50 Years of Janus Films: The Ultimate Cinephile Christmas Gift

Posted by Michael Pinto on Dec 4, 2008 in Cinema |

Essential Art House - 50 Years of Janus Films

I just spotted this gem, and man would I love this for Christmas: Going back to my childhood I’ve always noticed that Janus Films logo whenever I’d see a offbeat movie. The company was founded in 1956, and one of the co-founders ran the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City which was one of the first cinemas to specialize in art house films. Over the years they’ve distributed films from some of the best directors from Federico Fellini to Akira Kurosawa. In 2006 to celebrate their 50th anniversary the Criterion Collection put out a 50 set DVD collection titled Essential Art House – 50 Years of Janus Films. To me this would be the ultimate gift for any cinema fanboy, in fact I’d say owning the set would be like taking a college level course on film history. Here’s a trailer showing some of the goodies in the collection:

And here’s the official description of the boxed set:

“Essential Art House – 50 Years of Janus Films is a 50-disc celebration of international films collected under the auspices of the groundbreaking theatrical distributor. Packaged in a heavy slipcase set (remember, lift with your legs, not your back), one volume contains the DVDs in sturdy cardboard pages; the other volume is a hardback book with introductory essays and essays about each of the films. Janus Films is the precursor to the Criterion Collection, and this set is far and away the most beautiful art object the company has ever created. The substantial and subdued packaging is meant to stand the test of time, as are the films immortalized within. From The Seventh Seal to Jules and Jim to M and Pygmalion and The 39 Steps, this exquisite set is the art house DVD release of 2006, if not the decade.

The 200-page book provides context for the films and is worth reading in its own right. Martin Scorcese offers a brief and celebratory introduction, reminiscing about the thrill of seeing the antiquated Janus Films logo when attending a movie in one of New York City’s art house theaters. Film historian Peter Cowie’s essay about the history of art house cinema in America casts light on how films by directors like Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman first found American audiences. These days it’s easy to take for granted our access to films from around the globe, but in the early 20th century it was only due to the efforts of a passionate few that these great films found theatrical life in the United States. Many of these films, particularly those from Europe, boasted more liberal attitudes about such things as sex and war, facing the threat of censorship and hostility from Hollywood-fed audiences who weren’t accustomed to considering films as works of art. Janus Films evolved as a way to bridge these cultural gaps, introducing Americans to foreign sensibilities and big-screen stories that transcended language.”

And *gasp* here’s a laundry list of the full collection:

Alexander Nevsky (1938)
Ashes And Diamonds (1958)
L’avventura (1960)
Ballad Of A Soldier (1959)
Beauty And The Beast (1946)
Black Orpheus (1959)
Brief Encounter (1945)
The Fallen Idol (1948)
Fires On The Plain (1959)
Fists In The Pocket (1965)
Floating Weeds (1959)
Forbidden Games (1952)
The 400 Blows (1959)
Grand Illusion (1937)
Häxan (1922)
Ikiru (1952)
The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952)
Ivan The Terrible, Part Ii (1958)
Le Jour Se Lève (1939)
Jules And Jim (1962)
Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949)
Knife In The Water (1962)
The Lady Vanishes (1938)
The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943)
Loves Of A Blonde (1965)
M (1931)
M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Miss Julie (1951)
Pandora’s Box (1929)
Pépé Le Moko (1937)
Il Posto (1961)
Pygmalion (1938)
Rashomon (1950) Richard Iii (1955)
The Rules Of The Game (1939)
Seven Samurai (1954)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973)
La Strada (1954)
Summertime (1955)
The Third Man (1949)
The 39 Steps (1935)
Ugetsu (1953)
Umberto D. (1952)
The Virgin Spring (1960)
Viridiana (1961)
The Wages Of Fear (1953)
The White Sheik (1952)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Three Documentaries By Saul J. Turell

The only catch is that the collection is $765 (and that’s on sale), although you can buy used sets for a bit above $500. I’d say that the only thing that could make this cooler is if all the titles were in Blu-ray. But pretty amazing, no?

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