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Robert Altman and Orson Welles Lead Criterion Collection’s August 2016 New Releases

Robert Altman and Orson Welles Lead Criterion Collection's August 2016 New Releases

August typically tends to be where movies go to die, but that’s not the case with the Criterion Collection, as the vaunted home video label will be releasing a flood of highly-anticipated titles during the dog days of the upcoming summer. Here are the six titles coming to the Collection this August, listed in rough order of our excitement for them.

1. “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” (dir. Robert Altman, 1971). Spine #827

The crown jewel of a career that offers no shortage of gems from which to choose, Robert Altman’s ineffably brilliant 1971 Western stars Warren Beatty as an early 20th century gambler who saunters into the one-building frontier town of Presbyterian Church one bleak afternoon. There, he partners with a bordello madam (the great Julie Christie) to open a brothel and fleece some gold out of this rocky stretch of wasteland. A primordial American story that grabs its genre by the throat and shakes it around like a snow globe, the lyrically violent and endlessly cool “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” combines radical sound design and Vilmos Zsigmond’s frostbitten cinematography to create the rare vision of the West that feels as wild as they said it was.

The Criterion edition has been a long time coming, but it seems as though it will be worth the wait. In addition to a 2002 commentary track featuring Altman and producer David Foster, the disc will boast a brand new documentary on the making of the film, archival interview footage of the late Zsigmond, a location featurette, and perfect cover art that tells you everything you need to know about this rule-breaking classic.

2. “The Woman in the Dunes” (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964). Spine #394
Previously only available to own as part of the “Three Films by Hiroshi Teshigahara” box set (well worth the plunge), the haunting and timeless “Woman in the Dunes” is a brilliant choice for an HD overhaul, as this landmark psychosexual thriller is one of the best and most beautiful films ever made. Faithfully adapted from Kōbō Abe’s erotic novel of the same name, the story follows an amateur entomologist who misses the last bus home from a sandblasted town where he’s scouring for bugs, and seeks shelter with the wild-eyed widow he finds living at the bottom of a local quarry. The next morning, the ladder is gone. Profoundly sensual and perversely surreal (often at the same time), “The Woman in the Dunes” is one of the most essential titles in Criterion’s library, and deserves a chance to shine on its own.

3. “Chimes at Midnight” (dir. Orson Welles, 1966). Spine #830

Billed as “the crowning achievement of Orson Welles’ extraordinary film career,” 1966’s “Chimes at Midnight” doesn’t quite live up to that lofty praise — his directorial debut has a pretty decent reputation — but that doesn’t make this highly eccentric riff on Welles’ favorite Shakespeare character any less fascinating. The way that the bard wrote him, Falstaff usually took a supporting role, but Welles shoves him into the spotlight, resulting in one of the most unusual (and occasionally impenetrable) Shakespeare adaptations that the screen has ever known. It may not be the first disc you reach for whenever company comes by, but there’s no greater monument to Welles’ indomitable spirit. The new 4K restoration also doesn’t hurt, particularly considering that the film was so hard to find before Janus came along and spruced it up.

4. “The Immortal Story” (dir. Orson Welles, 1968). Spine #831

Often lost between “The Chimes at Midnight” in 1966 and “F for Fake” in 1973, the last fiction feature that Orson Welles ever actually finished is a fine testament to his unique genius and unparalleled ego. Running just shy of an hour (and unfortunately not priced to match), 1968’s “The Immortal Story” stars the iconic polymath as a dying merchant in 19th Century Macao who becomes enamored by a story he’s told about a rich man who pays five sailors to impregnate his wife. Determined to reenact the tale with an all-new telling, the merchant deploys the last of his energy and considerable wealth towards staging a recreation, but the process soon proves to be more trouble than it may have been worth. It’s a work that may appeal more to Welles completists than it does casual fans, but the same could be said for so many of his later projects (which, ironically, will never be completed themselves). Criterion’s version sweetens the pot by recycling Adrian Martin’s 2005 audio commentary, including François Reichenbach and Frédéric Rossif’s 1968 documentary “Portrait: Orson Welles,” and a trio of new interviews.

5. “A Taste of Honey” (dir. Tony Richardson, 1961). Spine #829
While it might not seem like the most obvious of Tony Richardson’s films to make available in the U.S. (that honor is probably reserved for “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” or “Tom Jones”), this grim portrait of blue-collar Manchester is a raw neo-realist gem that deserves to be seen. The DVD / Blu-ray release may be a bit out of left field, but Criterion has certainly given it their full attention, as the disc will come stocked with goodies, including new interviews with stars Rita Tushingham and Murray Melvin and some choice archival material. Most exciting of all, Criterion is planning to include Richardson’s first theatrical film (1956’s “Momma Don’t Allow”) as a free bonus. 

6. “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” (dir. Stig Björkman, 2015). Spine #828

Rather than releasing this as a supplemental feature on a disc for a Hitchcock or Rossellini film, Criterion has correctly provided Ingrid Bergman her own spotlight, reserving a standalone disc for Stig Björkman’s 2015 documentary about the actress. True to its title, “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” allows the actress to tell her own story, as luminous home video footage is layered with the sounds of contemporary Swedish star Alicia Vikander reading from Bergman’s diaries and personal correspondences. Packed with deleted scenes, outtakes from Bergman’s film roles (and a clip of her very first), and additional Super 8 footage of the actress in the 1930s, this disc will more than justify the decision to be sold on its own.

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