It’s the first full week after the holiday season, which means it’s time once again for C What’s On, our look at what the Criterion Channel has programmed for its subscribers. As we return to the regular grind, the first month of 2020 offers another eclectic mix of classics. Most notably, the Criterion folks have programmed a one-month-only collection of seminal 1970s science fiction films (that are not Star Wars). This includes movies by George Lucas, George Miller, Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and John Carpenter.
In addition to some classic sci-fi with a socially conscience, this month has a spotlight on Jane Campion, Burt Lancaster, Danny Kaye, Luis Buñuel, and dogs. There’s a little bit for everyone.
The full January schedule for the Criterion Channel is below. My picks for the month are designated by a double asterisk (**), and I’ve included some commentary where warranted.
Wednesday, January 1**
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Featuring a new introduction by the filmmaker
- And You Act Like One Too (1976)
- Yours Truly, Andrea G. Stern (1979)
- Smithereens (1982)
- Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
- Cookie (1989)
- She-Devil (1989)
Commentary: Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens is one of the great movies about the NYC punk scene around the early 80s. I’m looking forward to taking in this showcase of her work, particularly to give She-Devil a fist watch. Interestingly, they did not include Making Mr. Right, which starred John Malkovich as a scientist and the android he created for long-distance space travel. I inexplicably watched that movie a lot as a kid even though I didn’t understand the jokes.
Thursday, January 2**
From the Archive: Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
With a 1986 audio commentary featuring director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader
3 Faces (Jafar Panahi, 2018) – Streaming premiere
Commentary: The old audio commentary from Scorsese and Schrader for Taxi Driver sounds fascinating. I hope they do this for the out-of-print Criterion release of This Is Spinal Tap someday. It’s important to also highlight Jafar Panahi’s 3 Faces, which continues his tradition of examining Iranian society through subversive non-fiction/fiction hybrid cinema. I prefer This Is Not a Film and Taxi, but 3 Faces is a fine work of stealthy feminist critique from one of the world’s most interesting filmmakers.
Friday, January 3**
Double Feature: Preach It!
Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960) and Wise Blood (John Huston, 1979)
Commentary: I still have to read the Sinclar Lewis and Flannery O’Connor works these films are adapted from. Maybe seeing these movies will kick my butt to finally give them a read. The movie queue is vast, but the reading stack feels never-ending.
Saturday, January 4
Saturday Matinee: 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet, 1957)
Sunday, January 5**
Seventies Sci-Fi – Streaming for one month only
- No Blade of Grass (Cornel Wilde, 1970)
- A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)
- The Omega Man (Boris Sagal, 1971)
- THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)
- Z.P.G. (Michael Campus, 1972)
- Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973)
- Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)
- Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974)
- The Terminal Man (Mike Hodges, 1974)
- Rollerball (Norman Jewison, 1975)
- A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones, 1975)
- Death Race 2000 (Paul Bartel, 1975)
- Shivers (David Cronenberg, 1975)
- The Ultimate Warrior (Robert Clouse, 1975)
- Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976)
- God Told Me To (Larry Cohen, 1976)
- Demon Seed (Donald Cammell, 1977)
- Mad Max (George Miller, 1979)
Commentary: This collection of 70s sci-fi covers a bit of everything, from fears of overpopulation and societal collapse to paranoia about the people next door. Westworld and Logan’s Run were on steady rotation as I was growing up. I admire the original Mad Max even though the series doesn’t really kick into post-apocalyptic monomyth mode until The Road Warrior. I also look forward to checking out A Boy and His Dog again (RIP Harlan Ellison) just to see a better transfer of the film.
As for the 70s sci-fi I haven’t seen in this list, I’m most fascnated by Robert “Enter the Dragon” Clouse’s The Ultimate Warrior, the alien cult movie God Told Me To, and Demon Seed, which had a VHS box cover I can still vividly recall. I may put Logan’s Run or Westworld on in the background while getting work done, which will put me back into an early-adolescent state of mind.
Monday, January 6
Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957) – Criterion Collection Edition #555
Tuesday, January 7**
Short + Feature: Family Feuds
The Hypnotist (Anna Biller, 2001) and The Little Foxes (William Wyler, 1941)
Commentary: I’m glad they still have some Anna Biller shorts on the Criterion Channel. I dropped the ball while her features were available, but I’m not going to miss this double feature.
Wednesday, January 8**
Directed by Agnès Jaoui
- The Taste of Others (2000)
- Look at Me (2004)
Commentary: These first two films by Agnès Jaoui look intriguing, and The Taste of Others is a title that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while. I may, amid the 2019 catch up, take a moment or a Jaoui double feature.
Thursday, January 9**
Three by the Dardenne Brothers
- La promesse (1996)
- L’enfant (2005)
- The Kid with a Bike (2011)
Commentary: I’ve been meaning to watch a film by the Dardenne brothers for a little while now, and this is a great opportunity to dive into a few of their key works and get a feel for their political sensibilities. The undocumented worker drama La promesse seems like the place to start since it’s the film that brought them international attention, but the plot of L’enfant I find jarring and worth highlighting: a poor young sells their baby on the black market for a quick payday.
Friday, January 10**
Double Feature: She’s a Femme Fatale
Pandora’s Box (G. W. Pabst, 1929) and Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986)
Commentary: To this day, Louise Brooks remains an actress I know more for her distinctive look than for her actual films: her bangs, that bob, the expressive eyes, the tiny mouth. Fittingly, it’s paired with a film in which Melanie Griffith offers an eighties-girl makeover of the classic flapper look. Going to make time for both films some time this month.
Saturday, January 11**
Saturday Matinee: Zazie dans le métro (Louis Malle, 1960)
Sunday, January 12**
Directed by Luis Buñuel
- L’age d’or (1930)
- Robinson Crusoe (1954)
- Death in the Garden (1956)
- Viridiana (1961)
- The Exterminating Angel (1962)
- Diary of a Chambermaid (1964)
- Simon of the Desert (1965)
- Belle de jour (1967)
- The Milky Way (1969)
- Tristana (1970)
- The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
- The Phantom of Liberty (1974)
- That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
Commentary I feel like I watched a few of these Luis Buñuel movies when I was too young to appreciate them. With Belle de jour, what does a sheltered suburban high school senior understand about an adult woman’s sexual fantasies? Similarly, what does an awkward college freshman really understand about the class send-up in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie? I was the right age for The Exterminating Angel at least, but that was just after undergrad. Revisiting Buñuel with these middle-aged eyes should be a wonderful experience.
Monday, January 13
Observations on Film Art No. 34: Vampyr—The Genre Film as Experimental Film
Professor David Bordwell on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1932 horror masterpiece and its experimental formal elements.
Tuesday, January 14**
Short + Feature: Colt Classics
Seide (Elnura Osmonalieva, 2015) and The Black Stallion (Carroll Ballard, 1979)
Wednesday, January 15**
Songs My Brothers Taught Me (Chloé Zhao, 2015)
Commentary: I still often think about Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, a blend of documentary and narrative film that chronicles a modern rodeo athlete. It’s at once gritty and elegiac. Something must have appealed to Marvel Studios execs since Zhao’s next movie is The Eternals. A rodeo drama leads to a Jack Kirby cosmic epic. Who would have thunk it?
This leaves me especially curious about Zhao’s debut movie, which chronicles the struggles of a native American community. I don’t know if The Eternals will have the same intimate lens on its larger-than-life characters, but I am fascinated in the tension between Zhao’s grounded, quiet, emotional observations and the special effects bombast of a blockbuster superhero movie.
Thursday, January 16**
Betty Blue (Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1986) – Criterion Collection Edition #1002
A Dog’s Life
- A Dog’s Life (Charles Chaplin, 1918)
- Umberto D. (Vittorio De Sica, 1952)
- Good-bye, My Lady (William A. Wellman, 1956)
- A Boy and His Dog (L. Q. Jones, 1975)
- Baxter (Jérôme Boivin, 1989)
- Le quattro volte (Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010)
- Heart of a Dog (Laurie Anderson, 2015)
Commentary: Lots of good dog movies here, but I am going to focus on Baxter since I’ve only recently become aware of this film and really want to see it. Shot from the perspective of a bull terrier, Baxter features the dog’s voiceover narration as he goes between different owners and people. This bleak French horror (horror-comedy?) sounds disturbing and yet absolutely fascinating.
Friday, January 17**
Double Feature: Poison Pens
The Letter (William Wyler, 1940) and Le Corbeau (Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1943)
Saturday, January 18**
Starring Danny Kaye
- Up in Arms (Elliott Nugent, 1944)
- Wonder Man (H. Bruce Humberstone, 1945)
- The Kid from Brooklyn (Norman Z. McLeod, 1946)
- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Norman Z. McLeod, 1947)
- A Song Is Born (Howard Hawks, 1948)
- Hans Christian Andersen (Charles Vidor, 1952)
- The Court Jester (Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, 1956)
Saturday Matinee: The Court Jester (Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, 1956)
Commentary: There are three movies here that I’ve been meaning to see since working in a video store in high school: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Hans Christian Andersen, and The Court Jester. I remember distinctly special ordering all three films for an elderly woman who wanted to give the movies to her grandkids for Christmas. I still wonder what they thought of these movies; I wonder what I’ll think.
Sunday, January 19**
Starring Burt Lancaster
- Brute Force (Jules Dassin, 1947)
- I Walk Alone (Byron Haskin, 1947)
- Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948)
- Come Back, Little Sheba (Daniel Mann, 1952)
- From Here to Eternity (Fred Zinnemann, 1953)
- The Rose Tattoo (Daniel Mann, 1955)
- The Rainmaker (Joseph Anthony, 1956)
- Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick, 1957)
- Separate Tables (Delbert Mann, 1958)
- Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
- Birdman of Alcatraz (John Frankenheimer, 1962)
- The Train (John Frankenheimer, 1964)
- Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer, 1964)
- The Professionals (Richard Brooks, 1966)
- The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968)
- Conversation Piece (Luchino Visconti, 1974)
- Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)
- Local Hero (Bill Forsyth, 1983)
Commentary: I’ll be sure to hit up a few of these this month, particularly The Swimmer since I love that John Cheever story so much. I’m a tad disappointed that they have Luchino Viconti’s Conversation Piece here rather than The Leopard, but that is the most first-world disappointment possible.
Monday, January 20**
Creative Marriages – Celebrating Federico Fellini’s 100th birthday!
- La strada (Federico Fellini, 1954)
- Juliet of the Spirits (Federico Fellini, 1965)
Commentary: A nice pair of films on my birthday, both of which I haven’t seen since college. Also born on January 20th: David Lynch, Tom Baker, Rainn Wilson, Buzz Aldrin, and Questlove.
Tuesday, January 21**
Short + Feature: Guilty Pleasures
Good Intentions (Anna Mantzaris, 2018) and Death of a Cyclist (Juan Antonio Bardem, 1955)
Commentary: Reading over the synopsis of Death of a Cyclist, I’m reminded a bit of Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman. Very curious to see this film about class and guilt.
Wednesday, January 22**
Directed by Jane Campion
- An Exercise in Discipline: Peel (1982)
- Passionless Moments (1983)
- A Girl’s Own Story (1983)
- Two Friends (1986)
- Sweetie (1989)
- An Angel at My Table (1990)
- The Piano (1993)
- The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
- Holy Smoke (1999)
- In the Cut (2003)
Commentary: Jane Campion is currently prepping her latest film, The Power of the Dog, an adaptation of a 1967 Thomas Savage novel starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, and Jesse Plemmons. That won’t be out until 2021, which is ample time to revisit many of her classic works. While it’ll be great to rewatch An Angel at My Table, The Piano, and Portrait of a Lady, I’m most curious about In the Cut. That crime thriller always seemed like one of the also-rans in Campion’s career, but I like the cast (Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh) and wonder if they bring something worthwhile to the table.
Thursday, January 23**
Four Films by Khalik Allah
Featuring a new interview with the filmmaker
- Urban Rashomon (2013)
- Antonyms of Beauty (2013)
- Field Ni**as (2014)
- Black Mother (2018)
Panique (Julien Duvivier, 1946) – Criterion Collection Edition #955
Commentary: The Museum of the Moving Image recently screened Black Mother, which looked intriguing. I missed the screening, but luckily I get to catch up with that film and more of Khalik Allah’s work.
Friday, January 24**
Double Feature: Jackpot!
Bay of Angels (Jacques Demy, 1963) and Atlantic City (Louis Malle, 1980)
Saturday, January 25**
Saturday Matinee: Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946)
Sunday, January 26**
Meet the Filmmakers: Paul Schrader
Directed by Paul Schrader
- Hardcore (1979)
- American Gigolo (1980)
- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
- Patty Hearst (1988)
- The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
- Light Sleeper (1992)
- Auto Focus (2002)
- Adam Resurrected (2008)
Commentary: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed received a lot of praise the other year for the way it merged a crisis of faith with our current ecological crisis. It’s one of his best films, but his finest achievement is still Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. The narrative fragmentation is enlivened by Eiko Ishioka’s costumes and sets, and made transcendent by Phillip Glass’ score.
Monday, January 27
The Fugitive Kind (Sidney Lumet, 1960) – Criterion Collection Edition #515
Tuesday, January 28**
Short + Feature: Prime Cuts
Carving Magic (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1959) and Delicatessen (Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, 1991)
Commentary: An instructional video about carving meat directed by the king of old school gore movies paired with the first film by Jeunet and Caro? That gets a chef’s kiss from me.
Wednesday, January 29
Fat Girl (Catherine Breillat, 2001) – Criterion Collection Edition #259
Thursday, January 30**
Until the End of the World (Wim Wenders, 1991) – Criterion Collection Edition #1007
Commentary: Clocking in at almost five hours, Until the End of the World sounds like a doozy. An international road movie about the end of the world, the film also involves a device that helps the blind see and can bring dreams to life. I love Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, so I am willing to give Wenders an afternoon of my attention for a trip around the globe and into his dreams.
When I saw Bela Tarr’s seven-hour epic Satantango on the big screen, it was the day before the Super Bowl. The person introducing the film jokingly referred to Satantango as “the Super Bowl of European art cinema.” I may save Until the End of the World for February 1st as my pre-Super Bowl long movie.
Friday, January 31**
Double Feature: One Play, Two Masterpieces
The Lower Depths (Jean Renoir, 1936) and The Lower Depths (Akira Kurosawa, 1957)
Commentary: Can’t go wrong closing out the month with two movies by masters that I have not seen yet.