Living with Addiction: My 12 Step Recovery from Criterion

By: Daniel Reynolds

So there I was descending the basement stairs of the giant HMV near Yonge and Dundas. This is back when it still had stairs that took you into a basement. Also, back when the store could still be described as “giant”. HMV is not exactly in a growth industry right now. Did you hear about Blockbuster? Yeah, that’s about where the market is at. Streaming, On Demand, Netflix, Bittorent, no one buys those plastic discs anymore. But, yeah, OK, I was still stepping down those stairs. I can’t deny that.

We’re living in the age of media addiction. I don’t need to tell you; no judgement, I live it. But there’s an addiction that no one is talking about. It’s powerful, if a bit obscure. It doesn’t destroy lives or anything but, damn, it costs money. It’s hard to explain to other people; of course, these things usually are. But, well, there I was at the bottom of those stairs, walking into that HMV basement. I figure it’s now time to come clean. I have nothing left to hide.

My name is Daniel Reynolds and I’m a Criterion addict.

Just look at them. So beautiful. So, so beautiful.

Just look at them. So beautiful. So, so beautiful.

For the uninitiated: the Criterion Collection is a specially curated and continuously growing compendium of “important classic and contemporary films” that are marketed to “film aficionados”. Criterion versions of films typically include pristine, widescreen transfers and copious supplementary features. Basically, Criterion offers an inventory of significant films from a broad spectrum of countries and eras, presented as artfully as possible, and available at a premium price.

The Criterion Collection is also film heroin. This is my 12 Step journey to recovery.

1) We admitted we were powerless over Criterion—that our lives had become unmanageable.

It started with the usual gateway deal. I saw a mislabeled Criterion DVD of Traffic available as part of a two for 50 offer (I got a “Collector’s Edition” of Pulp Fiction with it). 25 bucks for a Criterion? My young mind remembered seeing them usually listed at double that price. Those fools.

It didn’t seem like an issue at the time, I swear. I didn’t even think too hard about what I was doing. Yet, I was back in the store a week later, noticing some Wes Anderson Criterions (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums). I pounced. I didn’t think I had a problem. I mean, they were on sale after all. What could it hurt?

2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Remember what I said about living in an age of media addiction? After filling up one shelf, and having numerous overflowing boxes, my collection of books, DVDs, graphic novels, video games, CDs and other knickknacks was becoming untenable. It’s easy to be consumed by media these days but I knew I had to figure out a better storage solution. Did I stop buying DVDs? No, of course not. I decided to continue on in my march to buy more Criterions. I figured if they cost more money then I’d buy fewer of them. This is the logic of a junkie.

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Leaving God out of the equation, somewhere along the line I decided that Christmas, that holiest of seasons, was the perfect time to indulge my Criterion binges. Each year, my family would ask for a couple of gift ideas so as to assist them in their Christmas shopping. Did I give them a list of assorted useful items or practical gear? No, I gave them a list of titles. Criterion titles. I was doing this for artistic reasons, I explained. Just look at the beautifully designed cases, I implored.

In truth, my mind had turned inward, it desired only high quality digital entertainment.

4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Inventory! This is the easy part. I will fearlessly admit that I have flawless copies of Yi Yi, The Third Man, and Seven Samurai, just to name a few. Though, I must also admit that the latter two entries are, in fact, the reissued versions. I’m particularly proud of the burgeoning noir sub collection I have procured (Rififi, Homicide, Alphaville, and more). I won’t even get started on the effect movies like Umberto D. or Hoop Dreams have on me. Owning at least one Terrence Malick film on Criterion is also a must. The lush colour of Days of Heaven alone… Wait, where was I?

5) Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Not sure why we have to keep involving God in this process but here goes. I can pinpoint exactly when the real trouble started. As if spending absurd sums of money on DVDs isn’t bad enough, I remember when I took a step in a far darker direction.

Yes, much like placing faith in a higher power, I started blind buying Criterions.

That’s right, I’ve spent upwards of 50 dollars, real money, on copies of movies I’d, to that point, never seen. Let that sink in for a bit. Now, it started off well enough: a taste of Le Samourai here, some classic Stray Dog there. I even got a great deal on Blast of Silence, an obscure crime classic. I was riding high. But as any episode of Behind the Music will teach you, the good times eventually come to an end. Before I knew it, I was toying with the notion of buying Contempt, and tumbling into Au Hasard Balthazar. That’s a movie about a donkey.

I repeat: a donkey.

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

So, I continue to offer up a prayer: Please God, I’m ready to not take any more gambles on movies by Robert Bresson or Michaelangelo Antonioni or Alain Resnais. I still acknowledge their place in the cinematic pantheon. Really, I do. But, let’s be honest, they can be really tough to get into, no matter how adorable that donkey may or may not be. I must resist. My wallet, not to mention my subsequent guilt and buyer’s remorse, can no longer take the abuse.

7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Oh, you want more? I don’t know what to tell you. That part up there is a guarantee. I’ve got no more personal shortcomings to remove. Get off my back. Let’s move on to the next step.

Even the logo looks vaguely suggestive.

Even the logo looks vaguely suggestive.

8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Look, tumbling down the immaculately filmed slope of Criterion addiction really only harms me. I’m the one spending the money, and clearing the shelf space, and finding boxes for these rectangles of plastic every time I move. Sure, I suppose the boasting isn’t the nicest thing to do: “What’s that? A standard version of Bottle Rocket? How precious”. I accept that I have definitely sounded like a film snob in conversation from time to time.

And by time to time, I mean all the time.

9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Dammit, I hate Step 9. After the blind buying and the snobbery, I have to come clean. You got me. This is my rock bottom. My story: I once asked for Monsoon Wedding on Criterion. It was supposed to be a Christmas gift as part of my family’s yearly Secret Santa festivities. My mind was filled with thoughts of a deliciously filmed celebration of Indian culture and romance. My cousin followed through and bought it for me. Upon ripping apart the wrapping paper however, my heart sank. There would be no celebration. I looked into my hands in horror: it was just the boring traditional version, not the Criterion.

Through the grace of the Christmas spirit I was able to resist the urge to throw it back in my cousin’s face. I am ashamed.

10) Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

That last admission was a bit heavy but we’re making progress. I’ve admitted that was pretty wrong. Fair enough? I also just remembered that it was probably a dumb idea to chase after that copy of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. It’s on my shelf but let’s be honest, outside of the score and Takeshi Kitano’s mugging, I didn’t really get it. Also, while we’re here, what was up with that Mr. Arkadin collection? Three different cuts of one movie? Was I ever really going to watch all of those? Since I’m making a full inventory I’ll admit that I did read the included novel written by not-Orson Welles. That’s useful, right?

Then again, when your film supplementary features include reading a 226-page novel, it is probably time to take a step back and think about your life.

11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Again with the God stuff. Let me tell you, this is getting exhausting. In any case, we’re nearing the finish line.

12) Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to Criterion addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

I made it. I haven’t bought a Criterion all year. It’s true. Of course, it’s also true that I still have Kes to watch. I own it sight unseen. And, Identification of a Woman is still in plastic wrap. How am I supposed to explain that? I’ll make you a deal, higher power, I’ll watch those movies soon, muscle right through them, but only if you let me look up the Christmas deals on the Criterion website. Did you know that Thief is due to be released soon? No, no, don’t worry, I’m just doing some Internet window shopping. You can just watch these on Netflix anyway, I think. I’m at peace. I swear. No more Criterion DVDs.

Now where did I leave that Blu-Ray player…?

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