Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Criterion Consumerism

I've already written once on the Criterion Collection.  Here's an excerpt from Criterion's online mission statement:
"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."
Movie lovers, myself included, are grateful for what they do, but some are a little too grateful.  Brand loyalty has reached levels of absurdity.  It reminds me, to some extent of the incredible branding of Disney.  This essay is mainly aimed at those who would actually buy all six-hundred plus Criterion movies.  The internet tells me they exist.  What began as genuine cinephilia in many consumers has turned to shallow brand worship.  It's mathematically impossible to like all their movies, but that hasn't stopped people from buying them all.  This is intensely ironic considering how many of these art house movies mock this sort of consumerism.  Lastly, I find it weird the way people talk about these movies as if being a "Criterion Collection" movie isn't a relatively arbitrary classification.  While I love the Criterion Collection, I have to say it's incredible marketing has pushed some people over the deep end.

I love what Criterion has done.  They have taken esoteric cinema, mainly classic foreign art house and important American independent films and put them on DVD.  They have a number of great titles you can not get elsewhere.  They are the best at what they do.  At first their brand was built on the reputations of the movies they gathered.  Now the movies they gather, still generally good and many of them new, have their reputations driven by the Criterion brand.  What started for many consumers as genuine cinephilia has devolved into shallow brand worship.  You could release videos of someone taking a dump on the Criterion Collection and people would buy it.  I like great movies, which both do and do not fall under the Criterion label.

Let's take a look at the collection.  It includes over six-hundred movies, many of them in sets costing about thirty dollars, but at this point, some are rare, out of print, and much more expensive.  Let's also note six-hundred movies.  It is all but statistically impossible that anyone would agree with all their choices.  One would have to buy at least dozens, possibly hundreds of movies they don't even like.  Buying things you don't even like just to own them, to me, is the definition of consumerism.  Some people like to have DVDs on their shelf because the movies they like say something about them.  I am this way to some extent.  The problem here is, if you own all the Criterion movies, no one can know which ones you genuinely like and which ones you own just because you're obsessive compulsive.  You're more collector than movie lover.  I guess that says something about you.

I find it extremely ironic the levels of consumerism on display considering that many of the art house movies in the Criterion Collection mock this sort of consumerism.  I wonder if they get the irony as they post essays about these movies up on their web site.  I doubt they'll ever release a movie about an obsessive DVD collector.  They are laughing their way to the bank.

Lastly, and I guess this applies to the idea of "shallow brand worship," the Criterion Collection is a bit of an arbitrary classification for a movie.  It is not a country, time-period, genre, studio, etc.  It is just the movies that Criterion has happened to choose.  There are still great art house movies in the Criterion vein outside of this exact set.  Asking what people's favorite Criterion movies are is like asking what someone's favorite TCM movie is rather than asking them what their favorite classic movie is.  The main feature that fuels all this collectibility is numbering all the DVDs.  Ordered lists are crack for some people.  Once again, the number system is pretty arbitrary.  It's just the order they release them in which is not order of importance, chronology, etc. although I would say their older stuff is arguably generally more important because they had to start with more accepted classics to build the brand.

As much as I love the Criterion Collection, I am a movie lover and not a brand aficionado.  I wish people would learn the values of some of these art house movies and throw off the consumerism collecting them inspires.  I just also hope that Criterion's viability is not based on this craziness.

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