Tuesday, June 18, 2024

New Criterion Releases: June 2021

Into the new days of summer, hopefully with everyone vaccinated (and do please get the vaccine), and a new slate of movies are coming from the Criterion Collection. A Samuel Fuller film is getting the re-release, an Olympic documentary is coming out as its own release, two sets of documentaries filled with social commentary on the taboos and hidden stories of the 1980s, and a recent indie film that started the career of new directing talent. Here is the (re)graduating class of June 2021.

Pickup On South Street (1953)

Samuel Fuller’s Cold War-noir follows a petty thief (Richard Warwick) who pickpockets a woman’s wallet that has confidential government secrets which are connected to a communist spy ring. The thief is not interested in politics, but he plays cat-and-mouse with both the Feds and the Reds to make it out alive and even find a way to go straight again. The communist theme was highly controversial at the time and even brought the wrath of FBI head J. Edgar Hoover who saw the protagonist as unpatriotic and protested the scene involving a Federal agent bribing an informer. But it remains a staple of Fuller’s masterful storytelling set in the city he once prowled as a beat reporter. 

Visions Of Eight (1973)

The next Olympic film to get its own release is a series of films from the world’s biggest directors of the time: Yuri Ozerov (Soviet Union), Mai Zetterling (Sweden), Arthur Penn (USA), Michael Pfleghar (West Germany), Kon Ichikawa (Japan; he directed Tokyo Olympiad), Milos Foreman (Czechoslovakia), Claude Lelouch (France), and John Schlesinger (United Kingdom). All did a different chapter of the Games and different events that reflected a certain theme, creating a compositive of what all athletes go through and think of, plus a reference to the tragic events of the Munich Massacre during the Games.

Streetwise (1984) / Streetwise: Tony Revisited (2016)

In a documentary tough to swallow with such subjects, Martin Bell followed a group of homeless children living on the streets of Seattle struggling to survive. They are from different backgrounds and broken homes where they all have to hustle in their own way to make it alive. The portrait of these scenes would result in an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Its main subject is Erin “Tiny” Blackwell, who was 14 years old and working as a prostitute while her mother, a groveling alcoholic, shrugs at her daughter’s behavior. Her life would be followed with a sequel documentary, The Life Of Erin Blackwell, which was also released as a book.

The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs (1986-1995)

The life of Marlon Riggs (1957–1994) was one of being blunt and daring to tell the truth about Black culture, media stereotypes, and the life of the Black LGBT community in the era of AIDS, which killed Riggs at just 37 years old. He used video first to create thought-provoking documentaries including Tongues Untied, Affirmations, Color Adjustment, and the posthumously-released Black Is…Black Ain’t. His poetic exploration of race, sexuality and social criticism brought the ire of the influential Christian right because of its broadcasts on PBS, which helped promote the documentary, ironically. But the legacy of works Riggs did in a decade span prior to his passing remains a highly important collection of LGBT-related work to an era where to be gay was to be a stigma of the times.

Pariah (2011)

Dee Rees has her breakthrough work getting the Criterion treatment and deservingly so with this coming-of-age tale about a black teenager getting to grasps with being a lesbian but fears resentment from her religious parents. It’s the common tale of ideal gender roles and social disapproval about homosexuality, especially within the Black community where it’s not always a religious thing. But Rees, using her own background as a template, constructs the story of discovery and embracement while aware of the social constructs that prevent it from being a more open, accepting experience. 

Follow me on Twitter: @brian_cine (Cine-A-Man)

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