Thursday, July 18, 2024

New Criterion Releases: May 2021

In the month of May, as we dash through spring into summer, five more movies are now being introduced into the Criterion Hall of Fame. Okay, I’m being very snooty with that, but still. Each film going into another era of global cinema, including three from Hollywood from three different pieces – one of which is very well-known and is a brilliant addition. (In other words, gnarly, dude!) So, here are the new works to be bought from the CC.

Merrily We Go To Hell (1932)

In a film ahead in its time, Dorothy Arzner, the only female director in Hollywood at the time, brings a story about female liberation and the ideas of nonmonogamy. Before the Hays Code was implemented, the film gets away with such topics dunked in sophistication where it is not explicit enough. Fredric March and Sylvia Sidney portray the married couple whose relationship is tested due to social problems in the marriage, causing a radical solution to fix it: experimenting with having an open marriage. They are upper-class and watching the shine they carry darken quickly portrays a stunning piece of commentary on what marriage and love really mean.

Nightmare Alley (1947)

A hidden gem in the film noir genre, Tyrone Power plays a carnival barker con artist who uses his charisma to exaggerate the claims of his traveling circus but his greed and lust convert into a darker side than the barker could ever bear. Based on the novel by William Lindsey Gresham, Power pushed for the role in order to expand his appeal beyond the romantic and pirate roles that brought him fame and, something unusual with noir pictures, the budget was fairly big and had a strong cast to go along with it. Unfortunately, it was not a success but was later rediscovered and found to be a much better film among contemporary critics. The release on Criterion comes at the right time as Guillermo del Toro has taken his turn adapting the novel to be released later this year starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Ron Pearlman, Rooney Mara, and David Strathairn.

Trances (1981)

Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane and the major following the subject of this incredible documentary about exploring sounds that form the trance genre with swaying music and lyrics influenced by old poems that started a new social movement in a turbulent era across the region. The film uses concert footage, interviews, and archives to trace the beginnings of a phenomenon that went beyond northern Africa. It is one of Martin Scorsese’s noted picks for the World Cinema Foundation as he called Trances his first taste of African cinema and even used a song from the band in The Last Temptation of Christ.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

Order a pizza and learn about Cuba in an all-time teen comedy classic by Amy Heckerling and scripted by Cameron Crowe. The antics of the students are all over, where they all deal with different problems such as having sex for the first time, relationships, and learning the ways of officially being an adult. The cast that would become stars later in their career includes Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, Forest Whitaker, and Eric Stoltz, with minor roles played by Nicholas Cage, Pamela Springsteen (sister of Bruce), Lana Clarkson (murder victim of Phil Spector), and Nancy Wilson, who later marry Crowe. But the star of all this is Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, a stoner who runs afoul of his no-nonsense teacher but remains the defiant clown.

Flowers of Shanghai (1998)

A key player in Taiwan’s New Wave, director Hou Hsiao-hsien sews courtesans and their lovers under the haze of oil lamps in one of the 1990s most beautiful films. It’s late-19th century Shanghai, and with the courtesans litertally enclosed in jails until they can buy their way out, the intersecting stories suck you in and leave a scent of opium as betrayal, desire, and freedom in its wake with every turn. Shanghai is made with such sophistication that maybe one viewing won’t be enough to go through the deep layers of emotion between the flower pedals.

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

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