Welcome back to “What Has Molly Been Watching on Kanopy Lately”. This week not only am I going to encourage every Mead Library card holder to get in on the Kanopy action, I am going to encourage one to get artsy with it by exploring the Criterion Collection titles specifically.
So, what is the Criterion Collection, anyway? Founded in 1984, the Criterion Collection was created as a collective dedicated to preserving important film from around the world. As of now, Criterion boasts editions for over 1,400 films ranging from the dawn of the medium in the early 20th century to contemporary 21st century pictures. The editions they produce represent the best possible image quality and tend to include killer bonus content. You can check out their webpage HERE.
Kanopy offers 50 titles from this prestigious collection for your viewing pleasure. Below, I listed 4 of my particular favorites.
Ikiru (Directed by Akira Kurosawa; 1952)
This is a real one, right here. Kurosawa’s best known films like Yojimbo, Rashomon, and The Seven Samurai (the latter two are also available on Kanopy), tend to be in the vein of flashy epic dramas. Ikiru’s power lies in its pure and assured performances as well as in its relatably mundane plot. Ikiru, which translates as “to live” is the story of middle-aged bureaucrat Kanje Watanabe finding purpose and meaning in the face of an indifferent world. His wife has passed away and his daughter and son-in-law care more about Watanabe’s pension than the actual man who is earning it. When a stomach cancer diagnosis gives him a year to live, Watanabe realizes it is not too late for him to do something that matters. This leads him to focus on helping a nearby neighborhood lose a cesspool and gain a playground. This film is so beautiful it hurts. Watch it late at night with someone you love, if possible, and hug them with all your might. If this picture grabs you, please also see Tokyo Story (1953) directed by Kurosawa’s great contemporary Yasujiro Ozu, also available on Kanopy.
The 400 Blows (Directed by Francios Truffaut; 1959)
This is the film most people think of first when they think French New Wave Cinema. In fact, one might argue that the film’s director, François Truffaut, is the movement’s most important founder. French New Wave Cinema was characterized by naturalistic, often improvised dialogue and lots of shaky-cam jump cuts. In fact, Truffaut used footage directly from his lead actor’s audition reel in the finished movie. The story is almost embarrassing in how personal it feels and gave me the same feeling I get when I read The Catcher in the Rye, which was published around the same time. If you want to be a cool film guy, you need to watch French New Wave. Kanopy also offers several films by New Wave heavies Jean-Luc Goddard and Claude Chabrol.
Pather Panchali (Directed by Satyajit Ray; 1955)
Let this quiet, gorgeous treat of a film transport you to a completely different time and place, outside Calcutta in the 1910s. The director relied on amatuer actors and improvised dialogue throughout the film to great effect. For instance, the actor playing young son Apu is possibly one of the most darling children ever committed to celluloid. And one can practically hear the wizened old auntie’s bones creak, she’s so old and bent over crooked. These are two members of an impoverished rural family we follow over the course of several years. They live in a crumbling ancestral home and subsist on the meager wage earned by the patriarch. The defining scene of the movie comes when Apu and his older sister, Durga, run away for an afternoon to see the train whose whistle delights them in the evenings. When they walked through tall grass together and shared a piece of sugar cane I felt nostalgia for a moment I never experienced. It reminded me how the best cinema should make us feel the big feelings that define what it means to be human.
Haxan (directed by Benjamin Christensen; 1922)
Talk about what’s old is new again! This OG work of docutainment is based on the director’s personal study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th century inquisition manual. Over the course of 4 parts, Haxan warns against the dangers of mistaking mental illness for deviltry and starting a false witch-hunt. If that concept isn’t already appealing enough, upon its release in 1922, Haxan was widely banned for various content reasons including but not limited to torture, nudity, and other sexually explicit scenarios. While the “educational” or narrative thrust of the picture is shaky l promise you, the nightmare scenes are coo-coo bananas and satisfying to watch in a way that I don’t know how to replicate. MMmmaaaaaaybe steer clear of this one if you don’t find satanism to be as campy and fun as I do.
I hope this sparks some interest in exploring the Criterion Collection portion of Kanopy. Also, I would love to hear which films you’ve been loving and hating best. Call 920-459-3400 to tell me all about it, or for any other library assistance. Stay safe and keep watching good cinema!