Being human: two new Criterion releases

Erin "Tiny" Blackwell engages impishly with the camera in Martin Bell's documentary Streetwise (1984)

Two very different new releases from Criterion explore what it means to to maintain one’s humanity in the face of inhuman systems. Masaki Kobayashi’s overwhelming 9 1/2-hour epic The Human Condition (1959-61) follows a conscientious socialist into the brutal horrors of Japan’s occupation of Manchuria during the Second World War, while Martin Bell’s Streetwise (1984) and it’s sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (2016) document the lives of homeless kids on the streets of Seattle during the Reagan era and the aftereffects of that experience in later life.

Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Proud, ambitious Stanton Carlisle (Tyrone Power) has fallen as low as it gets in Edmund Goulding's Nightmare Alley (1947)

Continuing their recent run of classic Hollywood restorations, Criterion have released an excellent edition of Edmund Goulding’s Nightmare Alley (1947), a sordid story of madness and criminality starring Tyrone Power in his best role as an opportunistic carny who cons his way to the top of respectable society only to plunge back down to the lowest depths. A remarkably grim movie to have been made by a major studio on an A-picture budget, it still remains a potent glimpse of existential horror.

Dorothy Arzner’s Merrily We Go to Hell (1932):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Dorothy Arzner’s pre-Code romantic comedy/tragedy Merrily We Go to Hell (1932) is given a gorgeous presentation by Criterion from a new 4K restoration. This story of a vibrant heiress (Sylvia Sidney) and her marriage to an alcoholic writer (Frederic March) avoids the standard Hollywood cliches which would soon become entrenched as the Production Code imposed rules of behaviour on the characters who populated studio movies.

Frank Borzage’s History is Made at Night (1937):
Criterion Blu-ray review

Romance begins in menacing darkness in Frank Borzage’s History is Made at Night (1937)

Criterion have released a stunning restoration of History is Made at Night (1937), Frank Borzage’s startlingly unpredictable mixture of romantic comedy, melodrama, noir and horror, which climaxes as a full-blown disaster film. Production began with only half a script and much of the film was improvised on the fly, yet it emerged as a wonderfully entertaining, continuously surprising testament to Borzage’s belief in the redemptive power of love.

Ousmane Sembene’s Mandabi (1968): Criterion Blu-ray review

Ibrahim Dieng (Makhouredia Gueye) is at the mercy of a post-colonial society in Ousmane Sembene's Mandabi (1968)

Known as the “father of African cinema”, Ousmane Sembene’s films grapple with issues of identity in the complex social and political conditions of post-colonial Africa. His second feature (and first in colour) Mandabi (1968) is a tragi-comedy about a proud man clinging to an outmoded patriarchal role whose life is upended when a nephew working in France sends him a money order for 25,000 francs.