The Criterion Collection: Preserving Cinema History

by Josh Harris, Media Services Supervisor

With the recent news that FilmStruck (the streaming service owned by Turner Classic Movies) is going to shut down at the end of November, appreciators of niche, arthouse, and classic cinema are left wondering what the future holds for streaming access to films that often lack mass appeal.

Among the large collection of films that are offered through FilmStruck is the Criterion Collection, with access to 1,200 Criterion films. Since 1984, the Criterion Collection has been publishing the best that cinema has to offer – from old to new – typically with superior digital transfers, cast and crew commentaries, making-of documentaries, and a slew of other never-before-seen special features. Getting the Criterion release of a film (be it on Laserdisc, DVD or Bluray) was and continues to be a rite of passage for film geeks who want to delve into every corner of a motion picture. Soon these films will once again only be available on physical media – actual discs – until they find another streaming platform.

This news shouldn’t be too upsetting if you are a student, faculty, or staff at HPU, because the HPULibraries Film Collection has over 150 Criterion Collection films for you to enjoy! Here are 5 recommendations from the collection:


1. Following

This 1998 neo-noir film with a $6,000 budget is the feature film debut for Christopher Nolan, whose success with Inception, Interstellar, and The Dark Knight Trilogy has earned him rock star status in the film world.

This Criterion DVD features new commentary by Nolan, a better digital transfer and sound mix, and a chronological edit of the film (because the original film is edited out of order).

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2. Hausu (House)

This 1977 Japanese horror-comedy is the feature film debut for director Nobuhiko Obayashi, a pioneer of Japanese experimental and avant-garde film. In the film a group of schoolgirls travel to a house in the countryside to visit the sick relative of one of the girls. At the house they experience disturbing supernatural events and are devoured by the house, one by one.

The Criterion release features an all-new digital transfer, one of Obayashi’s earlier experimental films, and a behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Hausu.

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3. Fantastic Planet

This 1973 animated science-fiction film has earned its place among the most celebrated feature-length animated films ever. The story focuses on the Dregg, a race of beings on the distant planet Ygam, where human beings (Oms) are kept as pets. The vicious nature of how the Oms are treated and how they must resist and fight back to gain some freedom echoes themes around the civil rights movements in the US, Algeria, and South Africa during the time.

The Criterion release includes an early short film by director Renè Laloux, a documentary about the film, and archival interviews.

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4. The Last Temptation of Christ

Martin Scorsese’s 1988 spiritual epic remains one of the most personal and human accounts of the life of Jesus. It was this focus on the humanity of Jesus that sparked international controversy, outrage, and boycotting at theaters, though Scorsese (a devout Catholic) has repeatedly stated that this film (based on the book of the same name) was never meant to shake anyone’s faith; he just wanted to tell the story of Jesus from a slightly different approach.

The Criterion release includes audio commentary from Scorsese, actor Willem Dafoe, and screenwriter Paul Schrader, and on-location production footage shot by Martin Scorsese.

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5. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Getting the Criterion treatment just last year, this 1928 silent drama about the trial of Joan of Arc is one of the most poignant and well-crafted films ever made. Using cinematography techniques well ahead of his peers, director Carl Theodor Dreyer uses stylistic lighting, camera movement, uncomfortable close-ups, and a very emotive cast to tell this story in a way that is at times both intimate and surreal.

The Criterion release includes a new digital transfer, audio commentary from film scholar Casper Tybjerg, and 3 separate musical scores for the film to pick from.

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So, the end of FilmStruck might mean that watching these important and hard-to-find films may become more difficult for others, but here at HPULibraries, the Film Collection has you covered. Stop by the 1st floor of Smith Library, check out our Criterion Collection display (pictured below) and pick up a great film!