A New "Criterion" for Quality DVD Viewing

How many times has this scenario happened to you? You have bought or borrowed a DVD of a favorite movie from years ago and look forward to a great movie night. You get your popcorn and soda ready, you gather the kids and spouse around the TV, but wait a minute…how come the picture is so fuzzy and washed out? How come the sound is so bad you cannot even tell what the actors are saying? It is so bad that the wife is giving you that look, you know that look. The one that says you did it again. The kids are getting bored and giving you their look, you know that look that says “Gee Dad, not another junky old movie that is going to bore us to death.” And there you are stammering, “But, but…this was a great movie when I was a kid!” By now the wife has picked up her book, and the kids have plugged their ears with the headphones to their iPhones or iPods and you are stuck with a warm soda losing its fizz and an overflowing bowl of cold popcorn. Well you just got what I call “public-domained.”

Films, like books, are subject to copyright laws that tie the intellectual property to an entity, usually a studio for a movie, which entitles that entity to exclusive rights to that product. This means the entity has the legal right to reproduce, publish, or sell that product for a certain amount of time. For movies, the studio controls all aspects of how and when a film gets re-released as a DVD. Film copyright laws are very hard to ascertain and many films end up in the “public domain” either by forfeit or lack of interest by the studio. In essence, any company can reproduce that film in DVD format and sell it to an unsuspecting public, often resulting in the less-than-pristine condition of many older films that you might have happened upon. But for you, the patron of the Mercer County Library System, there is hope. Fellow movie buff, before you check out that old film, make sure to see if the DVD is part of the “Criterion Collection.”

The Criterion Collection, or just plain Criterion, is a company that specializes in the redistribution of what they call “important classic and contemporary films,” some of the most important films in cinematic history, in high-quality releases. They clean up the films, re-master film scores and soundtracks, put the films in high definition, and gather up director and actor commentaries and special features. Every new release from this company is an event followed closely by film buffs and aficionados. Do you enjoy special features with your films? This company invented those. Do you like your films in the same widescreen aspect ratio that you see at the movie theater? This company pioneered that and made this a DVD standard with their “letterbox” presentation. Remember those black borders at the top and bottom of the picture? That is letterboxing; it ensures you see the movie the way the director wanted you to see it. Criterion also works with the directors of the films they are re-releasing to ensure the director’s vision is presented as authentically as possible.

The Mercer County Library has made a priority of collecting the Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-rays to ensure we have a representative collection of not just American film classics, but also a good collection of world film classics. Some of our recent purchases include the following:
Satyricon and Hoop Dreams
Fellini Satyricon Federico Fellini’s career achieved new levels of eccentricity and brilliance with this remarkable, controversial, extremely loose adaptation of Petronius’s classical Roman satire, written during the reign of Nero.

Hoop Dreams This documentary follows two inner-city basketball phenoms’ lives through high school as they chase their dreams of playing in the NBA.
Watership Down and Sullivan's Travels
Sullivan’s Travels A Hollywood director wants to abandon comedies and make serious films. In order to feed his creative flame, he travels onto the street disguised as a hobo in order to endure real hardship.

Watership Down A faithful big-screen adaptation of Richard Adams's classic British dystopian novel about a community of rabbits seeking safety and happiness after their warren comes under terrible threat.

To find other films in the Criterion Collection owned by the Mercer County Library System, just type “Criterion Collection” in the search field of our catalog and use an “all fields” search and a list of our Criterion Collection DVD and Blu-ray holdings will come up. We own more than 900 items, so you film buffs will be kept busy! Also check out the Criterion Collection website for information on the films they have distributed. Each film has a synopsis, cast and credit information, disc features, essays from film critics and academics, photo galleries, fan blogs, and a ton of other things. So the next time you want to treat the family (or friends) to a movie night, just make certain you have a Criterion Collection pick ready to cue up, and check out the Criterion website to come up with some fascinating facts and information to astound the wife and kids. You will not be getting any of those looks again!

-Larry McNamara, Acquisitions Librarian

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