The Criterion Collection has revealed their lineup for September 2021, with new releases of Neil Jordan‘s Mona Lisa, Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s Love & Basketball, Johnnie To‘s Throw Down, Luchino Visconti‘s The Damned, and four films by Melvin van Peebles (The Story of a Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Don’t Play Us Cheap).
Take a look below for more info about each release and head over to criterion.com for all things Criterion.
|MONA LISA |
The brilliant breakthrough film by writer-director Neil Jordan journeys into the dark heart of the London underworld to weave a gripping, noir-infused love story. Bob Hoskins received a multitude of honors—including an Oscar nomination—for his touchingly vulnerable, not-so-tough-guy portrayal of George, recently released from prison and hired by a sinister mob boss (Michael Caine) to chauffeur call girl Simone (Cathy Tyson, in a celebrated performance) between high-paying clients. George’s fascination with the elegant, enigmatic Simone leads him on a dangerous quest through the city’s underbelly, where love is a weakness to be exploited and betrayed. Jordan’s colorful dialogue and eye for evocatively surreal details lend a dreamlike sheen to Mona Lisa, an unconventionally romantic tale of damaged people searching for tenderness in an unforgiving world.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • 2K digital restoration, supervised by director Neil Jordan and director of photography Roger Pratt, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack • Audio commentary from 1997 featuring Jordan and actor Bob Hoskins • New conversation with Jordan and actor Cathy Tyson, moderated by critic Ryan Gilbey • Interviews from 2015 with screenwriter David Leland and producer Stephen Woolley • Interview with Jordan and Hoskins from the 1986 Cannes Film Festival • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing • PLUS: An essay by Gilbey 1986 • 104 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • 1.85:1 ASPECT RATIO
LOVE & BASKETBALL
Sparks fly both on and off the court in this groundbreaking feature debut by writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Old Guard), which elevated the coming-of-age romance by giving honest expression to the challenges female athletes face in a world that doesn’t see them as equal. Sanaa Lathan (Alien vs. Predator) and Omar Epps (Higher Learning) make for one of the most iconic screen couples of the 2000s as the basketball-obsessed next-door neighbors who find love over flirtatious pickup games, fall apart under the strain of high-pressure college hoops and families, and drift in and out of each other’s lives as they pursue their twin aspirations of playing professionally. Aided by stellar supporting performances and an eclectic R&B soundtrack, Love & Basketball captures the intoxicating passions, heartbreaking setbacks, and sky-high ambitions that mark a young woman’s journey to the top of her game and to lasting love.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Gina Prince-Bythewood, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray • Audio commentary from 2000 featuring Prince-Bythewood and actor Sanaa Lathan • Playing for Your Heart, a new making-of documentary featuring Prince-Bythewood, Lathan, actors Omar Epps and Alfre Woodard, Reggie Rock Bythewood, and basketball adviser Colleen Matsuhara • Editing “Love & Basketball,” a new program featuring Bythewood and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire • New conversation on the film’s impact among Prince-Bythewood, founding WNBA player Sheryl Swoopes, and writer-producer-actor Lena Waithe • Audition tape excerpts and six deleted scenes • Three short films by Prince-Bythewood: Stitches (1991), Progress (1997), and Bowl of Pork (1997), with a new introduction by Prince-Bythewood • Trailer • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing • PLUS: An essay by author Roxane Gay 2000 • 124 MINUTES • COLOR • 5.1 SURROUND • 1.85:1 ASPECT RATIO
THROW DOWN One of the most personal films by the prolific Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To is a thrilling love letter to both the cinema of Akira Kurosawa and the art and philosophy of judo. Amid the neon-drenched nightclubs and gambling dens of Hong Kong’s nocturnal underworld, the fates of three wandering souls—a former judo champion now barely scraping by as an alcoholic bar owner (Louis Koo), a young fighter (Aaron Kwok) intent on challenging him, and a singer (Cherrie Ying) chasing dreams of stardom—collide in an operatic explosion of human pain, ambition, perseverance, and redemption. Paying offbeat homage to Kurosawa’s debut feature, Sanshiro Sugata, To scrambles wild comedy, flights of lyrical surrealism, and rousing martial-arts action into what is ultimately a disarmingly touching ode to the healing power of friendship.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New 4K digital restoration, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray • Interview from 2004 with director Johnnie To • New interviews with coscreenwriter Yau Nai-hoi, composer Peter Kam, and film scholars David Bordwell and Caroline Guo • Short making-of documentary from 2004 featuring To and actors Louis Koo, Aaron Kwok, Cherrie Ying, and Tony Leung Ka-fai • Trailer • New English subtitle translation • PLUS: An essay by film critic Sean Gilman 2004 • 95 MINUTES • COLOR • 5.1 SURROUND • IN CANTONESE WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 2.35:1 ASPECT RATIO
The most savagely subversive film by the iconoclastic auteur Luchino Visconti employs the mechanics of deliriously stylized melodrama to portray Nazism’s total corruption of the soul. In the wake of Hitler’s ascent to power, the wealthy industrialist von Essenbeck family and their associates—including the scheming social climber Friedrich (Dirk Bogarde), the incestuous matriarch Sophie (Ingrid Thulin), and the perversely cruel heir Martin (Helmut Berger, memorably donning Dietrich-like drag in his breakthrough role)—descend into a self-destructive spiral of decadence, greed, perversion, and all-consuming hatred as they vie for power, over the family business and over one another. The heightened performances and Visconti’s luridly expressionistic use of Technicolor conjure a garish world of decaying opulence in which one family’s downfall comes to stand for the moral rot of a nation.
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New 2K digital restoration by the Cineteca di Bologna and Institut Lumière, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray • Alternate Italian-language soundtrack • Interview from 1970 with director Luchino Visconti about the film • Archival interviews with actors Helmut Berger, Ingrid Thulin, and Charlotte Rampling • Visconti: Man of Two Worlds, a 1969 behind-the-scenes documentary • New interview with scholar Stefano Albertini about the sexual politics of the film • New English subtitle translation and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing • PLUS: An essay by scholar D. A. Miller 1969 • 157 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • IN ENGLISH AND GERMAN WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 1.85:1 ASPECT RATIO
MELVIN VAN PEEBLES: FOUR FILMS
Director, writer, composer, actor, and one-man creative revolutionary Melvin Van Peebles jolted American independent cinema to new life with his explosive stylistic energy and unfiltered expression of Black consciousness. Though he undeniably altered the course of film history with the anarchic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, that pop-culture bombshell is just one piece of a remarkably varied career that has also encompassed forays into European art cinema (The Story of a Three Day Pass), mainstream Hollywood comedy (Watermelon Man), and Broadway musicals (Don’t Play Us Cheap). Each facet of Van Peebles’s renegade genius is on display in this collection of four films, a tribute to a transformative artist whose caustic social observation, radical formal innovation, and uncompromising vision established a new cinematic model for Black creative independence. Also included in the set is Baadasssss!, a chronicle of the production of Sweet Sweetback made by Van Peebles’s son Mario Van Peebles—and starring the younger Van Peebles as Melvin.
FIVE-BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION COLLECTOR’S SET FEATURES • New 4K digital restorations of all four films, approved by filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks for The Story of a Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Don’t Play Us Cheap • Baadasssss!, a 2003 fictional feature film based on director Melvin Van Peebles’s diaries from the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, directed by and starring his son Mario Van Peebles, with commentary by father and son • New conversations between Mario Van Peebles and film critic Elvis Mitchell; producer Warrington Hudlin and critic and filmmaker Nelson George; and scholars Gerald R. Butters Jr., Novotny Lawrence, and Amy Abugo Ongiri. • Audio commentary by Melvin Van Peebles from 1997 on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song • Three early short films directed by Melvin Van Peebles • How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), a 2005 documentary on Van Peebles’s life and career • The Story Behind “Baadasssss!”: The Birth of Black Cinema, a 2004 featurette • Melvin Van Peebles: The Real Deal, a 2002 interview with the director on the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song • Episodes of Black Journal from 1968, 1971, and 1972, on The Story of a Three Day Pass, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Don’t Play Us Cheap • Interview from 1971 with Van Peebles on Detroit Tubeworks • French television interview from 1968 with Van Peebles and actors Harry Baird and Nicole Berger on the set of The Story of a Three Day Pass • Excerpts from a 2004 interview with Van Peebles for the Directors Guild of America Visual History Program • Introductions to all four films by Van Peebles • Trailers • New English subtitle translation for The Story of a Three Day Pass • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing • PLUS: A 64-page book featuring writing on the films, including an introduction by film scholar Racquel J. Gates
THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS
Melvin Van Peebles’s edgy, angsty, romantic first feature could never have been made in America. Unable to break into segregated Hollywood, Van Peebles decamped to France, taught himself the language, and wrote a number of books in French, one of which, La permission, would become the stylistically innovative The Story of a Three Day Pass. Turner (Harry Baird), an African American soldier stationed in France, is granted a promotion and a three-day leave from base by his casually racist commanding officer and heads to Paris, where he finds whirlwind romance with a white woman (Nicole Berger)—but what happens to their love when his furlough is over? Channeling the brash exuberance of the French New Wave, Van Peebles creates an exploration of the psychology of an interracial relationship as well as a commentary on France’s contradictory attitudes about race that is playful, sarcastic, and stingingly subversive by turns, and that laid the foundation for the scorched-earth cinematic revolution he would let loose just a few years later. 1967 • 86 MINUTES • BLACK & WHITE • MONAURAL • IN FRENCH AND ENGLISH, WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES • 1.66:1 ASPECT RATIO
Melvin Van Peebles’s only foray into Hollywood filmmaking, Watermelon Man is one of the most audacious, radically conceived works to be financed by a major American studio in the 1970s. Comedian Godfrey Cambridge delivers a virtuoso performance (initially in whiteface) as Jeff Gerber, a loudmouthed, bigoted white insurance salesman whose sitcom like suburban existence is jarringly upended when he wakes up to discover, in a wild spin on Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, that he has become a Black man. What ensues is a ferocious satire of society’s racist double standards that gradually transforms into an empowering portrait of awakening Black consciousness, executed with a mix of acerbic irreverence and deadly serious political commentary by a relentlessly subversive Van Peebles. 1970 • 110 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • 1.85:1 ASPECT RATIO
SWEET SWEETBACK’S BAADASSSSS SONG
A landmark of Black and American independent cinema that would send shock waves through the culture, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was Melvin Van Peebles’s third feature, after he walked away from a contract with Columbia in order to make his next film on his own terms. Acting as producer, director, writer, composer, editor, and star, Van Peebles created the prototype for what Hollywood would eventually co-opt and make into the blaxploitation hero: a taciturn, perpetually blank-faced performer in a sex show, who, when he’s pushed too far by a pair of racist cops looking to frame him for a crime he didn’t commit, goes on the run through a lawless underground of bikers, revolutionaries, sex workers, and hippies in a kill-or-be-killed quest for liberation from white oppression. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’s incendiary politics are matched by Van Peebles’s revolutionary style, in which jagged jump cuts, kaleidoscopic superimpositions, and psychedelic sound design come together in a sustained howl of rage and defiance. 1971 • 97 MINUTES • COLOR • MONAURAL • 1.85:1 ASPECT RATIO
DON’T PLAY US CHEAP
Melvin Van Peebles’s film version of his own Tony Award–nominated Broadway musical is a bold blend of theater and nervy, New Wave–inflected cinematic invention. A cast of Black stage and screen luminaries including Esther Rolle, Mabel King, and Avon Long stars in this charmingly offbeat, fablelike fantasy in which a pair of mischief-making devil-bats dispatched by Satan assume human form in order to wreak havoc on a Saturday-night house party in Harlem—only to find their diabolical plan thwarted by their hosts’ infectious generosity of spirit. Staged with ebullience, the original blues- and gospel-infused songs by Van Peebles burst forth in a life-affirming celebration of Black joy, tenderness, resilience, and strength. 1972 • 102 MINUTES • COLOR • 5.1 SURROUND • 1.66:1 ASPECT RATIO