Without the dogged efforts of the folks at The Criterion Collection, I would be stuck viewing my favorite films by Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Ingmar Bergman (to name a few) in shitty bootleg editions rented from the soon-to-close Kim’s on St. Mark’s Place.
But with discretionary income falling and on-demand services on the rise, Criterion’s upscale niche is looking vulnerable, and the company has wisely revamped its website to offer selections from its catalog in streaming video, at $5 a pop. Some excellent material from the old site (e.g. Luis Buñuel’s martini recipe) has gone missing, and so far only 20 titles (including Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris) are ready for instant viewing. Don’t, in other words, cancel your Netflix subscription just yet.
Still, Criterion has compensated for any omissions with myriad added features. In the Explore section, for example, you can read a primer on Technicolor and then see which films are available in that vein. Or you can peruse Top 10 lists by D.A. Pennebaker and Jonathan Lethem. Somehow, we just knew that the author of This Shape We’re In was a Videodrome fan.
Before long DVDs are going to have all the retro charm of Sony Betamax or laserdiscs (the latter format, after all, is how Criterion got its start) and it’s reassuring to know that this stalwart of home video is planning for the future–and is doing so, as always, in style.–Benjamin Strong
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 26, 2008