Criterion And Other Foreign DVDs

Aside from the ridiculous coding of regions for DVDs, probably the most annoying thing about foreign DVDs is that they are usually so expensive to buy vis-a-vis the films released on DVD by Hollywood. Is it any wonder more people watch Michael Bay films in this nation than those by Theo Angelopoulos or Bela Tarr?

There seems to be almost a cult that has formed to keep high quality foreign films out of the hands of American DVD collectors.

Even worse, is that so few companies go the extra mile to dub the DVDs into English. First, as film is a visual medium, it is incredibly annoying to have to read subtitles. No dubbing job- even at 1960s Godzilla film levels, is anywhere near as distracting as having up to a third of your visual field blinkered by subtitles. Worse is when black and white films are subtitled in white fonts that lack borders. This is one of the great sins of The Criterion Collection. It simply does not cost any more to put subtitles into crisp gold lettering.

In fact, for only a few thousand dollars, qualified stage actors can be hired to read the lines of foreign actors, and avoid the whole mess of subtitles to begin with. Acting has very little to do with mouth synchronization, and the greatest actors act with small parts of their bodies, and the whole. That some actors can actually 'act' when reading dialogue for cartoons proves how silly the arguments against dubbing is-a-vis subtitles is.

Furthermore, if one watches classic foreign films from the 1950s and 1960s, which were routinely dubbed for American audiences (often retained in DVD releases), one can see how superior dubbing is. As example, Ingmar Bergman's Spider Trilogy is dubbed, and the fact that different actors and voices are used for the characters played by Max Von Sydow actually enhances all the characterizations, for we really get that it is not Max Von Sydow in all three films, but characters who merely look like Von Sydow, but sound different, even down to the peculiarities of their emotional vocal choices.

Another flaw that Criterion has, especially since it rebranded itself with the semi-circle C logo a few years back, is that they have really skimped on audio commentaries. Realistically, this is the single greatest advantage DVDs offer over old VHS tapes. That they have cut back on the bread and butter of the industry bodes not well for Criterion, nor for future foreign film novices with a will to want to learn. Simply put, commentaries are very cheaply made and produced, for next to nothing.

So, now that I've gotten that out of mys system, here's hoping that companies, like Criterion, that specialize in foreign films, actually start exploiting the market better, for there is big money to be made by NOT underestimating the viewing public; as strange as that sentiment might seem coming from me.