For 35 years, anyone who desires to be considered a serious cinema snob has been forced to acknowledge the glory of The Criterion Collection. First with laserdiscs in the 1980s, then DVDs in the 2000s, and now with Blu-Rays, the company, in partnership with the Janus Films distributor, has been issuing elegant home video presentations of pictures from all over the world that sometimes seem as if they were designed for the Louvre (particularly when it comes to the price tag).
Now, apparently knowing a good thing when they see it, the company is launching a web-based channel, not unlike Amazon Prime or Netflix but with a higher GPA and certainly a less oligarchical profile.
Being as objective as humanly possible and without a shred of prejudice, I will merely state it thus:
My friends, God exists and has a streaming video website.
For if the Criterion Channel is not divinity itself, there are very few other ways to explain the rapturous glories that rock mine soul as if I were attending a Pentecostal tent revival.
Let’s start with the basic numbers. The website makes available to viewers 1,549 titles that are currently part of the wider Criterion Collection. That means customers get access to titles like 8 1/2, Andre Rublev, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Black Narcissus, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Red Shoes, Rashomon, and many more essential entries in the world cinema canon. This is two semesters of Film History online for the same price per month you pay to see far less impressive trash at the multiplex today!
And that’s just the bare bones of it! They have curated daily double features, original programming, bonus feature content for the different films, and Martin Scorsese showing up to run something called the World Cinema Project!
Now there’s some pitfalls. They allow streaming into televisions only on several platforms, meaning my Google Chromecast is doesn’t have the ability to be paired with my iPhone to show the films. There is a decent stab at diversity made in the programming (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar puts together a jaw-dropping samurai movie playlist that a sibling and myself will perhaps gorge ourselves upon) but when all is said and done, the Channel’s original programming is pretty vanilla. That’s pretty bad considering both the political moment we are in and the fact the Collection includes some of the greatest African films of all time. How can you not put at front and center on the launch of this the films of Satyajit Ray and a documentary about the Black Panthers (both available to stream but also ambiguously located without highlight in the films offered) in a way that emphasizes the importance of Black and Brown socio-political struggle? Why in the name of Lenin should Martin friggin Scorsese be the arbiter of quality world cinema as opposed to literally thousands of astonishing POC film scholars who can add so much more quality to the proceedings?
Ultimately these are complaints that can be rectified and hopefully soon. The opportunity to have these films presented at such a low price to consumers is a powerful gift to those who struggle. From the very beginning, cinema was a political project that had the capacity to cause earth-shaking changes, both for progressive (Battleship Potemkin) and reactionary (Birth of a Nation) inclinations. The Criterion Collection has always had the capacity to provide a buttress to the former angle. Check this out, it is worth the money.