- Hardcover: 306 pages
- Publisher: The Criterion Collection; First edition edition (November 25, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 160465936X
- ISBN-13: 978-1604659368
- Product Dimensions: 10.2 x 1.5 x 13.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 56 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #425,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Criterion Designs Hardcover – November 25, 2014
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“Looking at the Artwork of the Criterion Collection”
By Mark Feeney
THE BOSTON GLOBE
November 29, 2014
What makes the Criterion Collection what it is are the movies. No other video distributor has such an impressive, even indispensable catalog. That tilted broken-circle logo designates not just a company but a standard. If all the cinematheques and archives went up in smoke, so long as the Criterion Collection remained intact, a pretty good account of film history would survive.
What makes the Criterion Collection extra-special is everything else: the exacting technical specifications, booklet essays, bonus materials on disc, and, not least, the care given to design. Packaging can be almost as important as what’s being packaged. Think of Alfred A. Knopf dustjackets or Blue Note LP covers. So, too, with the Criterion Collection.
Criterion started in 1984, issuing classic movies on LaserDisc. It moved on to DVD and now also Blu-ray. To honor its 30th anniversary, it’s published a coffee-table book, “Criterion Designs,” celebrating the artwork commissioned for its releases. The Criterion “C” is notched into the cover, offering enticement as well as reassurance.
Initially, the releases had a standard format, as Modern Library or Norton Critical Edition books do. The idea was a canon, a classic film library. For various reasons, that came to seem too constraining. So graphic artists were commissioned to come up with new designs. Those designs would sometimes incorporate an image from the film, or allude to the original film poster. More often they’d go off in different directions. The designs weren’t supposed to repeat or mimic, but rather enlarge or enhance.
An example of incorporation is Sean Phillips’s “Sweet Smell of Success” cover. Beneath the pulpy typography of the theatrical poster, he puts Tony Curtis in front of a drawing of Burt Lancaster’s head dominating an ad on the side of a delivery truck. The men look like a two-headed monster, which quite neatly encapsulates their characters’ relationship in Alexander Mackendrick’s acid-bath noir. The design does something else, as Eric Skillman notes in the book’s excellent text. The original contract for the film required that the stars’ heads appear on the poster and be the same size. So Phillips satisfies the needs of both art and Mammon.
An example of allusion is David Plunkert’s “Diabolique” — but it’s allusion with a twist. Claude Chabrol is considered the French Alfred Hitchcock, but Henri-Georges Clouzot got there first. Plunkert pulls off a triple play: having a very dirty deed being done by a very Saul Bass-looking arm. Bass did the credit sequences for some of Hitchcock’s best-known films. So it’s a graphic-design version of Tinkers-to-Evers-to-Chance — and in neither Hitchcock nor Clouzot does chance fare well.
As with many of the other titles, the section on “Diabolique” includes alternate sketches. Think of them as the equivalent of a disc’s deleted or extended scenes. The presumed readership for “Criterion Designs” is movie people. Yet the book is no less absorbing for someone coming to it from graphic design.
About the Author
Since 1984, the Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. Over the years, as we moved from laserdisc to DVD, Blu-ray disc, and online streaming, we've seen a lot of things change, but one thing has remained constant: our commitment to publishing the defining moments of cinema for a wider and wider audience. The foundation of the collection is the work of such masters of cinema as Renoir, Godard, Kurosawa, Cocteau, Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Fuller, Lean, Kubrick, Lang, Sturges, Dreyer, Eisenstein, Ozu, Sirk, Buñuel, Powell and Pressburger. Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Every time we start work on a film, we track down the best available film elements in the world, use state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then take time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Whenever possible, we work with directors and cinematographers to ensure that the look of our releases does justice to their intentions. Our supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director's cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards. To date, more than 200 filmmakers have made our library of Director Approved DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and laserdiscs the most significant archive of contemporary filmmaking available to the home viewer.