Love, death, and artistic perfection from Criterion Channel.
Hey there, hi there, ho there, cinephiles! Here’s another trio of flicks currently showing on the Criterion Channel site and app that are surely worth your time.
Directed by Agnès Varda: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
This week, Criterion Collection released a gorgeous new box set called The Complete Films of Agnès Varda. Although Varda is often included in the group of filmmakers known as the French New Wave, she started making films earlier than many of her fellow New Wavers and released a final film at age 90 last year. That film, a wonderful autobiography/masterclass called Varda by Agnès, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival a month before Varda passed away. Criterion has not yet put this film up on the Channel, but they have a number of her films currently. These include the Los Angeles street art documentary, Mur Murs, which I recommended back in April. It also includes Varda’s best-known film, the real-time drama Cléo from 5 to 7, in which a young singer ponders youth, beauty, and death as she waits for the results of a biopsy. Varda’s creativity, intelligence, and overwhelming empathy informs all of her films. The box set is a must-own, but these flicks offer a great place to start.
Newly Added: John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection (2018)
I am not a sports fan, although I do often enjoy sports movies and documentaries. I wandered into a screening of the documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection two years ago, partly because it had gotten good reviews and partly because it was the glory days of MoviePass. I was happy to see anything, because everything was free (basically). As a film fanatic, In the Realm of Perfection blew me away. It’s an odd blending of film theory and sports appreciation that maybe explains why I am thrilled by sports in cinema but can’t stand it otherwise. It analyzes tennis not only in terms of technique, but in terms of drama. The doc also provides a fascinating portrait of tennis master John McEnroe — well-known for his on-court temper tantrums. The film argues that McEnroe is his own kind of artist: a perfectionist seeking the sublime through tennis. Anyone looking for an in-depth bio will be disappointed, but viewers who want a deeper understanding and appreciation of artistry should give this a try.
Leaving August 31: Death in Venice (1971)
Dirk Bogarde stars in Luchino Visconti’s controversial queer classic. Based on the 1912 novel by Thomas Mann, the film follows a middle-aged composer who travels to Venice for summer vacation, due to ailing health. While there, he sees a beautiful young Polish boy who becomes his all-consuming obsession. As the title none too subtly suggests, all does not end well for the composer. But Visconti’s sensually zooming camera captures the intensity of unrequited desire and unabashedly celebrates male beauty. The studio famously balked at releasing the film, fearing it would be banned for obscenity in the U.S. Thankfully, European enthusiasm for Visconti’s work convinced them otherwise.
More Pop Culture Beast – Criterion Channel Picks:
*Criterion Channel Picks: August 6, 2020 – Personal All-Time Faves
*Criterion Channel Picks – July 30, 2020: “Summer” Movies
*Criterion Channel Picks: Sports flicks for Opening Day, July 23, 2020
*Criterion Channel Picks – July 16, 2020: Last House on the Left & More
Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.