Stage and Spectacle is both a somewhat random box set and a respectably logical one, straddling the line somewhere between the 3 Films by Louis Malle set, which is linked through vague themes of childhood, and clearer "sets" like The Adventures of Antoine Doinel, which features one character in continuing sequels. Renoir's technicolor hues and light touch run through all three of these films. The multi-pronged romances in each film center around legendary stars, too, leading to the films evoking similar emotions. And each film could easily be perceived as slight, entertaining distraction from daily life.
Yet all three films are much more substantial than surface viewings might imply. The Golden Coach and French Cancan explore the life of the performer, while Elena and Her Men has a darker edge to its depiction of Bergman's muse - the question lurks behind all three as to what is reality and what is fantasy and who holds power in the performer/audience dynamic.
Of the three, I enjoyed French Cancan the most by far. The film has the most straightforward heftier themes, but it is also the most entertaining and evocative. All three films hinge on a certain level of cinematic magic, but French Cancan does the best job of matching this theme with a fantastical tone which recalls the best of Hollywood's spectacles. Conversely, The Golden Coach and Elena and Her Men tilt towards farce a little too often for my tastes. Stage and Spectacle in general is not my favorite Criterion box - and it's probably one of the least essential - but I admire the presentation of this lesser-known section of Renoir's career. The presence of French Cancan alone (not to mention its added appeal when seen in the context of the other two films) makes me happy to see the set in the Collection.
The Golden Coach
Elena and Her Men