Criterion’s One Criterion: A Unique Selling Proposition

So many claims made by ads are either too easy to see through or just plain unappealing. Long gone are the days when I felt tempted to swing by a drive-thru on my way home from work; ditto for my brand allegiance to almost anything aside from Adidas, and even then I don’t re-up until my old pair has sizable holes.

But I’m definitely not immune. I have tastes. If what we’re sold is the “sizzle and not the steak,” the feeling or, perhaps even more pointedly, the “dream,” then I hitch my wagon to those dream machines that take us even further away from ourselves.

A book’s back jacket is miraculous for all that it promises. Like an ad, it condenses an experience into a tantalizing whiff that invites you inside. At least that’s what happens to me. I wouldn’t say I’m dense, but there was a learning curve before I realized that some books did not deliver on these promises. The book award finalist ends up being a bit of a slog, that Scifi hit never quite gels, and then I’m left wondering how to track down the swindler who wrote the copy that sold me.

But fool me once, you know? I admit that the Criterion Collection’s summaries have wriggled their slippery tentacles into my pockets a few more times than I should have liked. (I’m not going to say I did not like it, at first.) The problem is that I believe so fervently in their mission. They present the most important films ever. Importance is their one…criterion.

H8hXQBgkkXPHZqc0aeBelkFeh3rrcU_largeBut “important” isn’t necessarily “entertaining.” Take Wise Blood, the 1979 adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel. Flannery O’Connor ranks high on my Top 10 Best Writers of All Time list. That said, I’ve never read her novel. I’ve read her stories and her essays. But this means I came to the film with fresh eyes, and I was so eager to see “John Huston vividly bring to life her poetic world of American eccentricity” that I talked a friend into watching it with me.

We gave it almost thirty minutes. I suppose the film was much more fun to make than to watch. And that’s true of many important films. Ever since, I check myself before I get too swept away by what amounts to a well-meaning selling proposition. My friend eventually forgave me.

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