Saturday, May 18, 2013
Most tragedies follow a basic template. A protagonist begins in a certain place - whether it's a normal steady place or immediately after something difficult has happened to them - and they encounter some sort of disaster that throws their world into chaos. The rest of the movie is spent dealing with that chaos, and the protagonist eventually either recovers or succumbs to their challenges in some way. A good recent example of a typical tragedy in the Collection is Secret Sunshine. A woman moves to her deceased husband's hometown to raise their child there when something horrible happens that propels her forward through a spiritual and existential journey. There are multiple heartrending moments in the film, but - like the majority of similar movies and stories of any kind - it's the one central tragedy around which the film revolves.
The Life of Oharu has perhaps ten, maybe even fifteen moments like this. Oharu is betrayed, misled, punished, humiliated, and victimized by random fate so frequently in the film that Mizoguchi's portrait nearly collapses under the weight of absurdity. Mizoguchi's steady hand and the main performance of Kinuyo Tanaka, who worked frequently with the director (she's in all of his films in the Collection), ultimately save the film from the type of sensationalism reserved for similar exploitation movies disguised as social commentary (see: Precious), but the comparisons are still evident. While Mizoguchi has honorable intentions, his portrayal of the plight of women in Japan has little of the complexity and sharp bite of Imamura or Oshima. This is mainly because the film is so melodramatic that it doesn't feel real, the message so obvious that it's hard to take away any applicable lesson.
By the way, this movie is really, really good. I know it doesn't sound like I think that, but it's beautiful and humanistic and it's impossible not to feel a strong attachment to Oharu. Each story within her journey ranges from moderately interesting to stirring enough to be the basis for its own film. And like Mizoguchi's poetic masterpiece Sansho the Bailiff, the film's imagery is lyrical and indicative of Japan's beautiful visual iconography. It's just that when you're finished, you're going to need a long bath.
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Since I began this journey, all three of Terrence Malick's 20th century films have been added to the Criterion Collection. This is a major coup for the series, but it's also great for movie fans looking for superb renderings of three of the best films of modern American filmmaking. Malick is undoubtedly one of the great narrative film artists this country has produced, and perhaps more importantly one of the few truly unique ones.
All three movies are classics, but Days of Heaven is the one that stands out as perhaps the most beautiful movie ever made. I first saw it when I was around 19 or 20 after being told by one person or another (or perhaps after reading in one book or another) that it was "The Greatest Movie Ever Made." I've probably watched only a handful of movies with such a lofty recommendation in mind (Citizen Kane of course being the old standby rite of passage), and it can often make a first viewing somewhat disappointing with such high expectations. Days of Heaven was not disappointing.
The film is mainly known for its cinematography, and this is well-earned. It's not entirely clear who deserves the credit for the film as shot (it's credited to Nestor Almendros, but Haskell Wexler apparently shot a great deal of the finished product), but what's on screen is stunning. Shot mostly by daylight, often with the sun just setting behind the horizon, Days of Heaven often has the kind of otherworldly glow for which the term "magic hour" was created. But even scenes not shot during this brief time of day can dazzle, like the shot which follows a girl as she jumps down a pile of hay, briefly catching the glare of the sun as it goes, or - most certainly - the climactic fire which finally and violently fully severs the connection between Shepard's magnate and his wife and her lover. The Thin Red Line argues that the true crime of war is against nature, but Days of Heaven surely believes that nature will endure, its gentle indifference saving it every time.
As Malick begins to put out films at a faster pace (his latest, To The Wonder, just arrived on iTunes), it's worth remembering how mysterious and iconic Days of Heaven seemed in the twenty years that separated it from Malick's follow-up. Like other relatively recent Criterion releases Repo Man and Vanishing Point, it seems impossible to imagine a major studio greenlighting and bankrolling Days of Heaven, and the film's powerful and beautiful rhythm is seldom matched by anything even Malick has made since. It's not only his best film, it's one of the few movies I think is unquestionably essential viewing.
One last thing: It's also worth noting that Ennio Morricone did the score, and its one of his most evocative and underrated works. Obviously best known for his Western work, Morricone here uses a similar Americana tinge to pull out the timeless and allegorical qualities of the story. Despite the fact that it is not featured as prominently as some of his other scores, I'd put it on the same level as those.
Monday, April 8, 2013
If you count By Brakhage as one set, A Hollis Frampton Odyssey is only the second collection of experimental shorts in the Collection. On one hand, this is totally understandable; it's doubtful that these sets reach the kind of wide audience even an arthouse release like, say, Badlands reaches; I assume compiling a set like this requires an enormous amount of curation, work obtaining rights, and other behind the scenes efforts; and perhaps most importantly many of the greatest and/or most well-known experimental filmmakers have work that either isn't meant to be seen in one sitting (e.g. Andy Warhol) or simply doesn't translate to home viewing (e.g. Nam June Paik). Currently, the set is in just under 400 collections, placing it on the low end of the spectrum, especially for an in-print recent release.
Of course, none of this matters when examining the films that are included here, and when the set is evaluated on its own merits it's pretty special. Frampton's work is notably different from Brakhage's deeply personal and tactile films - though there is certainly an auto-biographical component to Frampton's films, most notably in one of the best included pieces, (nostalgia), in which Frampton has an actor read descriptions of photographs from his life as they are shown burning away on a hot plate. The twist of the film is that the description corresponds to the photograph shown after it, making the viewer work to reconcile what has been said with what is being shown, while retaining enough information to do the same with the subsequent photo. It's a frustrating juggling act as a viewer - though not nearly as frustrating as another film in the same series, Critical Mass. The film combines three of the least appealing things in existence: improvisational acting, lovers' spats, and dischordant editing for an interminable half hour of nails on a chalkboard. I barely made it through this cinematic equivalent of Metal Machine Music even after tuning out halfway through.
The core piece here is Frampton's masterpiece Zorns Lemma, which runs over an hour and is the only selection available on Hulu. It's a brilliant exploration of form that should be required viewing for artists interested in photography of any kind. The majority of the film is dedicated to shots of letters of the alphabet as found on signs in various fonts and conditions, often but not always in alphabetical order. This sounds dull, and it kind of is, but it's also beautiful and oddly inspired. Like the rest of Frampton's films, there's certainly more to the explanation of the film than I am providing, but I think it's important to approach work like this with a totally clear mind and then search out people far more dedicated and informed than me to explain it should the need arise. Most of the time, however, I prefer my gut response to non-linear film to the explanation of it, however correct or intelligent the explanation seems.
There are other shorts here, some more appealing than others, but every one interesting in its own right. Most importantly in terms of his inclusion in the Collection, Frampton infuses his work with much more humor than Brakhage (at least based on the first volume of the latter's work), providing a much needed counterpoint to broaden the range of experimental film represented. On the whole, I would say I prefer the Brakhage set, but this is still a great collection that shouldn't be overlooked by people who are open to this sort of thing.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
Episode 1: Oh, Jesus, this could be a long trip. We're only 2 hours in and I already know I have to watch 13 more hours of a man who raped one woman (who subsequently decided she liked it like apparently happens in quite a few movies) and murder another by beating her to death with his bare hands. This is the protagonist of a 15-and-a-half hour movie.
Episode 2: It's clear now that this is really more of a season of, say, an HBO show, as the story has a nice arc in this episode similar to the previous one. So I guess really Franz is not so different from Tony Soprano, and he does want to go clean. Obviously it's not Fassbinder's intention to glorify what his character has done - and I doubt all of this is going to end very well for Franz - but this sort of thing is a lot easier in a book (or even a regular-length movie) than in a massive epic which revolves around one protagonist.
Episode 3: I had very little idea what the hell was going on in this episode. In fact, I had to go to Wikipedia to read the synopsis to make sure I had gotten the necessary info - turns out I had understood the broad strokes, it just seemed like there was a lot more going on under the surface than there really was. The whole interaction with the woman in her house was very strange - I couldn't quite understand if he had indeed had sex with her or made it up or what. And then when leaves at the end it seemed like he was making a bigger deal out of it than it was. That other guy was a real sleazeball, though.
Episode 4: What the fuck. This was dull as shit. I'm starting to get really worried that I have to watch ten more hours of this. How is this an hour long?
Episode 5: Lina appears to be gone, which is odd, but this episode was loads better than the previous one - in fact, it might be my favorite up to this point. The story is kind of strange and a little unbelievable - who is to say all these women are going to be attracted to both of these men anyway? Actually, why are they attracted to either one of them at all for that matter? Do women have extremely slim pickings in pre-WWII Germany? Still, it's nice to have an actual plot after the last episode, and I enjoyed Franz's arc and the way he handled everything, even if he is still pretty damn unlikable. I'm six hours into this thing and I have yet to really see why this needs to be so long or what people see in it. It's so intently focused on this guy who is totally nowhere that I wonder if I'm just missing a lot by not knowing much about German history between the World Wars. So far there have been some Nazi references (along with a reference to this guy - I think at the end of episode 4 - who I had never heard of before and I find pretty interesting), but nothing that really stands out.
Episode 6: We seem to be getting into a little more plot here, and it looks like Franz will be heading back into crime if I'm not mistaken. His inadvertent association with a robbery all seemed a little too ridiculous to be entirely behind his back, but I do think he is still trying to stay clean. I will also mention that I had a bit of the same reaction to this episode that I had to episode 3, which was that I was pretty sure I wasn't following what was going on, but looking back I got all the essentials. This is certainly a very dense work that is a reflection of its source materials and its ambition - I just wonder if the surface story is appealing enough to convince most people to take a second and third 16 hour journey.
Episode 7: This felt like a transition episode. Franz has lost an arm, yeah, but all that really means is he'll be slightly fatter on his right side for the rest of the series. Really, this feels like the turning point where Franz tries to hold off from descending back into his previous lifestyle and eventually succumbs in the good old red light district, which is rendered here as a kind of Pirates of the Caribbean meets Douglas Sirk aesthetic (only, you know, more prostitutes). I'm more intrigued than I have been at the end of previous episodes, but I'm not on board yet.
Episode 8: I hate this. Seriously, what am I doing with my life? Why did I watch this? Can someone tell me what happened in this episode that makes it need to exist? Why does anyone like this movie? What is happening?
Episode 9: You know what would be a good idea? They should show the murder that Franz went to jail for more. They should show it over and over. That would be good.
Episode 10: So this one was at least moderately interesting. The dynamic between Franz and Mieze is getting more complex, and the way he handles her new long-term client is engaging and somewhat suspenseful knowing what we know about his ability to inflict damage on his women. But I have a hard time believing anyone would think episodes 8-10 (and I suspect 11, too, since this didn't really end with a clean cut) wouldn't be better condensed into one hour - perhaps even less. It's been a long Criterion journey to get to this film, but through 450-some posts I never once suspected that most people who liked a movie did so out of obligation or pretense. But I am honestly at a loss to explain why this film is so well-liked, or really why anyone would like it. When compared to other Fassbinder, it feels lazy and largely incomplete. I'm certainly going to reserve my final judgement until after the notorious epilogue, but at this point I'm not convinced anything can be worth the hours I've spent on this.
Episode 11: Somewhat better than what's come before in that things actually happened, but the big climactic scene was so horrific and awful to watch that I hate to praise it any more than previous episodes. Perhaps following a character like Franz in a book can be bearable, but once you've seen the things his character does to women, it's hard to care at all about the minutiae of his life. This was also the episode where the homoerotic undertones of Reinhold's and Franz's relationship became most apparent. This is still quite the chore.
Episode 12: The second half of this episode, in which Mieze and Reinold walk through the woods, culminating with her murder, is superb filmmaking of the highest order. It also makes absolutely no sense as a television program in the early 1980s, when broadcast technology must have rendered some of the shots virtually indecipherable. It's the best indication yet of just how poorly this must have come across on the small screen before HD and screen sizes that went beyond 30 inches. I wouldn't say the last 12 hours before this were worth it, but I am glad I watched this scene. Still, the characters' motivations are so unbelievable - I really have a hard time understanding how Mieze could have been so stupid as to think she could use Reinold to get information without him wanting something in return, and I don't understand why she would be attracted to Franz in the first place. Most of the interactions in this movie remain a bit of a mystery to me.
Episode 13: Most of this episode could be cut - I would say this could have easily been five-ten minutes of a typical film. Very little is gained by the increased running time except for more opportunities to have Franz say Mieze is dead over and over. This is a pretty disappointing way to end a 14 hour movie, but it's also quite indicative of the film as a whole - overlong, totally self-indulgent, and depressing in an insignificant way. I've heard a lot of interesting things about the epilogue, so I'm not completely checked out at this point. But I am thankful to have most of this ordeal over and done with. I've started reading just about everything on this film I can find online, and this article most closely approximates my own feelings at this point, both in its headline and its full text. I would love to talk to someone who found this film engrossing, or even worth seeing.
Epilogue: Um. OOOOOOOOOOOOkay. I'm not sure this could have been more German if they had tried. I had no idea what to expect going into this, but it was certainly just as weird as people said it would be. There were definitely some cool parts, especially as it related to pop music. But most of it is pretty indecipherable, and just as overstuffed with ideas as the previous fourteen hours were overkill.
Honestly, I don't get the appeal of this movie. I'm really hoping someone can help me out here. Why does anyone think this approaches Fassbinder's finest work (The Marriage of Maria Braun, World on a Wire, or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), let alone surpasses them? It's just so long. So very very long, and unnecessarily so. And the idea that anyone would spend 16 hours with this unlikable, unappealing character is a total mystery to me. Has anyone ever watched this a second time? How can that be possible? That is nearly a full day of your life that you never get back.
The way women were treated in the film also really bothered me. I'm not necessarily calling the film itself sexist or misogynistic, but these moments just felt excessive and depressing. I like a lot of Fassbinder, I really do, but I'm just at a loss here. Obviously, at fifteen hours, it's not a film I'll be giving another shot, but I would like to come out of it with a greater understanding of what people see in it. I just don't have that yet. In fact, this is the first time in over six hundred and fifty titles that I've thought to myself "Do people just like this movie to say that they like it?" This is a question that typically repulses me, but here we are.
Saturday, February 23, 2013
There is a truly harrowing moment in Salo, but it's not any of the moments often cited as difficult to watch. Unlike those scenes, it doesn't involve excrement, knives, or gruesome torture. Instead, a handful of victims is found to be in violation of the rules and, rather than deal with their inevitable punishment, they rat out other victims for breaking the rules. They do this even most likely fully aware that it will not save them, but in a last ditch attempt to have power over someone else in the way they themselves have already been dominated.
Salò is undoubtedly the most notorious film in the Criterion Collection, and arguably the most notorious film made by a serious filmmaker in the history of cinema. Watching the film is a rite of passage into that most daring (and insignificant) group of cineastes who are willing to go the extra mile to satisfy the urge to complete their cinematic education. It's also sought-out by viewers with a thirst for the extreme, those who would group it in with The Human Centipede and Cannibal Holocaust as a graphic ordeal that is unafraid to explore the limits of exploitation and extreme violence.
Though I understand the latter group, I generally reject the appeal of that sort of movie, so, apart from simply wanting to have a fully finished list of Criterion movies with no cheating, any desire I would have to see the film would stem from my allegiance to the former group. Either way, I think both groups would and should be dissatisfied with Salò. As a film, I don't think it's especially impressive, and as a piece of horror-slanted torture porn, it's rather awkward. Salò neither delivers a compelling political or cinematic case for its existence, nor treats its most disgusting and shocking moments with enough reckless abandon for horror fans to enjoy it. The lack of story, the disappointing way in which homosexuality is treated (especially infuriating since Pasolini himself was gay), and the thin line between the horrors of fascism being exposed and the thrill of fascism being glorified makes the film a somewhat meaningless viewing.
Still, the enormous reputation of the film, combined with my own long journey toward viewing it (or even being ready to view it) seems to demand an evaluation. Like so many visceral films, Salò must be evaluated on two separate levels: the experience of watching it, and what is actually on the screen. Pasolini's most beautiful shots (essentially all of which come in the first half of the film) can not conceal the emotional dread this beauty invokes simply because we know what's going to come next. Similarly, the repulsion that is unavoidable in what Pasolini so accurately dubs "the circle of shit" cannot be overlooked when attempting to place these moments in a political context. Without fully bisecting the two, I'd like to address them separately.
As an emotional experience, Salò will tell you a lot about your relationship with movies, specifically violent movies. Nearly 40 years on, the film has lost little of its power to repulse audiences, but the film is not nearly as shocking as it must have been at the time. If anything, Salò is a reminder of how low we've sunk - regardless of your opinion of the film, you have to assume Pasolini was saying something here, even if it was just to elicit some sort of response. The most violent movies today (e.g. Saw, Texas Chainsaw, the above-mentioned Human Centipede) are created for the passive viewer in hyper-aggressive ways. Salò, for better of worse, toys with your feelings. Movies today assume you have none, and are in it for the kicks. Would anything here truly be above being used almost exactly in a contemporary horror film geared at squirming teenagers and their dates? The final horrific torture scene, in which victims are tied to stakes with every limb, seems to have been transposed directly for use in The General's Daughter, a procedural crime film starring John Travolta which made over $100 million at the box office with hardly a peep from offended parties.
On a personal level, much of your ability to stomach the film will depend on how easy it is for you to separate what is on screen from the reality of the production. For some viewers, the fact that what is being done to these human beings is not real, that they did not suffer, and that the poop is most likely chocolate is no consolation, and those people really have no business watching the film. Without this ability, I can only imagine what seeing this movie would be like. And yet, with this ability, I fail to see the worth in seeing these things done. Am I supposed to be proud of myself for being able to stomach reenactments of the true horrors humanity can inflict on one another? Perhaps I am supposed to internalize the violence to ensure that I will treat real acts of a similar nature with more gravity? Neither self-congratulation nor humility seems worth the experience - one is an intellectual circle jerk, the other, preaching to the choir.
Technically, Salò is an extremely well-made film. Pasolini only made films for a decade and a half, but his chops were already on full view in Mamma Roma, and this film, made a decade later, shows his maturity and steady hand. His musical juxtapositions might come off as too obviously ironic, but the classical framing during the story telling and the near-documentary style of the opening sequence in which the victims are rounded up seems absolutely essential to presenting what comes afterwards with the necessary weight. Of course, some shots do seem entirely designed to disgust for the sake of being disgusting (a certain close up of an unappetizing dish being the most obvious), and moments like these reminded me of the wasted talents of directors like Gaspar Noe and often Michael Haneke. There is certainly a "sound and fury" effect to Pasolini's films when viewed from outside of the cultural context against which Pasolini believed he was raging (and which arguably did him in). Furthermore, the narrative is so simple, the characters so spare, and the philosophical discussions so haphazard, that any knowledge of where to put the camera becomes irrelevant pretty fast.
Beyond the actual process of watching the film, Pasolini's political take on the film seems to be dependent upon how seriously he intended to connect his fascist antagonists with his modern day "neo capitalist" targets, and whether the shots fired were intended to be directed specifically at them or were instead meant to be all-consuming. Fascism has become such an easy target that any rejection of its supporters feels like beating a dead horse, but even if Pasolini had used some other example it wouldn't have changed much - this isn't exactly a subtle film. But if the argument becomes whether or not Pasolini intended to express a counter-philosophy or simple nihilism, the film makes for a more interesting jumping off point.
Inevitably, that discussion must come back to that moment when victim turns on victim. This seems to me to be the heart of the film (if it can have a heart), and challenges the simplistic construct of the narrative to make a more complex point about humanity. But there is a second moment which demands evaluation: the pianist's suicide. This character, hardly noticed before her final moment, is the clearest stand-in for the viewer, not necessarily in their role as a viewer (after all, this position is taken much more clearly by the fascists as they sit with binoculars and view the torture below), but in their role in society, serving the powers that be as they stand by allowing evil to continue. From this perspective, her fate can be taken in two ways: surrendering to the inevitability of the evils she has just witnessed, or rebelling against that evil in the only way she could manage to assure they would no longer control her. I honestly can't say what Pasolini's intention was in this scene, but it does read to me as the most important scene in the film, and I am somewhat surprised it is not discussed more frequently when Salò is considered. Of course, it is quite possible Pasolini simply intended to show one more shitty thing, which leads us back to the great mystery of the film.
I've written a lot about Salò at this point, somewhat ironically despite the fact that I ultimately don't think the film is worth intense examination. Perhaps assuming many viewers would feel the same, Criterion has included more essays in this release than in any other release I can recall. None of these really changed my mind about the worth of viewing Salò, although Catherine Breillat's essay is a wild ride. I think the thing I will remember most about the experience of seeing this film is the impossibility of meeting expectations. No film is as horrifying as your imagination can make it seem, none is so explosive as its reputation (although House really is that weird). This renders shock cinema somewhat impotent. Removed from its notoriety, the fact that film is banned in multiple countries, has horrified numerous unsuspecting filmgoers, and maintains a reputation as the most daring and disturbing film ever made, Salò is a mean little movie that says a lot more about its creator than it does about society. You already know if you can stomach Salò or not, the question is, should you really even bother?
Thursday, February 21, 2013
I feel asleep on two separate occasions while watching Chronicle of a Summer. This doesn't mean it's a bad movie or I didn't like it (I have a one-year-old, so late nights are anything past 10), but I bring it up because I expected to be totally enraptured with this movie, and was quite surprised when it ended up causing me to drift off. Part of this was the pacing, but a lot of the problem was simply that the people in it were not as interesting as I expected them to be.
There were still a few moments that kind of blew my mind. The first happened towards the beginning of the film when an old man is interviewed. He tells us that he was born in '82, the same year I was born - only 100 years earlier in 1882. This of course immediately made me think about the fact that I will be 78 in 2060 - if I live that long!
The second moment occurred later during a conversation that was initially about race. It was a somewhat uncomfortable conversation, both for the viewer and the people having it, and it was a reminder that while racial politics have changed enormously in the last half-century (something that's quite obvious in the conversation), this awkwardness when addressing the topic has not diminished much. However, partway into the conversation the facilitator asked two of the men if they knew what the numbers on one of the women's arm referred to. Here was a woman who was probably around my age who had survived the Holocaust! In a lifetime of watching movies, I don't think the proximity of that most horrifying of events to my own time had ever seemed more real to me. It made me immediately recontextualize all of the films I had seen about the Holocaust from the 50s and 60s. Works like Night and Fog, The Two of Us, and The Shop on Main Street were connected to real people who went to see them, people my age who couldn't look at them as works addressing a generic "history" but as works speaking to their own histories. It's not a thought that is easily reconcilable with an innocent view of the world, and it's impossible for me to understand what it would be like to have to shape a world in which that was your introduction to what humans are capable of.
Both of these moments were, of course, unintentional. But they affected me much more than anything the film did with purpose. This is an inevitable product of a documentary, and it's not even an undesirable one - in fact, it might be the most powerful thing about the format. But without a sense of purpose that feels inspired and impressive, the movie felt a little flat to me, like they were stumbling in the dark and occasionally hitting something worthwhile. It makes for an interesting viewing, but not necessarily a memorable one.
It's nice to know as I come to the final five films that have been released by Criterion up to this point that there are still major surprises to be had. The Golden Age of Television is certainly one of those - a great boxset that makes a powerful case for its grandiose title. The whole set is brilliant and powerful stuff, both in what's on screen and the context surrounding it. We wouldn't even have these remarkable stagings if it wasn't for kinescopes, essentially films taken of a monitor showing the broadcast in action, since these live performances were not shot on film and were simply broadcast over the air to affiliates all over the country. With only a couple of networks at the time, virtually everyone in America was watching these, making them the cultural equivalent of a super bowl every night.
Of course, unlike the super bowl and most universally watched shows these days, all of the episodes that make up The Golden Age of Television were fictional, essentially plays put on television and written by major talents, the most notable of which was Rod Serling, most famous for creating and writing most of The Twilight Zone and still one of the great television writers in history. Serling wrote three of the eight teleplays that make up this set, and they are probably my three favorites (though Marty, written by another great, Paddy Chayefsky, is also spectacular). Patterns, Requiem for a Heavyweight, and The Comedian all take on major cultural institutions of the 1950s (big business, boxing, and television, respectively) and have no problem tearing them down and forcing the viewer to question their mindless consumption and acceptance of each. But they are most impressive for their vivid characters, the way he manages to make even the most heartless person in each a three-dimensional person with believable and even somewhat sympathetic motivations. Serling also benefited - as did the other writers in this set - from a group of memorable and at times brilliant performances, particularly from Jack Palance, who is heartbreaking in Requiem, and Mickey Rooney, who is a bit of a revelation for me in The Comedian.
Still, it is hard to believe that this was mainstream art in the 1950s, especially when you add The Days of Wine and Roses, a pitch-black story about alcoholism that pulls few punches, to Serling's three. There are sexual elements and subversive themes in many of them; most obviously Patterns runs so counter to what we perceive of today as 1950s American values that it's hard to believe that the teleplay was so popular that they actually "reran" the performance a year later by getting everyone back together and putting on another show (fortunately, the performance included here is the original).
The other three telecasts included here, The Wind from the South, Bang the Drum Slowly, and No Time for Sergeants, were still very good, but fail to transcend their time. The Wind from the South is a beautiful romance story, but tilts toward the era's melodrama a bit too much to maintain its freshness. Similarly, No Time for Sergeants is hopelessly dated now, even if there are bits and pieces that stay funny. Comedy is a difficult genre for aging, especially on TV, and Andy Griffifth's "aw shucks" routine has seen better days, even if he was clearly an influence on Kenneth the page from 30 Rock. Bang the Drum Slowly is another melodrama, made more interesting by the inclusion of a young Paul Newman, but the film just doesn't have the same crackle of energy Serling's work does.
Overall, this is a spectacular box that makes a strong case for its title (even if I do think the golden age of television is really the last decade or so). Like so many box sets from Criterion, this is an historical document of invaluable relevance in both television history and film history (many of these plays went on to be filmed, while cast members, directors, and writers also went on to big-screen careers). I can't really recommend it highly enough.