How the Criterion Assortment Defies the Decline of Bodily Media

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Welcome to The queue – Your daily distraction from curated video content from across the web. Today we’re watching a video essay on the iconic appeal of the Criterion Collection.

These days, if you want something, you can probably buy it online. In a landscape of convenience and choice, many retailers have focused on branding. Of course, when you buy a beautiful tea kettle you want it to work, but who made this kettle and what it stands for may have an impact on how you ultimately spend your money.

A lifetime ago I wrote a play about why cinemas will survive the rise of streaming. I did not consider the ongoing global pandemic (how could I?). But I think the key argument I made is relevant here, so I’ll rehash it again.

Basically (as You’ve Got Mail tells us) everyone confidently declared that smaller retailers wouldn’t make it when big bookstores hit the market. Then, in a delicious twist, Amazon popped up and took over what those big bookstores really sold: convenience. And independent bookstores didn’t just sell books, either. They were selling an experience. And the experience they sold – going to your local indie bookstore to buy a physical book – you can’t find on the internet.

The collection of criteria works, survives, and thrives for this very reason. Yeah sure, you could find a Godzilla DVD on Amazon. Buying a Criterion back isn’t just about buying a movie, however. It’s about all the peripheral things that define Criterion as a brand: the prestige, the ephemera, the box art, the feeling of belonging to an (admittedly cultic) community.

As the video essay explains below, the energy surrounding Criterion is obsessive, loyal, and yes, still consuming. But it’s also a prime example of why the narrative of the decline of physical media doesn’t quite work.

Clock “The cult of the criterion collection”::

Who did that?

This video essay is from Texas Royal Ocean Film Societywhich is operated by Andrew Saladino. You can browse their back catalog of videos on their Vimeo account here. If Vimeo isn’t your speed, you can follow them here on YouTube.

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