Does it Meet the Criterion (Collection)?

In my thesis on the branding of the Coen Brothers, I commented on how supplements, or “extra-texts” such as trailers, audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries, etc., may be changing the way we are viewing films. What the exact effect has been, no one can say, as there have been no true scientific studies. However today, it’s not simply people owning a film, but instead the “Special Edition” of the film on DVD or Blu-Ray.

What was once a geeky fetish to know everything there was to know about a particular movie has quite recently become mainstream after the introduction of DVD technology. The Criterion Collection was one of the first companies to feature extra-texts with their films back in the 1980s and the introduction of the laserdisc. Now Criterion continues to expand its audience as film tastes become more fractured with the rise of the home media market.

The Criterion Collection proclaims itself to be “a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films” which has been “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements.”

Although I am a professed Criterion enthusiast, I wonder what is the criteria, or criterion, for determining a film being labeled as “important” or “great” and being included in the series. Do the merits of the text alone suffice, or do the extra-texts really matter? Although a behind-the-scenes documentary, for example, may give one insight into the struggles or ingenuity in creating a particular picture, is it really no different than say a trailer or poster? And if this assumption were true, would it not mean that a behind-the-scenes documentary is nothing more than a marketing tool designed to sell a particular product?

I believe that film should not be viewed as a product, but instead as art and should stand alone in terms of quality and value. From this perspective, I propose that each week I select a film from the series and examine only the film and reexamine its place in the Criterion Collection. I will examine if the film is truly an “important classic or contemporary” film, or if it is merely an addition to Criterion that is designed to sell.

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