Each month, the Paste staff brings you a look at the best new selections from The Criterion Collection. Much beloved by casual fans and cinephiles alike, The Criterion Collection has for over three decades presented special editions of important classic and contemporary films. You can explore the complete collection here. In the meantime, here are our top picks for the month of April:
Woman of the Year
Director: George Stevens
For a movie made 75 years ago, Woman of the Year feels surprisingly contemporary and amusingly familiar; men are from Mars, where they write sports columns, and women are from Venus, where they chronicle global politics. Pit them against each other on the page, and they’re bound to stumble head over heels in love-hate when they meet for the first time in real life. The only obstacle to their amour is success—her success, to be exact, because even in 2017 men are poorly equipped to deal with the realization that their better half can wheel, deal and bring home the proverbial bacon as surely as they can. Back in 1942, you can imagine Katherine Hepburn out-achieving Spencer Tracy being ten times as harsh a blow to his ego than it would be today, and there you have it, the tension driving George Stevens’ romantic comedy classic in a nutshell.
What’s especially great about Woman of the Year is captured perfectly by Time’s eminent film critic, Stephanie Zacharek, in the essay she composed for the film’s Blu-ray disc: If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to watch two people fall in love, then all you need is to spend two hours with Hepburn and Tracy, who grew smitten with each other off-camera while playing characters who grow smitten with each other on-camera. This is 1940s comic brio at its finest, replete with rapid fire banter, and 1940s romance at its finest, layered with affection, annealed by passion and the clash of gender norms. It’s a gem. —Andy Crump
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Director: Jacques Demy
How funny that Criterion would release a Blu-ray edition of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg only a couple of months after La La Land trod upon the 89th Academy Awards and cast its derivative shadow over the entire evening. (Not to ignore the dual-release of The Young Girls of Rochefort or anything, but let’s all agree that Umbrellas is the bigger deal by far.) Demy’s masterpiece is the film that Chazelle’s very clearly wants to be, after all, a soaring, vibrant, innately bittersweet story of love lost, found, and forever disbanded, another wartime casualty in a country scarred by military conflict. That’s what separates the influenced from its influences, though: authenticity. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is lived-in, a story derived from Demy’s own life experiences, and that keyword—experience—is critical to what makes the film click. Take away its musical tones, and you’re left with a narrative about a young man and a young woman, both crazy about each other, who are torn apart when he’s drafted to fight overseas. It still functions as cinema. The music, of course, is an essential part of its character, a dose of magic Demy infuses with the rigors of reality that supply the film with plot and meaning.
To watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is to enjoy the inverse effect of Woman of the Year: It’s about people in love falling out of love, and then falling in love all over again with new partners and altered hearts. It’s a beautiful picture as likely to make you swoon as to crush your heart. —Andy Crump
Director: Juzo Itami
Juzo Itami’s sensual, spiritual and all-around humorous 1985 film Tampopo has long since taken its rightful seat at the table with cinema’s great “food” movies. Like Babette’s Feast and Big Night, Itami’s film explores the consummate role of food—and of the cooking experience—in knitting together the human condition. In terms of story, Tampopo centers on the efforts of its title character (Nobuko Miyamoto) to become a top-notch ramen chef. Surrounding the main storyline are myriad vignettes, mostly unconnected in character and setting, depicting the many ways (sometimes subtle but usually not) the consumption of food is inescapably intertwined with all aspects of our lives. Not every vignette hits the mark, and to modern audiences, some will be more likely to trigger a raised eyebrow, or perhaps an “okay”—I couldn’t help but think of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life in that regard. But as a whole, Itami’s film remains a uniquely joyous affair.
Beyond the 4K restoration for this Blu-ray edition, Criterion did not need to add much—Tampopo is a simple yet substantial delight all on its own—but extras include interviews with Miyamoto, the film’s food stylist Seiko Ogawa and ramen scholar Hiroshi Oosaki, as well as a 1986 documentary on the making of the film, narrated by the director. You may not come away from the film yearning for soft-shell turtles or interested in the sensual reward of passing an egg yolk back and forth, but it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll discover a hankering for ramen. —Michael Burgin
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
There are a lot of reminders about time in Rumble Fish, from hauntingly beautiful black-and-white time-lapse photography to literal clocks appearing in almost every scene. They’re all there to remind Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a meathead thug going through an existential crisis in Francis Ford Coppola’s “art house teen movie,” that his carefree years as a shit-kicking teen are coming to an end. He’s staring down the ugly barrel of adulthood, and can see only two options: Either turn into a shiftless drunk like his father (Dennis Hopper) or become a disillusioned vagabond like his older brother, the legendary Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke).
As complex and inventive as Coppola’s vision for Rumble Fish is, it all comes down to a simple question: What if you figured out what your place in life is, and that place turns out to be a heaping pile of insignificance?
Coming off of the box office failure of his ambitious musical One from the Heart, Coppola delivered a one-two punch of teen gang-oriented dramas in 1983. Even though both films were adapted from S.E. Hinton novels, they could not be more different in terms of stylistic and thematic approach. While The Outsiders was a throwback to the operatic Technicolor melodramas of Nicholas Ray, Rumble Fish is a grimy, smoky, grainy black and white vision of teenage refuse. The whole thing almost operates as a nightmare that one of the characters in The Outsiders would have.
Out of all of Coppola’s work from this period, Rumble Fish is the one that comes closest to his original vision for Zoetrope Studios: Scrappy young filmmakers experimenting with the cinematic form without the pretense of commercial viability. Even though Coppola was forty-four when he directed Rumble Fish, the film has the confidence and immediacy of an indie put together by a young filmmaker. If it came out of a first time director in the ’70s, it would have been hailed as a visionary masterpiece from new Hollywood, but since it was released during Reagan’s era of bubble gums and forced smiles, it was buried amidst an avalanche of poppy and airheaded teen sex comedies.
Thanks to The Criterion Collection, fans of Coppola’s underappreciated masterwork can finally get their hands on a terrific Blu-ray transfer packed full of new extras. The 1080p video presentation perfectly captures the stark black-and-white cinematography with stunning clarity, contrast, black levels, and a healthy amount of grain. The best aspect of this HD transfer is the complete lack of color bleeding during the sequences where the titular fish appear in full color. These scenes are vital to film’s emotional core, since the symbolism of the rumble fish instinctively fighting its own reflection distills Rusty James and his ilk into a symbolic microcosm.
The disc comes with lossless DTS 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. Usually, such discs would default to the surround option, yet Rumble Fish picks 2.0 as we pop it in. This might be due to Criterion’s affinity for a film’s original theatrical experience, but I suspect that it also has something to do with the fact that Stewart Copeland’s deliciously abrasive percussion score comes off with more depth and power on the 2.0 mix.
The extras are so bountiful that fans might need a whole day to get through them. Apart from Coppola’s commentary, an on-location featurette, and a short doc about the film’s music, which were ported from the previous DVD release, we get more than 90 minutes of brand new interviews from Coppola, S.E. Hinton, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, DP Stephen H. Burum, and production designer Dean Tavoularis. Hell, they even have time to interview Roman Coppola, who amusingly talks about hanging out with his father on set. However, the most interesting extra comes in the form of film historian Rodney F. Hill talking about how Coppola’s art house and Albert Camus influences shaped Rumble Fish. This Blu-ray is a must-have for fans, as well as cinephiles who might not be very familiar with the film. —Oktay Ege Kozak