No April fooling from those film fanatics at Criterion. The important film company is releasing a thrillingly diverse slate of titles, encompassing nonfiction groundbreakers, contemporary art-house hits and romantic dramas from the golden age on DVD and Blu-ray. All are available come April, enough time to stock up on popcorn.
“Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) Electrified by the verbal wit and visual craftsmanship of the great Howard Hawks, “Only Angels Have Wings” stars Jean Arthur as a traveling entertainer who gets more than she bargained for during a stopover in a South American port town. There she meets a handsome yet aloof daredevil pilot, played by Cary Grant, who runs an airmail company. Both attracted to and repelled by his romantic sense of danger, she decides to stay on, despite his protestations. This masterful and mysterious adventure, featuring Oscar-nominated special effects, high-wire aerial photography and Rita Hayworth in a small but breakout role, explores Hawks’ recurring themes of masculine codes and the strong-willed women who question them. Special edition features include audio excerpts from a 1972 conversation between filmmakers Howard Hawks and Peter Bogdanovich; “Lux Radio Theatre” adaptation of the film from 1939, starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthelmess, and Thomas Mitchell, and hosted by director Cecil B. DeMille
“Barcelona” (1994) Whit Stillman followed his delightful indie breakthrough “Metropolitan” with another clever and garrulous comedy of manners, this one with a darker edge. A pair of preppy yet constitutionally mismatched American cousins—a salesman and a navy officer—argue about romance and politics while working in the beautiful Spanish city of the film’s title. Set during the eighties, Barcelona explores topics both heady (American exceptionalism, Cold War foreign policy) and hilarious (the ins and outs of international dating, the proper shaving method) while remaining a constantly witty delight, featuring a sharp young cast that includes Taylor Nichols, Chris Eigeman and Mira Sorvino. Director-approved special edition features include “The Making of ‘Barcelona,’” a short documentary from 1994 featuring behind-the-scenes footage and on-set interviews with Stillman and cast members; deleted scenes and alternate ending, with commentary by Stillman, Eigeman, and Nichols
“A Whit Stillman Trilogy: ‘Metropolitan’, ‘Barcelona’, ‘The Last Days of Disco’”
Over the course of the 1990s, Stillman made a trilogy of films about the acid tongues and broken hearts of some haplessly erudite young Americans in New York and abroad. Set in the ’80s, these films would trace the arc of that decade, led by Stillman’s Oscar-nominated debut, “Metropolitan” (1990), which introduced moviegoers to a strange, endangered species of privileged New Yorker dubbed the “urban haute bourgeoisie.” Chronologically, the tale continues with “The Last Days of Disco” (1998) in which, with an earnest wink, Stillman mourns the close of New York’s nightclub era via the story of two young party-going women juggling day jobs in book publishing. Finally, “Barcelona” (1994) plunks down a pair of love-starved upper-class men in a foreign city riddled with anti-American sentiment. At once effervescent and melancholy, these are comedies about the ends of eras, social change as seen through the eyes of reluctant, unflaggingly sardonic romantics.
“Brief Encounter” (1945) After a chance meeting on a train platform, a married doctor (Trevor Howard) and a suburban housewife (Celia Johnson) begin a muted but passionate, and ultimately doomed, love affair. With its evocatively fog-enshrouded setting, swooning Rachmaninoff score, and pair of remarkable performances (Johnson was nominated for an Oscar for her role), this film, directed by David Lean and based on Noël Coward’s play “Still Life,” deftly explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance, and has influenced many a cinematic brief encounter since its release. Special edition features include “A Profile of “Brief Encounter,’” a short documentary on the making of the film; “David Lean: A Self Portrait,” a 1971 television documentary on Lean’s career
“Phoenix” (2014) This evocative and haunting drama, set in a rubble-strewn Berlin in 1945, is like no other film about post–World War II Jewish identity. After surviving Auschwitz, a former cabaret singer (Nina Hoss, in a dazzling, multilayered performance), her face disfigured and reconstructed, returns to her war-ravaged hometown to seek out the gentile husband who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. Without recognizing her, he enlists her to play his wife in a bizarre hall-of-shattered-mirrors story that’s as richly metaphorical as it is preposterously engrossing. Revenge film or tale of romantic reconciliation? One doesn’t know until the superb closing scene of this marvel from Christian Petzold, perhaps the most important figure in contemporary German cinema. Special edition features include a new conversation between director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss; a new English subtitle translation
“The Kennedy Films of Robert Drew & Associates” Seeking to invigorate the American documentary format, which he felt was rote and uninspired, Robert Drew brought the style and vibrancy he had fostered as a Life magazine correspondent to filmmaking in the late ’50s. He did this by assembling an amazing team—including such eventual nonfiction luminaries as Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles—that would transform documentary cinema. In 1960, the group was granted direct access to John F. Kennedy, filming him on the campaign trail and eventually in the Oval Office. This resulted in three films of behind-closed-doors intimacy—“Primary” (1960), “Adventures on the New Frontier” (1961) and “Crisis” (1963)—and, following the president’s assassination, the poetic short “Faces of November” (1964). Collected here are all four of these titles, early exemplars of the movement known as Direct Cinema and featuring the greatest close-up footage we have of this American icon. Special edition features include sn slternate, 26-minute cut of “Primary,” edited by filmmaker Richard Leacock; “Robert Drew in His Own Words,” a new documentary featuring archival interview footage; outtakes from “Crisis”