The Criterion Collection Project

There has never been a point in history where physical media was less necessary, yet somehow more appreciated – at least by me. Specifically, the restoration projects the Criterion Collection (and many other labels) undertakes. I can recall when there were certain arthouse titles that were thought to be unobtainable – Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons and Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day are two that spring to mind – and now they’re easily available in both disc and digital streaming formats.

So why appreciate the disc more when so many titles have gone digital? For me, it’s simple – I want the film at my (literal) fingertips. Titles come and go from streaming platforms, even films that are being physically distributed by Criterion. For example, I streamed Hal Ashby’s Shampoo on the Criterion Channel for the first time a few months ago and now it’s no longer available there, even though Criterion still distributes the blu-ray. So if I wanted to watch Shampoo again I can’t even depend on the streaming service run by the company that owns the rights, I need the disc.

Which brings me to my project. Having movies at your fingertips is a wonderful luxury, but collecting and watching should not be mutually exclusive. The former has been a constant life-preserver during the pandemic as well as my current health hiatus. It’s kept my mind interested and occupied (even if my bank account says otherwise), but I think I’ve reached the saturation point.

One thing I’ve noticed with many collectors is a penchant for purchasing without the imminent intent to watch – even blind buys. If I’m buying a film I’ve never seen, I intend to watch it pretty quickly. But I do understand that, for some people, the thrill of owning an unwatched gem you have yet to discover is exciting.

And it’s something I’m guilty of as well. Out of a little over 100 Criterion blu/dvd’s in my collection (not counting individual titles in boxsets) there are maybe 8 to 10 I haven’t watched yet, so I keep it within reason. There are collectors with dozens of unwatched films on their shelves, which is a personal choice (or perhaps a compulsive behavior) so I’m not throwing shade at anyone. You do you.

For me, I want to watch them all – and that’s what I’m going to do!

I’m going to watch every damn Criterion film in my collection. My tally of actual films (including films in boxsets) is around 180, so while this feels like a Herculean task it pales in comparison to some of the massive libraries other collectors have. For reference, Criterion’s latest announcement of titles tops out at over spine #1100 now.

That being said, this exercise will take me a while. Two of the boxsets, AK100 (25 films) and Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema (39 films), could be projects themselves. At the moment I’m aiming to watch 1-2 films a week. And if I multiply that by roughly 180, we’re talking years.

Obviously watching the movies is the easy part, but I’ll also be writing about each film to an extent. They won’t be essay length posts. I’m thinking it’ll be a few paragraphs on each title covering my history with the film, any contextual information I can relate, comparing and contrasting opinions (if I’ve seen the film before), and whatever other thoughts come into play.

As far as structure is concerned, I had planned to watch the films in alphabetical order. I also toyed with the idea of viewing by way of chronological order or spine number, but I ran into one issue with these methods – I like variety. Sure, watching the entire Bruce Lee boxset in order would be some ass-kicking fun, but I want to space those babies out. And if I watched all 39 films in the Bergman set without a break you can bet I’d be needing mental health services.

However, the longer I thought about watching them in alphabetical order the more I realized it would be too dull. For the purposes of streamlining, my movies are ordered alphabetically on the shelf. Not the sexiest set-up but it makes life easier when deciding what to watch. For this project I’m looking for something different.

So I sidestepped order and organization, and leaned in to chaos.

First, I created a spreadsheet of every release I own, broken down by title, year, runtime, director, and country, which I’ll be working off of for the project. Then I input each title into a randomizer and VOILA!

I now have a randomized list of titles with no semblance of any kind of order whatsoever! Chaos reigns!

(Please note I had to reign in some of the chaos)

For instance, I lumped the Samurai Trilogy films together as one entry because of their episodic structure. Same for The Before Trilogy and The Human Condition. Spacing those out and/or watching them out of order diminishes the value of the re-watch and that’s not the goal here.

On the flip side, each title in the larger, oeuvre-based sets such as Bergman, Bruce Lee, John Cassavetes, Dietrich/von Sternberg, etc, counts as an individual entry. I consider those sets as collections of films that are not narratively related, so they can be watched in any order.

With that said, the last bit of business to tend to is the matter of new purchases. This project will take a minimum of two years and you can’t expect me to halt purchasing new titles over that span of time, so what shall we do? I don’t want to cap the project at my current total, but I’m also not going to re-randomize the list every time I accumulate another film. The best I option, I believe, is to put numbers between 1 and the total number of films left to watch in a hat. I’ll draw one number from the hat and slot the new flick in that spot number, and every film behind it will move down one in the order.

I’ll be posting on Fridays.

With all of that out of the way, first post comes tomorrow! So get your berets, monocles, and pekoe tea ready because it’s going to get ultra classy up in this piece. Keep an eye on this page as I’ll be posting the links to each entry so there won’t be an much scrolling through the various screens when searching for a title.

#1 – Tokyo Drifter