Criterion has built a reputation for itself as a DVD distributor dedicated to quality arthouse cinema. But according to Reuters, they will soon be releasing The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Does this mean they have sold out? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: GFC-blah-recession-blah-reduced consumer spending-blah-Criterion needs a big seller. It’s fairly disheartening when an entity tarnishes its reputation on some cliché-ridden bore-fest photographed by some advertising director to look like prestige material. However, it’s not the first time that commerce has adversely affected Criterion’s decision: Note their release of Michael Bay’s The Rock and Armageddon (spine numbers 40 and 108). That Criterion is releasing some commercial monstrosity probably doesn’t mean that they are wavering in their commitment to good arthouse titles. It’s just a financial necessity to keep their machine running.
An indie distributor you CAN feel good about is Benten Films who have announced an international partnership with Watchmaker Films. The film critic-run distributor has been releasing mainly American mumblecore films which are easy to distribute because the digital material is already there. The partnership will enable them to do more good work as archivists, broadening their ability to release underappreciated gems. Look for titles from Tobe Hooper, John Gianvito, Danny Lyon, Fred Kelemen, and Peter Wollen/Laura Mulvey soon.