With this weekend came came the latest breaking news from the Criterion Collection, and once again my cinephile’s heart did its dance of joy.

The announcement came with their semi-annual posting of titles that have been recently given the high-quality Criterion treatment for an upcoming release on blu-ray. Among the honorees on their new calendar are the Coen brothers — at last!

Criterion is producing a special package of Inside Llewyn Davis. Okay, so it’s not – in my humble opinion — the Coens’ most rewarding screenplay. (If I may be so bold as to suggest it: I’d much prefer to see that tilting “C” imprinted on Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, and No Country for Old Men.) But it’s impressive for many reasons.

inside-llewyn-davis1What excites me most about the news is the prospect of a lasting marriage between Criterion and the Coens. Almost all of the Coens’ catalogue is worthy of Criterion’s extravagant and reverent treatment, and my personal Criterion Collection library will feel more complete with the Coens.

What is more — Criterion is producing a blu-ray of Wim Wenders’ classic early work The American Friend, starring Bruno Ganz. I can’t wait.

Criterion’s treatments of great films honor the work and the artists by helping the world see those visions at their very best, in ideal presentations, and surrounded by extras that help us understand and appreciate them further.

And immediately I wanted to spend more money. To own copies of these high-quality reproductions.

At times, I question this impulse. I’m sure, to some extent, it is the way I have been conditioned by a consumer culture. There is some thrill in believing that, thanks to a Barnes and Noble 50% off sale, I can actually own some of that greatness. And I do feel some pleasure as I see my collection expanding, as my designated Criterion shelves become too small to contain so much goodness.

But then I remind myself that the real satisfaction comes not from the purchase or the product in hand, but in other things: in being able to share those films with others as an act of love; in wrestling with their mysterious contents and then going on to make something of the encounter by writing about it or by making something of my own under their influence.

blue arabesqueSo, after I checked my collector’s impulse today for the sake of managing a healthy budget, and sat down to study my MFA homework, I was delighted to come across this passage in my current text: Patricia Hampl’s Blue Arabesque.

It has become one of my favorite memoirs, and one that I hold up as a model for books I’d like to write about cinema and music in the future. It is a study of her peculiar passion for those sensual portraits of nudes reclining on loungers — pictures known as odalisques — painted by Matisse and Delacroix.

Hampl collects prints of these portraits. And her passion for them has led to journeys around the world, to museums and elsewhere, exploring worlds that these paintings have opened up to her.

She writes:

In Baltimore I discovered the amazing cache of loungers, harried by their flowered wallpapers and Moorish screens, in the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art. They had been collected by two sisters, Dr. Claribel and Miss Etta Cone, inspired pack rats of modern art, virtuosos of avidity. They collected everything, it seems — including , like Matisse, textiles. “I am beginning the buying all over again,” Dr. Claribel writes to a friend with dismay at her own passion. “How the saris wind themselves about my heart. ‘Throat’ would be better, for they strangle out all other impulses. … Now that I stop to reason about it, it is silly foolishness, this collecting of things. But it must have some solid foundation — some foundation deep in the hearts of people. … It is the craving for beauty that is such a vital function of the human soul.

So that’s why it feels so right. It is an exercise in thirsting for, and then drinking deeply of, beauty.

I like that.

It sounds good, anyway.

 

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