By Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA
The big 4-0 looms for Criterion’s “Eclipse” series of titles, marking the 40th boxed set in the boutique distributor’s ancillary line, started six years ago to offer hard-to-find works of particular filmmakers, performers, studios, or genres at affordable prices.
While mainstay Criterion Collection releases represent the label’s most sought-after titles, top-notch visual quality, and complementary bonus features upon which the company has built its reputation, the Eclipse line comprises less-well-known titles not afforded the full treatment in terms of picture restoration or supplemental features. The Criterion Collection is the industry gold standard, while the Eclipse series takes the silver. Recognizing its second-place status is not critical so much as an acknowledgement of the product’s market niche.
Five early and previously unavailable films by Ingmar Bergman launched the label in March 2007. With a suggested retail price of $69.95—a routinely discounted amount—Eclipse Series 1, Early Bergman, contained no commentary tracks or other goodies but did include liner notes. Eclipse Series 38, Masaki Kobayashi Against the System, the latest release (out on April 16), contains four films from the Japanese director who is best known for his three-part epic The Human Condition (1959–61). It marks the tenth Eclipse set covering films from Japan, easily the most heavily represented country in the series. Other works hail from the United States, UK, Soviet Union, Canada, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Spain, and Czechoslovakia/Czech Republic.
Eclipse genres include drama, melodrama, comedy, horror, documentary, neorealism, and silent films. The diversity is rich, with three peculiar films by literary bad boy Norman Mailer as the oddest entry. Alas, one of the most interesting, Carlos Saura’s Flamenco Trilogy, is the only Eclipse title to have gone on moratorium.
For a complete list of titles, visit www.criterion.com.
Ten “Eclipse” Titles Not To Be Overshadowed:
Basil Dearden’s London Underground. 4 discs. color & b/w. 399 min. 1959–62. DVD UPC 715515067317. $59.95.
British director Dearden dealt with thorny social issues in the early 1960s but never better than in Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde as a closeted barrister who risks his career to expose a blackmail ring targeting homosexuals. A mixed-race college student’s murder uncovers racism in Sapphire; big-name jazz legends are featured in All Night Long, an updating of Shakespeare’s Othello; and retired army personnel pull off a bank heist in The League of Gentlemen. (LJ 4/15/11)
Early Bergman. 5 discs. b/w. 484 min. In Swedish w/English subtitles. 1944–49. DVD UPC 715515023221. $69.95.
A handful of seldom-seen titles—Torment; Crisis; Port of Call; Thirst; and To Joy—by the Swedish auteur best known for films like The Seventh Seal and Fanny and Alexander show an artist developing his style. The evolution of Bergman’s angst-ridden themes, stark environs, and expressive lighting slowly emerges, beginning with Torment, which he wrote but did not direct, and culminates after five years with the sure-handed To Joy.
The First Films of Samuel Fuller. 3 discs. b/w. 262 min. 1949–51. DVD UPC 715515025522. $44.95.
The Quentin Tarantino of his era—minus the postcensorship ultraviolence—Fuller penned, produced, and directed defiantly pulp films like Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss, which would attain cult status. But he cut his teeth on I Shot Jesse James, The Baron of Arizona, and The Steel Helmet. Helmet, a hard-boiled Korean War tale that is the best of this wild bunch, first put Fuller on the box office map and in the critics’ corner.
Kenji Mizoguchi’s Fallen Women. 4 discs. b/w. 299 min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. 1936–56. DVD UPC 715515033527. $59.95.
In a career spanning three decades and 80 films, Mizoguchi (Ugetsu; Sansho the Bailiff) favored stories about the often sad fate of women in Japanese society. Osaka Elegy and Sisters of the Gion deal with, respectively, a switchboard operator who dallies with her boss and two geishas with modern vs. traditional approaches to dealing with men. Women of the Night and Street of Shame tell the stories of plucky women forced into prostitution.
Late Ozu. 5 discs. color & b/w. 636 min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. 1956–61. DVD UPC 715515-024525. $69.95.
Family life and the joys and sorrows that come with it are the staple of Yasujiro Ozu, the supremely humanist filmmaker most lauded for Floating Weeds and Tokyo Story. Made in his twilight decade, Early Spring, Tokyo Twilight, Equinox Flower, Late Autumn, and The End of Summer show his subtle approach to capturing domestic dynamics with quiet camera work. (LJ 8/07) (Another Eclipse set, Silent Ozu: Three Family Comedies, provides a look at the director’s early work.)
Lubitsch Musicals. 4 discs. b/w. 368 min. 1929–32. DVD UPC 715515028127. $59.95.
Director Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotcka; The Awful Truth; Design for Living) kicks off this set with his first talkie, The Love Parade, a funny tale of a bickering royal couple (Jeanette MacDonald, Maurice Chevalier). Monte Carlo, The Smiling Lieutenant, and One Hour with You offer tempting pre–Production Code raciness—e.g., by way of libidinous roués played by Chevalier—eschewed just a few years later.
Postwar Kurosawa. 5 discs. b/w. 593 min. In Japanese w/English subtitles. 1946–55. DVD UPC 715515027021. $69.95.
Five rarities from Akira Kurosawa, best known for The Seven Samurai, include the antiwar sentiment of No Regrets for Our Youth; the no-money romance of One Wonderful Sunday; the run-amok tabloid journalism of Scandal; the updating of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot; and the nuclear-era angst of I Live in Fear. (A more esoteric set, The First Films of Akira Kurosawa, offers among its quartet a couple of World War II propaganda films as a career and thematic counterpoint.)
Raffaello Matarazzo’s Runaway Melodramas. 4 discs. b/w. 388 min. In Italian w/English subtitles. 1949–55. DVD UPC 715515083515. $59.95.
In stark contrast to the neorealism of directors such as Roberto Rossellini (Rome Open City) and Vittorio De Sica (Bicycle Thieves), Matarazzo churned out hothouse dramas starring matinee swain Amedeo Nazzari and his staple inamorata Yvonne Sanson. Soap operatic with their over-the-top characters and plot twists, Chains, Tormento, Nobody’s Children, and The White Angel offered guilt-free escapism for the postwar Italian masses.
Raymond Bernard. 3 discs. b/w. 394 min. In French w/English subtitles. 1932–34. DVD UPC 715515025324. $39.95.
Scarcely known outside of France, Bernard earned his reputation with Wooden Crosses, a documentary-style antiwar film reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front that relies on performances by veteran soldiers, and an epic-length adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables that is regarded as among the best of numerous filmed versions, presented here in its untruncated form.
Sabu! 3 discs. color & b/w. 286 min. 1937–42. DVD UPC 715515089715. $44.95.
Based on a Rudyard Kipling short story, Elephant Boy marked the debut of Sabu (né Sabu Dastagir in 1924), a nonactor who went on to make The Drum and Jungle Book, also included here, as well as The Thief of Bagdad (available separately from Criterion). A natural talent, Sabu, who died in 1963, was shepherded by British producer Alexander Korda, who helmed these family-friendly tales of adventure.