Decades before the advent of streaming services, the Criterion Collection was the home video distribution company for cinephiles. Founded in 1984, it was, in its infancy, a subordinate division of a company that published educational multimedia CD-ROMs (remember those shiny discs?). Even in those early days, its vision was focused. The Criterion Collection was founded to license and distribute the most important films from the global canon. From beloved classics to seminal experimental works and art house fare, the Criterion’s mission has always been “presenting each film as its maker would want it seen.” Its state-of-the-art restorations offer the highest technical quality in image and sound, and the company’s award-winning original supplements promote a deeper understanding of the film in question — and, indeed, of cinema itself.
Ever since November of last year, when Criterion announced its upcoming streaming service, we’ve been eagerly anticipating a curated, mondaine answer to quantity-driven services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. “We’ve been trying to make something a little different for the past two years,” the company explained in its official press release. “A movie lover’s dream streaming service, with smart thematic programming, where the history of cinema can live and breathe, where a new generation of filmmakers and film lovers can explore the classics or revel in rarities, where adventurous cinephiles can champion films that have never gotten their due, and newcomers can easily find guidance from major filmmakers, top scholars, curators, and other experts from all walks of life.”
The subscription streaming service launched in April, and the hearts of film aficionados have been quickening ever since — finally, access to the prestige movies and obscure avant-garde curiosities that have been so difficult to access in the past.
A permanent collection of one thousand landmark films (including shorts as well as features) is available for subscribers at all times. Programming also includes the kind of supplemental features one can expect to find on a Criterion Blu-ray, like conversations on the art of filmmaking with the biggest names in the business. Regular series include Adventures in Moviegoing, Meet the Filmmakers, Observations on Film Art, and weekly programming like Tuesday’s Short + Feature, a focus on women filmmakers each Wednesday, a Friday double bill, and a Saturday Matinee.
Criterion publishes its temporary-access programming in advance, introducing (and then removing) new titles each month. Most of this exclusive programming is available for ninety days, so don’t stress too much about missing it; the Channel also provides subscribers with plenty of notice when a beloved title is scheduled to disappear.
Ready to peruse some of the best of what Criterion has to offer? Whip up some gourmet popcorn, pour yourself a glass of very fine wine, and settle in for one of these important films.
From Criterion: “Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a director whose new project is collapsing around him, along with his life. One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo) turns one man’s artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. An early working title for 8 1/2 was The Beautiful Confusion, and Fellini’s masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act.”
Why we love it: This film has style. (It is Italian, after all!) Spas, affairs, dancing, and a seriously sexy window into the world of 1960s filmmaking — this is the sort of movie that will make you want to get creative, as well as purchase a dashing, well-tailored suit.
The Seventh Seal
From Criterion: “Disillusioned and exhausted after a decade of battling in the Crusades, a knight (Max von Sydow) encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Much studied, imitated, even parodied, but never outdone, Bergman’s stunning allegory of man’s search for meaning, The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet), was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America’s 1950s art-house heyday, pushing cinema’s boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing.”
Why we love it: The films of Ingmar Bergman are essential viewing for those who are passionate about cinema. The Seventh Seal is the film that established the Swedish director on the world stage, and this allegorical tale from the Middle Ages is widely considered to be one of the best films of all time.
From Criterion: “The Oscar-winning director of The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth sat down with Mythbusters’ Adam Savage to talk about the cinematic inspirations that fuel his flights of phantasmagoria — and to introduce some of his favourite films.”
Why we love it: Guillermo del Toro is one of the most important cinematic visionaries of today; his films showcase an imaginative visual language that pushes the boundaries of technical filmmaking. Part of the Adventures in Moviegoing series, these short interviews offer a window into the formative films that shaped the director, and hearing him introduce them in his own words is a treat.
An Angel at My Table
From Criterion: “With An Angel at My Table, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Jane Campion brings to the screen the harrowing true-life story ofJanet Frame, New Zealand’s most distinguished author. The film follows Frame along her inspiring journey, from a poverty-stricken childhood to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia and electroshock therapy to, finally, international literary fame. Beautifully capturing the colour and power of the New Zealand landscape, the film earned Campion a sweep of her country’s film awards and the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.”
Why we love it: This was the first New Zealand film to ever be screened at the Venice Film Festival and was the film that paved the way for Jane Campion’s next work, the much-beloved and lauded The Piano. Originally created as a television miniseries, An Angel at My Table casts three different actors in the role of Janet Frame, presenting three different but cohesive takes on the writer at different stages in her life.
From Criterion: “A riveting psychological thriller that investigates the nature of truth and the meaning of justice, Rashomon is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. Four people give different accounts of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife, which director Akira Kurosawa presents with striking imagery and an ingenious use of flashbacks. This eloquent masterwork and international sensation revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema, and a commanding new star by the name of Toshiro Mifune, to the Western world.”
Why we love it: An all-time classic, Rashomon represents a seminal work in the world of perspective- driven narrative, and it’s visually stunning to boot. This one is necessary viewing for those looking to expand their horizons beyond Western cinema.