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Voyager/Criterion also pioneered the plethora of "extras" taken for granted on today's DVDs: the commentary, by the film's director or a noted scholar, which was laid over the sound track, and which discussed the making of the work and the visual and narrative strategies in it; and the supporting materials director interviews, short films, documentaries on the restoration that made Voyager laser discs a film class you could play at home.
Weighing in at 13 lbs., 12 oz., Essential Art House is a whole film school in a really big box. It comprises 52 films that Janus either originally released in theaters or picked up after their initial runs for distribution to repertory theaters, 16mm film programs and the more enlightened TV stations. The A list of foreign films is here: Rashomon and Pandora's Box, The 400 Blows and Viridiana, The Third Man and The Lady Vanishesthe basics of an educated person's film education.
I have to say it drives me nuts that these discs don't include any of the extras I've extolled; a Criterion disc without all the cool Easter eggs is missing something... essential. But the box is a testament not to Criterion but to Janus; indeed, to serious lovers of serious films. As such, there's not a richer gift (if you happen to be rich) for someone ready to experience the wonders of movies beyond Hollywood than this sumptuous set.
BACK TO THE FIFTIES
As Peter Cowie describes it in his comprehensive and evocative study of Janus in the 240-page book included with Essential Art House, the company had its roots in the early '50s, when Bryant Haliday and Cyrus Harvey started showing old movies Humphrey Bogart dramas and W. C. Fields comedies at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. Then Haliday and Harvey had the first of many inspirations, as heralded by a sign on the Brattle facade: "Opening Soon! Foreign Films." With the success of their new program, they moved to New York City and leased the 55th Street Playhouse. And in 1956, from an office in the Wellington Hotel across the street, they launched Janus Films by purchasing a 1951 documentary called La course de taureaux, which they renamed Bullfight.