Criterion in January 2017: HIS GIRL FRIDAY, FOX AND HIS FRIENDS, SOMETHING WILD, BLACK GIRL
Criterion will begin the new year by releasing four films, one from the 1940s, two from the 60s and one from the 70s.
His Girl Friday leads the pack, and it's an interesting choice for a company known for its elite releases. The movie itself is a crackerjack comedy, directed by Howard Hawks, that is astoundingly packed with breathless, overlapping comic dialogue that is superbly performed by a cast led by Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant.
But it fell into the public domain in 1968, which means that a flock of low-quality home video releases have flooded the market since then. I saw a 35mm print at a revival house in Los Angeles years ago -- with my dear, since-departed parents! -- and, though it was a bit battered, it still looked and sounded better than any home video release of the title that I've seen.
Criterion is promising that their edition will feature a new, high-definition digital restoration. Also to be included is a new 2K restoration of Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931), "made from a recently discovered print of the director's preferred version." The version I've seen on cable channel Turner Classic Movies is quite hard to watch, to the point that it's hard to appreciate its merits, so I really hope that the release delivers something special.
Quoting from the official statement on the other three titles: "Meanwhile, the underseen masterpiece Black Girl, by the father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembène, arrives, with its scathing critique of colonialism. Plus: Jack Garfein's lost classic Something Wild, a landmark film of New York City's Method Acting scene starring a riveting Carroll Baker and featuring music by Aaron Copland and opening titles by Saul Bass; and Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Fox and and His Friends, an unsparing commentary on sex, class, and exploitation, in which the filmmaker himself delivers a masterful lead performance."
Here are all the details, again provided by the Criterion Collection.
HIS GIRL FRIDAY
One of the fastest, funniest, and most quotable films ever made, His Girl Friday stars Rosalind Russell as reporter Hildy Johnson, a standout among cinema's powerful women. Hildy is matched in force only by her conniving but charismatic editor and ex-husband, Walter Burns (played by the peerless Cary Grant), who dangles the chance for her to scoop her fellow newswriters with the story of an impending execution in order to keep her from hopping the train that's supposed to take her to Albany and a new life as a housewife. When adapting Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's smash hit play The Front Page, director Howard Hawks had the inspired idea of turning star reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman, and the result is an immortal mix of hard-boiled newsroom setting with remarriage comedy. Also presented here is a brand-new restoration of the 1931 The Front Page, the famous pre-Code adaptation of the same material, directed by Lewis Milestone.
1940 * 92 minutes * Black & White * Monaural * 1.33:1 aspect ratio
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
* New high-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
* New 2K restoration of Lewis Milestone's The Front Page (1931), made from a recently discovered print of the director's preferred version
* New interview with film scholar David Bordwell about His Girl Friday
* Archival interviews with director Howard Hawks
* Featurettes from 1999 about Hawks, actor Rosalind Russell, and the making of His Girl Friday
* Radio adaptation of His Girl Friday from 1940
* New piece about the restoration of The Front Page
* New piece about playwright and screenwriter Ben Hecht
* Radio adaptations of the play The Front Page from 1937 and 1946
* His Girl Friday trailers
* PLUS: A booklet featuring essays on His Girl Friday and The Front Page by film critics Farran Smith Nehme and Michael Sragow
FOX AND HIS FRIENDS
A lottery win leads not to financial and emotional freedom but to social captivity in this wildly cynical classic about love and exploitation by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Lola, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul). Casting himself against type, the director plays a suggestible working-class innocent who lets himself be taken advantage of by his bourgeois new boyfriend (Peter Chatel) and his circle of materialistic friends, leading to the kind of resonant misery that only Fassbinder could create. Fox and His Friends is unsparing social commentary, an amusingly pitiless and groundbreaking if controversial depiction of a gay community in 1970s West Germany.
1975 * 124 minutes * Color * Monaural * In German with English subtitles * 1.37:1 aspect ratio
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
* New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by the Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and supervised by cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
* New interview with actor Harry Baer
* New interview with filmmaker Ira Sachs
* Excerpt from a 1975 interview with director Rainer Werner Fassbinder
* Excerpts from a 1981 interview with composer Peer Raben
* New English subtitle translation
* PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Koresky
A complex exploration of the physical and emotional effects of trauma, Something Wild stars Carroll Baker (Baby Doll, The Carpetbaggers), in a layered performance, as a college student who attempts suicide after a brutal sexual assault but is stopped by a mechanic played by Ralph Meeker (Kiss Me Deadly)-whose kindness, however, soon takes an unsettling turn. Startlingly modern in its frankness and psychological realism, the film represents one of the purest on-screen expressions of the sensibility of the intimate community of artists around New York's Actors Studio, which transformed American cinema in the mid-twentieth century. With astonishing location and claustrophobic interior photography by Eugene Schüfftan, an opening-title sequence by the inimitable Saul Bass, and a rhythmic score by Aaron Copland, this film by Jack Garfein (The Strange One) is a masterwork of independent cinema.
1961 * 113 minutes * Black & White * Monaural * 1.66:1 aspect ratio
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
* New, restored 2K digital transfer, supervised by director Jack Garfein, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
* New conversation between Garfein and critic Kim Morgan
* New interview with actor Carroll Baker
* New interview with scholar Foster Hirsch on the Actors Studio's cinematic legacy
* Master Class with Jack Garfein, a 2015 recording of one of the director's world-famous lectures on acting technique
* PLUS: An essay by critic Sheila O'Malley
Ousmane Sembène (Xala, Faat Kiné) was one of the greatest and most groundbreaking filmmakers who ever lived, as well as the most internationally renowned African director of the twentieth century-but his name deserves to be better known in the rest of the world. He made his feature debut in 1966 with the brilliant and stirring Black Girl. Sembène, who was also an acclaimed novelist in his native Senegal, transforms a deceptively simple plot-about a young Senegalese woman who moves to France to work for a wealthy white couple and finds that life in their small apartment becomes a prison, both figuratively and literally-into a complexly layered critique of the lingering colonialist mind-set of a supposedly postcolonial world. Featuring a moving central performance by M'Bissine Thérèse Diop, Black Girl is a harrowing human drama as well as a radical political statement-and one of the essential films of the 1960s.
1966 * 59 minutes * Black & White * Monaural * In French and Wolof with English subtitles * 1.37:1 aspect ratio
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
* New 4K digital restoration, undertaken by The Film Foundation's World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Cineteca di Bologna, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
* 4K restoration of the short film Borom sarret, director Ousmane Sembène's acclaimed 1963 debut
* New interviews with scholars Manthia Diawara and Samba Gadjigo
* Excerpt from a 1966 broadcast of JT 20h, featuring Sembène accepting the Prix Jean Vigo for Black Girl
* New interview with actor M'Bissine Thérèse Diop
* New English subtitle translation
* PLUS: An essay by critic Ashley Clark