In 1984, when the Criterion Collection began, the classics of film art were an endangered species. The booming videotape rental market had put the last nail, it seemed, in the coffin of the revival house circuit, and the tapes that were available were invariably shoddy, dark, and cropped. From the first, Criterion's producers realized that true film buffs had nowhere to turn to see such screen gems as Citizen Kane, Swing Time, or the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers as they were meant to be viewed, and there began our dedication to amassing a collection of first class film-to-video transfers made from the best available elements, and in the original aspect ratios.

Criterion's telecine supervisors, Maria Palazzola and Lee Kline, scour the world for the best available film elements, a process that can take months or even years. In some cases, even restored elements may not be good enough for Criterion transfers. Before transferring Michael Powell's and Emeric Pressburger's The Red Shoes, for example, we bypassed a recent restoration in favor of a 35-millimeter negative made from the original three-strip Technicolor separations, effectively restoring the film specially for our release. To be sure that the end result was all we hoped it could be, we asked the original cinematographer, Jack Cardiff, known as the king of English Technicolor, to supervise the process, and he was so pleased with the results that he recently wrote us saying that the film looked "better than it did all those years ago."

Filmmakers enjoy working with Criterion to create first-class editions of their films, especially because Criterion has never amputated part of the frame to make it fit into a television set. Criterion was the first label to adopt the practice of "letterboxing" the frame, by placing black bars at the top and the bottom of a widescreen film, so the image you're seeing is truly the image the filmmaker shot. Take this example from David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Shot in Cinemascope, the aspect ratio of the image as it was shown theatrically was 2.65:1, or 2.65 times wider than it is high. A television's aspect ratio is only 1.33:1. Some compromise is inevitable, but before Criterion began letterboxing films, the only home-video versions of Lawrence of Arabia, showed barely half the frame. Letterboxing preserves the entire frame, as you can see, fitting it into a television set while respecting the filmmaker's vision.

Every Criterion Collection laserdisc begins with this care and attention to film transfers, and the success of Criterion's editions has led even the major studios to offer widescreen versions of their major films. We take pride in the role we've played in preserving the art of film, and we are grateful to the discerning audience that has given Criterion its success.

Criterion Collection film catalog:
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