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C What's Good: What to watch on the Criterion Channel for March 2020

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McQueen gets mean and I yearn for Jules Verne!

C What’s Good is the monthly follow-up piece to our C What’s On round-up of the Criterion Channel’s monthly programming. Leaping off of the hard work done by our own Hubert Vigilla, I hope to select a few favorites or interesting picks and convince you they’re worth your time!

Invention for Destruction (1958) Karel Zeman


As of this rambling, ranting, raving typing I'm doing, I watched Karel Zeman's Invention for Destruction not 24 hours ago, for the first time. And ya gotta see it. Blending the hand-sketched backdrops of animation with live-action photography, as well as meticulously-constructed sets to trick your perception, Invention is Wes Anderson, Monty Python, and The Misadventures of Flapjack all before they were twinkles in their creators' eye. 

That means momma and poppa Wes Anderson, too.

Adapting select works by Jules Verne, Destruction has steampunk submersibles and giant octopuses, brass diving suits and pirates of the high seas, all set amidst the turmoil that would erupt around the time of the First World War, when technology was reaching heights previously-unfathomable, leading to devastation unparalleled. I'm racing at the thought of how much I loved this, and beg you to give it a whirl. It's a pastiche before it became hip to like old, baroque things, and a sci-fi vision by way of rollicking nautical adventure, with some of the most unique visuals you're bound to see in any film, anywhere.

The Getaway (1972) Sam Peckinpah


I'm a pretty simply guy. You say "Sam Peckinpah," I say "When and where?" The Getaway is among the classic no-nonsense director's top-tier works. Starring who else but Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as a veritable Bonny and Clyde couple on the lam, The Getaway is a canonical bank robbery film, and essential viewing.

Straight up, this is '70s crime nirvana. Based on a novel by hardboiled author Jim Thompson, the script was penned by none other than Walter Hill, whose credits range from Alien (which he produced) to The Driver and 48 Hours (both of which he directed). Toss in genre legends like Ben Johnson and Slim Pickens on-screen, and a score by Quincy Jones (to whom the Criterion Channel are dedicating an excellent series this month), and you've got yourself a dynamite picture, as one of those tough Hollywood veterans would likely say.

Dynamite!

And like anything Peckinpah does, it's true. The Getaway has terrific action, star power, a rapid pace, and even some romance. (It's true, MacGraw and McQueen started their affair on set, eventually marrying!) Watch The Getaway, and take in the sort of Hollywood production that smashes cars, shoots shotguns, and makes a good 'ol fashioned bid for the Mexican border.

In Cold Blood (1960) Richard Brooks


A decidedly-bleak and cold film for the advent of spring, Richard Brooks' adaptation of the masterpiece true-crime novel by Truman Capote is so incredibly watchable, so expertly constructed, acted, and paced, that I almost felt guilty in enjoying the film, the same way Capote's lyrical prose lulls you into a state of poetry, despite the real world implications.

Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickok (Scott Wilson) are a pair of drifters who have recently murdered an entire Kansas family in a poorly-attempted robbery. Told through flashbacks and scenes surrounding the murders, primarily, Brooks' film paints an anxious portrait of sociopathy without indulging in any blood and guts, much in the way Capote's writing manages to detach the reader from the truly horrific violence.

"In cold blood" is, in a way, the way in which you watch this film then! It's highly cerebral, but never dull or drab, providing us with a pair of characters whom history has shown to be detestable people. Yet despite this, there's an undeniable fascination with where they've been, and where they're going, and with another jazzy Quincy Jones score, In Cold Blood becomes a frighteningly easy film to absorb and become sucked into.

The Housemaid (1960) Kim Ki-Young


With Parasite lighting the world on fire with its historic wins at the Academy Awards (though let's be real, Bong Joon-Ho's class warfare parable was a star well before the Oscars rolled around), there's no doubt been a spotlight cast upon South Korean cinema, with fans new and old revisiting the country's eclectic stylings and audacious auteurs. But for those more curious about some of the history of the industry in South Korea, look no further than Kim Ki-Young's The Housemaid.

Lauded by contemporary Korean filmmakers, as well as other masters like Martin Scorsese (whose World Cinema Project curates the selection), The Housemaid shows how prevalent the notion of class and the structure of Korean society was on the minds of Korean filmmakers long before Parasite.

A story in which a composer and music instructor falls for his newly-hired maid, which quickly spirals out of control into marital mania and, perhaps, murder? The Housemaid plays on sexual tension in ways that underline the fundamental misogyny found in so many households, where the man leads his family with an iron will and leaves the real work for the women around him. Yet The Housemaid fleshes out its psychological portrait by factoring in working class problems and domestic malaise, justifying and denouncing all of its characters in equal measure. 

With South Korean cinema on the minds of many these days, The Housemaid is absolutely essential viewing. A historical document as well as a layered, psychological unraveling, the Criterion Channel supplements Kim's film with interviews and comments by Scorsese and Bong; two filmmakers I could listen to for hours on end.

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Spring is in the air, and the Criterion Channel rolls on! I have to say, this month you don't even need me! Hubert's round-up covers so much of the Channel's output this month--a particularly excellent month, I'd say--that, seriously, take a glance at his piece and take your pick. The month is chock full of some heavy-hitting classics (there's an entire Tarkovsky selection!) as well as oddities and obscurities.

I say it without forcing the compliment: It's programming like this that makes the Criterion Channel really feel like a tool as much as a source of entertainment. When the minds collecting and licensing these films choose a slate of great German Expressionist films you get the benefit of experiencing some truly-great films (if not great, at least, something unlike anything you'll be seeing in a multiplex) while absorbing some history. 

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Sam van der Meer
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Filed under... #Classics #Crime #criterion channel #Criterion Collection #Flixist Originals #Korea #Steve McQueen #streaming

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