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.
Disc #1 -- Beauty and the Beast Play Chapters Subtitles: On/Off Disc #2 -- Grand Illusion Play Chapters Subtitles Subtitles: On/Off Disc #3 -- Knife in the Water Play Chapters Subtitles Subtitles: On/Off Disc #4 -- Lord of the Flies Play Chapters Disc #5 -- Rashomon Play Chapters Subtitles Subtitles: On/Off Disc #6 -- Wild Strawberries Play Chapters Subtitles Subtitles: On/Off