DVDs are pretty faceless. You can pick up a trio for 20 pounds or buy an individual one for the price of a pint come saletime to leave in cellophane for a couple of years. Whereas CDs succeeded vinyl, a format to get nostalgic about, to extoll its tactile nature, I don’t yearn for VHS, huge laserdiscs or 8mm reels. The cinema experience is nice, but limited distribution, especially as key companies are going through some major corporate changes (think New Line sacking Robert Shaye and Lion’s Gate kicking its genre oddities to the curb ), seems to be sending the more interesting features down the straight-to-DVD route.
Most films you probably give a hoot about tend to arrive as bare bones releases, while dreck like ‘National Treasure 2’ arrives as a 2 disc set, festooned with a 50 part making of and some ‘exclusive’ access to a website noone in their right mind would waste time looking at. Plus “10 minutes of footage unseen in cinemas” – because a studio head probably deemed it plodding and unnecessary. Then there’s alternate endings that are largely the same as the original, except Nicholas Cage passes a magic scroll as if it were a gallstone or some such daft contrivance. A list of bonus tosh as song as your arm does not a good film make. Often when the filmakers take time to commentate on their work it’s akin to returning to the scene of the crime to gloat like a serial arsonist.
Just when it seems DVD presentation has become a disposable artform it’s worth remembering the smaller companies giving the rare, obscure and odd the kind of treatment that’s a shock to the system to those hoarding fifth-generation taped dubs of the source material, working with the filmmakers and treating films with respect that goes beyond the call-of-duty. Think Plexifilm, Blue Underground, run by ‘Maniac Cop’ director William Lustig (a 2-disc set of ‘Blue Sunshine’? Yes please), Anchor Bay, First Run Features, Eureka! and their Masters Of Cinema releases, Kino International and Subversive Cinema, who put out a 5 disc edition of Richard Stanley’s ‘Dust Devil’ – now that’s dedication.
Then there’s The Criterion Collection. Spawned from a meeting-of-minds with Voyager and Janus, it dates back to 1984, but in the DVD era, they set standards for perfectionism in terms of remastering, restoring and packaging great movies. It’s a broad-minded collection too. Criterion discs don’t come cheap, but they are, bar the suffering of an impending upgrade to Blu-Ray, as good as it gets. They’re even offering some form of Blu-Ray upgrade service to ease the financial pain.
For the most part their releases are as thorough and tactile an experience as home cinema is likely to get. 471 releases deep as of May 2009, the covers at the top of this page represent three of the greatest films of all time in the shape of ‘The Hit’, ‘The Friends Of Eddie Coyle’ and ‘Wise Blood’ – it’s a beautiful shock to the system to see this trio, set for release between April and May this year, taken from cultdom and given the treatment they deserve. The ‘Wise Blood’ cover is stunning, capturing the offbeat escalating insanity of this adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic masterpiece.
One of the Criterion design team, Eric Skillman has an excellent blog too – www.ericskillman.blogspot.com
Anyhow, less babble. Here’s 10 more great Criterion DVD covers –
And this blog post offers fifty more –