July 14, 2009


Starting today all Criterion Collection DVDs and
Blu-ray are 50% off at Barnes and Noble shops and on-line. This offer ends 8/2/2009 at 2:59 am while supplies last. One of the great pleasures of my life has been working as a film programmer for schools and communities. At the center of those efforts has been the Criterion Collection. For those who don't know them, Criterion began in the days of Laser Discs as a company dedicated to searching the globe for the most pristine film sources and working with film cast and crew to package the definitive editions of important films in cinema culture. Criterion covers the great auteurs: Kurosawa, Welles, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Godard, Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Powell, etc, and classic genre films. All of their titles exhibit an artistic flair- and flair is what Spy Vibe loves most! Criterion began releasing Blu-ray editions recently, which include The Third Man starring Orson Welles, and the wonderful NASA documentary For All Mankind (released today!). When I was a student I literally had their catalog under my pillow so I could pour over film stills and descriptions and learn about film history. Now it's all on-line. The Criterion website itself is gorgeous and fascinating, and I think Spy Vibers new to the company will discover a treasure trove there (including movie clips and direct viewing options). Because we at Spy Vibe are interested in espionage, style, fashion, architecture, design, and 1960s culture, here is just a small list of some of the films I suggest looking at during this sale:

A trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American (Audrey Hepburn) through Paris to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave, mysterious stranger (Cary Grant). A deliciously dark comedic thriller, Stanley Donen’s Charade dazzles with style and macabre wit to spare. [see the Spy Vibe reflection].

The best known of Hitchcock’s British films, this civilized spy yarn follows the escapades of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that involves him in a hectic chase across the Scottish moors—a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued. Adapted from John Buchan’s novel, this classic Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller encapsulates themes that anticipate the director’s biggest American films (especially North by Northwest), and is a standout among his early works. [read the review at Permission To Kill]

A cockeyed fusion of science fiction, pulp characters, and surrealist poetry, Godard’s irreverent journey to the mysterious Alphaville remains one of the least conventional films of all time. Eddie Constantine stars as intergalactic hero Lemmy Caution, on a mission to kill the inventor of fascist computer Alpha 60. [See the review on Permission to Kill].

Branded to Kill, the wildly perverse story of the yakuza’s rice-sniffing “No. 3 Killer,” is Seijun Suzuki at his delirious best. From a cookie-cutter studio script, Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece. Criterion presents the
DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.

In July 1969, the space race ended when Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” No one who witnessed the lunar landing will ever forget it. Al Reinert’s documentary For All Mankind is the story of the twenty-four men who traveled to the moon, told in their words, in their voices, using the images of their experiences. Forty years after the first moon landing, it remains the most radical, visually dazzling work of cinema yet made about this earthshaking event.

A frank exploration of voyeurism and violence, Michael Powell’s extraordinary film is the story of a psychopathic cameraman—his childhood traumas, sexual crises, and murderous revenge as an adult. Reviled by critics upon its initial release for its deeply unsettling subject matter, the film has since been hailed as a masterpiece.

Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime—and thus begins this legendary tale of love, deception, and murder. Thanks to brilliant performances by Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles; Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man, directed by the inimitable Carol Reed, only grows in stature as the years pass.

After making such American noir classics as The Naked City and Brute Force, blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious heist in the City of Lights. At once naturalistic and expressionistic, this melange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor was an international hit and earned Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Notorious, a brilliant allegory of love and betrayal, Hitchcock fuses two of his favorite elements: suspense and romance. A beautiful woman with a tainted past (Ingrid Bergman) is enlisted by American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on a ring of Nazis in post-war Rio. Her espionage work becomes life-threatening after she marries the most debonair of the Nazi ring, Alex (Claude Rains). Only Devlin can rescue her, but to do so he must face his role in her desperate situation and acknowledge that he’s loved her all along. Stunning performances, Ben Hecht’s excellent script, and Hitchcock’s direction at its best make Notorious a perfect film.

One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo) turns one man’s artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a director whose film—and life—is collapsing around him. An early working title for the film was La Bella Confusione (The Beautiful Confusion), and Fellini’s masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the 1963 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign-Language Film—one of the most written about, talked about, and imitated movies of all time—in a beautifully restored new digital transfer.

Secluded in the French countryside, a brilliant, obsessive doctor attempts a radical plastic surgery to restore the beauty of his daughter’s disfigured face—but at a horrifying price. At once ghastly lyrical, Eyes Without a Face is a true rarity of horror cinema and has influenced countless films. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Georges Franju’s classic in a long-awaited, fully restored
DVD edition.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg’s full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-­definition widescreen transfer.

In a career-defining performance, Alain Delon plays a contract killer with samurai instincts. A razor-sharp cocktail of 1940s American gangster cinema and 1960s French pop culture—with a liberal dose of Japanese lone-warrior mythology—maverick director Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samoura├» defines cool.

Special-effects wunderkind and genre master Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits) won a place in the hearts of fantasy-film lovers everywhere with this gorgeously designed journey into the unknown. When his spaceship crash-lands on the barren wastelands of Mars, U.S. astronaut Commander “Kit” Draper (Paul Mantee) must fight for survival, with a pet monkey seemingly his only companion.

John le Carr├ę’s acclaimed best-selling novel about a cold-war spy on one final, dangerous mission is every bit as precise and ruthless on-screen in this adaptation directed by Martin Ritt. Richard Burton delivers one of his career-defining performances as Alec Leamas, whose hesitant but deeply felt relationship with a beautiful librarian (Claire Bloom) puts what he hopes will be his last assignment, in East Germany, in jeopardy. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a hard-edged and finally tragic thriller, suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career.


  1. You are my hero. I've been holding onto two B&N gift cards since Christmas waiting for a sale like this.

    Could I suggest a few more for your list? I'm sure you've seen these, but just in case....

    Films with spy connections:
    Hopscotch (Neame - 1980)
    Pickup on South Street (Fuller - 1953)

    Stylish films:
    The Bad Sleep Well (Kurosawa - 1960)
    Band of Outsiders (Godard - 1964)
    Bob Le Flambeur (Melville - 1956)

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  3. oops-typos in my previous comment...

    Great additions to the list. Criterion has many stylish films to explore :) Spy Vibers may especially enjoy the movies of Jean-Pierre Melville and Seijin Suzuki. French New Wave fans should look at Rohmer, Varda, Truffaut, and Godard.

    I just stopped in and picked up For All Mankind, The Last Emperor, The Third Man on Blu-ray, and Science is Fiction on DVD. I spied an Emma Peel box set in the store for $99.99. If you're still looking for it, check your local shops. You might still find a copy on the shelves.

  4. I picked up two espionage-type films with my gift cards today, The Third Man, which you mentioned, and Army of Shadows, which we danced all around in naming Melville films. I also got the Criterion version of Bottle Rocket to replace my scratched up, featureless copy.

    Thanks again for keeping me (and everyone else, but mostly me!) abreast of these sales!

  5. Third Man and Melville- cool! Third Man especially is a film I watch at least once a year. Their print is fantastic. Enjoy!

    After seeing Amadeus again, and getting into a bit of an Ingmar Bergman faze, I picked up Bergman's Magic Flute today.


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