criterion released Essential Art House: Fifty Years of Janus Films, a special collector's set that featured fifty important movies from the Janus archives on disc. While the idea behind the set was more than admirable, the bulk (and the cost) of the set put it out of the reach of many cinephiles, so Criterion has begun using it as the model for a series of smaller box sets devoted to classic foreign films. Essential Art House, Vol. 1 is the first such collection from Criterion, containing six acknowledged masterworks -- Jean Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast, Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion, Roman Polanski's Knife In The Water, Peter Brook's Lord Of The Flies, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon and Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. All six films have been transferred to disc in their original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33:1 (the newest title, Lord Of The Flies, was released in 1963, before widescreen framings had become a universal phenomenon), and the audio for each film has been mastered in Dolby Digital Mono, retaining the original sound mix. As is usually the case for Criterion's releases, the transfers are uniformly excellent, looking sharp and well-detailed regardless of the age of the film, and the source materials are in excellent condition (there are occasional speckles on the print used for Lord of the Flies, though this probably reflects the picture's deliberately grimy visual style). The presentation follows the efficient template of the initial Essential Art House set (and Criterion's subsequent Eclipse collections) -- the discs are no-frills items, and while the transfers are first-rate, they include only optional English subtitles, no commentaries or language options, and each film is packaged with a slim booklet featuring a short but literate essay on the movie in question. (All six are also available in more elaborate editions from Criterion, and the pared-down versions in this set can be purchased separately.) These discs may lack the bevy of bonus materials that have become the company's trademark, but Essential Art House, Vol. 1 is an eclectic and well-curated set of important films from the golden age of foreign cinema, and it's an affordable way to begin a collection of important films.After directing a string of acclaimed shorts, the young Roman Polanski assembled a small crew and mostly unprofessional cast in his native Poland to shoot this full-length thriller. The spare, tense film remains one of Polanski's most striking efforts, a cool, detached character study with stark, high-contrast black-and-white visuals to match. Polanski may have seen himself in the character of the cunning, disaffected drifter, a possibility bolstered by the fact that he dubbed his own voice over Zygmunt Malanowicz's for the film's final cut. Though Polanski was obviously taking cues from the late 1950s/early 1960s work of Michelangelo Antonioni and even Ingmar Bergman, the movie retains a hip, modern feel all its own; throughout his career, Polanski would revisit the concept of the disaffected anti-hero and his tortured relations with women. Knife in the Water brought Polanski to the attention of the European film community, as well as the American Motion Picture Academy, who nominated the film against Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 for Best Foreign Language Film in 1964.Peter Brooks' big-screen adaptation of William Golding's classic Lord of the Flies adheres closely to the source material. After a plane accident, 30 school-age boys find themselves stranded on an island. The boys decide that the disciplined Ralph (James Aubrey) will be their leader. Jack (Tom Chapin) heads up a group who will hunt and butcher the local population of pigs for food. Also on the island is the mature, intelligent Piggy (Hugh Edwards). Eventually Ralph and Jack become the center of a war for leadership on the island. The story was filmed with less success in 1990.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Gregory Baird
The most hauntingly beautiful road-trip movie ever made, Wild Strawberries is at once profound and simple. This 1957 Ingmar Bergman masterpiece offers a portrait of a man's life within the events of a single day. An elderly doctor, Isak Borg (famed Swedish director Victor Sjöström), ventures off in the car with his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) to attend a ceremony honoring his 50 years of medical service. Rather than using a linear narrative, Bergman enhances the doctor's journey with reminders of his past: The people and places he encounters along the way trigger memories and reveries that bring him face-to-face with the meaning of his life (and his impending death). Bergman's remarkable dexterity with unconscious material makes the film's several dream sequences subtly chilling; they affect the rest of the narrative, and have inspired filmmakers ever since. This simple afternoon drive acquires the qualities of a daydream. With its unique combination of sharp, revelatory dialogue, evocative imagery, and careful symbolism, Wild Strawberries has a liquid clarity that is unforgettable.
Barnes & Noble - Eddy Crouse
With ringing moments of intensity and a radical manipulation of time, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon stands legitimately alongside Citizen Kane as one of the movies that altered the rules of cinematic storytelling. Based on two short stories by author Ryunosuke Akutagawa ("In a Grove" and "Rashomon"), the movie is set in 12th-century Kyoto and centers around a trial in a prison courtyard. Four defendants -- the bandit Tajomaru (Toshiro Mifune); a young woman, Masago (Machino Kyo); the spirit of her samurai husband, Takehiro (Masayuki Mori); and a woodcutter (Takashi Shimura) -- each offer varied and often contradictory versions of an incident, the only certain elements of which are a rape, a death, and an ambush. Teasing and hooking a viewer at the same time, Kurosawa mines the fallibility of memory, in the process framing human unpredictability, selfishness, and weakness with multiple points of view. The movie is also distinguished by superior performances by Mifune and Kyo. Filmmakers have chased Kurosawa's achievement for years -- recent movies like Memento, The Usual Suspects, and Jim Jarmusch's overt homage Ghost Dog all pay some tariff to Rashomon's unusual pulse and rhythm. The Criterion Collection DVD edition of this classic boasts a glistening restored image and adds two fantastic extras to the mix: The World of Kazuo Miyagawa, a documentary on Rashomon's painstaking, passionate cinematographer, plus a moving tribute from Robert Altman.
Barnes & Noble - Kryssa Schemmerling
One of the greatest war films ever made -- and the first foreign film to get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture -- Grand Illusion contains not a single battle scene. Instead, Jean Renoir's 1937 masterpiece about a group of French officers trying to escape from a German POW camp during World War I focuses on how the extraordinary circumstances of war bridge the differences of class and nationality between people, if only temporarily. Banned by the Nazis, this paean to tolerance is a triumph of ensemble acting. Renoir's supple, unobtrusive camera allows each of the characters to emerge as fully realized individuals. French superstar Jean Gabin is the sympathetic proletarian; Marcel Dalio is a Jewish banker; Pierre Fresnay is the aristocratic French career officer; and Erich von Stroheim is the equally aristocratic German commandant who, for all his class-bound formality, emerges as a sympathetic and poignant character. The titular "illusion" here refers to many things, but mostly it denotes the false assumption that any single person or group can avoid being a victim in times of war. With a sensitivity that never veers into forced sentimentality, Renoir creates a moving meditation on the essential humanity that binds even enemies together.
Barnes & Noble
Jean Cocteau's most popular film, this 1946 masterpiece is perhaps the most faithful of the many film versions of the 1756 fairy tale written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont. Though the ending is a bit on the strange side -- the Beast morphs into a prince who looks exactly like Belle's hapless suitor, and her disappointment is unmistakable -- the film features tight, economical storytelling and enough visual fireworks (including many stunningly executed optical effects) to enrapture viewers from beginning to end. The actors are uniformly wonderful: Josette Day makes a stunning Belle, and Cocteau regular Jean Marais excels in a triple role that includes the magnificent Beast. The real stars of the film, though, are Cocteau himself, who gives the film a shimmering, romantic look, and the brilliant costume and set design. The Beast's make-up, in particular, works beautifully; it's just realistic enough to be convincing, while allowing Marais to emote through his eyes and subtle facial tics. The unforgettable sets, which include human arm candelabras and moving statues, are a marvel of impressionistic romanticism, filled with symbolism that hints at the story's darker implications. Forget Disney -- this is the closest anyone's come to capturing the essence of a fairy tale on film. Mark Pittillo

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Product Details

Release Date:
09/09/2008
UPC:
0715515031929
Rating:
NR
Source:
Criterion
Region Code:
1
Time:
9:30:00

Cast & Crew

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Beauty and the Beast
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Disc #2 -- Grand Illusion
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Disc #3 -- Knife in the Water
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Disc #4 -- Lord of the Flies
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Disc #5 -- Rashomon
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Disc #6 -- Wild Strawberries
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