In setting this up space, I recalled that at one point years ago, I had made my first "Criterion Confession" on the Confessions of a Pop Fan blog. This little ditty was written on February 16, 2003, and it was probably only my 50th or so ever post. Oh, to be so young and in the glamorous throes of a debilitating fever:
I am Jamie, and I have an addiction.
Many of my friends know this. They were plagued by it last week when, in a mad rush, I attempted to keep a particular high from slipping away.
I am addicted to Criterion DVDs. Let’s call them Crackterion. The Crackterion Collection. There are over 150 ways for me to shoot up with Crackterion, and I haven’t tried them all yet. Last week I found out that one of those ways, How To Get Ahead in Advertising, starring Richard E. Grant, was going out of print. It was already going for about double retail on eBay. These things go out of print and the other freaks start paying outrageous prices for ‘em. Salo is the most expensive, I’ve seen it sell for $300 to $600, despite no one liking it very much (it’s one of the two OOP titles I lack). So I was e-mailing people in different states, saying, “Call your local Tower or Borders. Let’s find this disc!” I couldn’t turn one up, though my addiction partner, Christopher McQuain, who now lives in Seattle, found it right away in an outlying suburb. He needed it for himself, though. It’s luck, I guess, because when the Jacques Tati films disappeared, I found Mon Oncle at a closing Tower on it’s very last day of business and got it insanely cheap. (I finally got Advertising for a so-so price on eBay, and if any of the two I have on backorder show up, I can make my money back easy.)
What is so special about Criterion? Here is how they describe themselves: “The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. Criterion began with a mission to pull the treasures of world cinema out of the film vaults and put them in the hands of collectors. All of the films published under the Criterion banner represent cinema at its finest. In our seventeen years, we've seen a lot of things change, but one thing has remained constant: our commitment to publishing the defining moments of cinema in the world's best digital editions.”
If the Criterion name is on it, I will gamble with a film and buy it. Even if it’s not an instant favorite, or if the film is flawed, they usually have picked it for a special reason. Because of them, I know now who Douglas Sirk, Samuel Fuller, Wong Kar-Wai, Lynne Ramsay, Rene Clair, Yasujiro Ozu, and the Maysles brothers are; I have tried Fellini, Bergman, and Truffaut; I have seen films I had never seen before from Preston Sturges, David Lean, the Archers, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Luis Bunuel. And they don’t just do art pictures. They’ve done classic ‘50s horror like The Blob, they’ve released Michael Bay films (yeah, I know, but no one is perfect), they did excellent editions of Chasing Amy and Wes Anderson’s last two films. Their double-disc Beastie Boys anthology may just be the best music video compilation there is.
And you know how they sucker me? They number the spines. Yes, they get the old comic book geek in me by making it so I have to have them all or I will be missing something. Someday I will have to buy Armageddon or risk not having a #40, of having a hole between Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter (#39 – which I still need) and Olivier’s Henry V (#41 – got it). They even give you a scorecard in the package, so I can sit there with a Sharpie and mark off the ones I have and look for the ones I need. I have an eBay system set up, with the prices I want to pay to get a good deal on the particular films (they are priced at two tiers--$29.95 and $39.95 retail, depending on the set; I try to get them cheaper on eBay. If I buy retail, I go to Deep Discount DVD or DVD Planet, as they consistently have the best prices). It’s really sick. They prey on obsessive personalities like mine.
I am not admitting my addiction because I wish to overcome it. I only seek understanding, patience. I will not change. As I was typing this, Amazon notified me that my copy of the Crackterion Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas that is coming out Tuesday just shipped. It gave me a thrilling jolt. I refuse to let that go.
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How little shelving space I must have needed in comparison back then. The good old days!
A month later, on March 8th, I wrote again on Pop Fan, this time about a film I had seen with my father, and how past movies have a certain resonance. That film was Hopscotch.
I watched a 1980 film called Hopscotch this evening. It stars Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Ned Beatty, and Sam Waterston from Law and Order. The liner notes in the Criterion DVD call it the “only ‘feel-good’ realistic spy film ever made,” and I think it’s a pretty good call. It’s definitely a charming film, with Matthau, of course, working his magic, playing a CIA agent who, rather than fade into bureaucratic obscurity, leads his fellow agents on a worldwide chase while leaking to them chapters of his very revealing memoirs. The film occasionally suffers from some ’70s television-style direction (Matthau departs on a joke, zoom in on the woman laughing!), but overall is a fun, obscure gem.
Watching it, however, was a tad bittersweet. I first saw Hopscotch 22 years ago, when it was in the theatres. It was a movie we had ended up settling on, after a long day of fighting between my parents.
You see, going to the movies wasn’t done when I was young. My father was a pastor and the church forbade it. Or at least my mother felt that way. To be honest, I don’t know for sure. My earliest film memories are of my dad sneaking off to the college near where we lived several times when I was very young (like four years old, maybe) and watching movies in their theatre, bringing me along. From the snatches of memory I have, it was mainly kung-fu movies, and oddly enough, Animal House. My young male mind recorded the scene where the woman takes her shirt off in the back of the car. Probably my first bra.
So, my dad enjoyed movies, and my mom didn’t.
We moved to California when I was seven, and he left the ministry. This corresponded with me becoming more aware of the cultural aspect of films. I was the only kid in my class who hadn’t seen Star Wars I am sure. (And before the wags try to say this is why I despise that film now, I should point out that when Empire was released, I sat in the theatre watching ever showing straight through one Saturday, and I used to shoplift Jedi action figures. It was an education in story that made me detest George Lucas. In other words, fuck yourself.) I think my new awareness connected both to just being in school and also, in Michigan, we only got two channels on our TV; in California, I discovered the joys of syndication and afternoon cartoons, and so became an advertising target. I started lobbying to see films, because I wanted to be part of it all. I think I first won with Lady & the Tramp, likely because it was Disney (church on Sunday nights had always caused me to miss The Wonderful World of Disney as well, so this was a big deal). The second movie was The Black Stallion. My mother tried to make me feel guilty about this, since I was bringing sin into the house. She pointed at my dad on the phone, and said, “See what he’s doing for you? He’s been calling around all day trying to find tickets?” I know now what bullshit that was, he was probably calling for show times, but to a seven-year-old, that was serious guilt.
I was probably eight by the time we saw Hopscotch. The movie my dad really wanted to see was Raging Bull. He told me this, and I burst out with, “But dad, that movie is rated R!” He tried to shush me, but it was too late. The row began. And it lasted all day, until finally my dad put his foot down and took us to Hopscotch. We waited in the car when he went to buy tickets, and my mother turned to me and said, “We’ll go see it with him, but we won’t enjoy it.” I can see how fitting it was now that she was creating a covert conspiracy, given the film’s subject matter. It was rated R, too, but really, she had nothing to worry about. Beatty says “fuck” about four times, one person says “son of a bitch,” but there is no sex and no bloodshed. It’s pretty tame. (And I knew those words already, and used them liberally on the playground.)
Very little memory remained of Hopscotch. Ned Beatty beating on the hood of the car (one of the times he said “fuck,” too), an inept agent being cornered by a Doberman, and that’s about it. I can see my dad really enjoying the film, and had I not been poisoned, I probably would have too. Matthau’s shenanigans would have been right up my alley.