For anyone with a deep appreciation of film art, Criterion needs no introduction. Over its three decades the Criterion Collection not only pioneered digital video letterbox formatting, voice-over commentary, special features, and deluxe and definitive editions, it also established and maintained the highest quality standards of product and production excellence. So it’s hardly surprising that the bold new Criterion Designs coffee table-sized hardcover is also a joy to behold, in all sorts of ways.
Its 300 premium paper pages, with gatefolds, offer a vast selection of video and packaging design—including covers and supplementary design materials. Then there’s the enormous scope of illustrations, photography, and typography, with each approach customized to fit the distributor’s wildly eclectic line that ranges from blockbusters to classics, experimental and cult movies and – most outstandingly – its extensive world cinema selections.
There are masterful graphics by close to 100 design pros like Neil Kellerhouse, Yuko Shimizu, and Eric Skillman; music poster artists Art Chantry and Frank Kozik; lettering designer Marian Bantjes; and a wide spectrum of comics creators such as Jack Davis, Jaime Hernandez, Ed Sorel, and Bill Sienkiewicz.
But the book’s not just eyeball popcorn. The concept and development sketches and alternate takes – with brief “producer commentary” – are a valuable and inspiring creative resource. Each provides a fascinating glimpse of how the spirit and essence of a masterwork of motion picture art can be encapsulated, and even expanded, within a single image.
Criterion began in the mid-1980s as Voyager, working out of a funky little shack along the Santa Monica beach. During my first visit, I felt the company’s enormous potential so strongly that I asked co-founder Robert Stein for a design job, right on the spot. He told me I was way too overqualified: those were the times of laserdiscs with staid, templated cover graphics. These early works can actually be seen on the back pages, which include thumbnail size covers of practically every one of Criterion’s releases to date.
And in case you were wondering: yes, you can also access an online video of the book of the video graphics.
Obviously, Criterion Designs is required reading for the film-buff design devotee. And with the current migration from DVD and Blu-ray to online streaming, it may also be the “deluxe and definitive” volume of Criterion’s printed design legacy.
All images © copyright The Criterion Collection.
Rob Jones, Jay Shaw, Tyler Stout.
Neil Kellerhouse (original cover), David Plunkert (updated cover).