The Criterion Collection has achieved its crowning glory with the release of a new DVD box set containing 50 of the greatest foreign and art films in existence, taken from the vaults of Janus Films. Grand Illusion (1937), The Third Man (1949), La Strada (1954) and The 400 Blows (1959) are just a few of the titles in this monumental series. Most of the great auteurs are there: Truffaut and Renoir are represented, along with Bergman, Buñuel, Cocteau, Fellini, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Lang and others. There are several oddities from the likes of Roman Polanski and Milos Forman, and three documentaries by Saul Turell thrown in, apparently for color.
Founded in 1956, Janus Films has been the premier champion for stateside distribution of foreign art films. Without the early efforts of founders Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey, Bergman's reputation in America, for example, would be quite different today. What started out as an effort to fill seats at their theaters in Cambridge, Mass., and Manhattan, eventually developed into one of the most formidable film collections in the world. The release of 50 of their choicest properties in a single box set borders on the philanthropic.
The suggested retail price of $850 may be daunting to many (it is offered online as low as $650), but consider that the set renders the individual cost of each film as low as $13 to the consumer. Sadly, the films will not feature Criterion's signature addition of commentaries and supplemental materials (many of the filmmakers are dead, after all), and those expecting bonus features from the set may be disappointed. Nonetheless, Essential Art House: 50 Years of Janus Films, with its companion book of notes, credits and stills, is a virtual reference library for the arthouse addict. If only I had started budgeting in January.