02 May 2011

Dear Mr. Mulvaney ...

Just wanted everyone to know about this letter that I wrote and appeared in my column "Off the Red Carpet" in the latest print edition of SIGNews. Please pass it on to everyone you know!



Dear Mr. Mulvaney:

For those who savor movies on DVD and Blu-Ray (BD), Criterion stands high above everyone else when it comes to giving movies deluxe treatments, right down to achieving the most color- and sound-accurate transfer. (For those who’ve never heard of Criterion, they should check out criterion.com.) I know that when I buy a Criterion title, I know I won’t be disappointed. There’s almost always an insightful print essay or two by film critics who truly know the movie in question and its historical and social context. Thanks to Criterion, I’ve learned a great deal about the literature of cinema. Over the years I’ve bought your laserdiscs, DVDs, and BDs so you could say that I’m a huge fan of Criterion.

Until recently. I’ve realized that I had been too willing to put up with less for too long.

Please allow me to explain what happened that’s left a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. Last Saturday I watched Orson Welles’s delightfully twisty “essay film” (or “pseudo-documentary”?) F FOR FAKE, about two men in the profession of forgery. I don’t think it’s captioned elsewhere, so as a big fan of Orson Welles’s work as a filmmaker, I forked over money for a two-disc set that cost $49. At the time I didn’t realize that the second disc had a ton of enviable extras that were not subtitled (I quote directly from your web site): ORSON WELLES: A ONE-MAN BAND, an 88-minute documentary from 1995 about Welles’s unfinished projects; ALMOST TRUE: THE NOBLE ART OF FORGERY, a 52-minute documentary from 1997 about art forger Elmyr de Hory; a 2000 60 MINUTES interview with Clifford Irving about his Howard Hughes autobiography hoax; and a 1972 Hughes press conference exposing Irving’s hoax. Imagine my deep disappointment to find that *none* of these substantial extras were made accessible to the Deaf and hard of hearing viewers!

Oh, you do a fantastic job in providing English subtitles for the Deaf and hard of hearing (SDH) for your main features, but considering how expensive your DVD and BD titles are to begin with (usually ranging from $39 and above), the fact that none of the extras spoken in English are subtitled is a very cheap slap in the face to some 28 million Americans who have hearing problems. Such is the stink that pervades what would’ve made for an extravagant box of chocolates.

Please do not be as cheap as other home video distributors. I’ve already paid a fortune for your movie titles over the years. It’s time that I stop deluding myself. Your titles command premium prices. You simply do not want to spend any more money on the extras. I understand that you want to make a profit, but has it ever occurred to you that in an age of movies increasingly streamed online, the very existence of extras is what keeps drawing people to buy DVDs and BDs?

I’m afraid that as long as your extras aren’t subtitled, I’ll have to boycott your Criterion titles. The older I get, I find just the movie-only approach becoming more and more an insult as it says a lot about how you view us. (The number of late-deafened viewers will climb quite dramatically as the baby boom generation hits retirement age. Hearing loss is going to be a huge issue. Hearing aid manufacturers are going to be perversely happy.) I will also encourage Deaf movie lovers everywhere to boycott your titles until Criterion posts a policy online stating their intent to make all of their contents going forward will be accessible for Deaf and hard of hearing viewers, and be consistent in providing subtitles for all content on DVD and BD going forward. I’ll also encourage hearing DVD and BD reviewers to state in their reviews whether the movie and the extras are subtitled. Of course, I won’t object when others online forward this letter to others. I’ll give out your email address (mulvaney@criterion.com) to anyone who wants to chime in.

Mr. Mulvaney, if I were to make a movie about Criterion, I’d call it C FOR CHEAP. I’d have it narrated only in American Sign Language (ASL) without voiceover or subtitles; of course, you’d probably never understand a word of what we’re signing. How else can you truly understand how frustrated we Deaf film connoisseurs are when it comes to your lack of subtitles for extras spoken in English?


Raymond Luczak
Minneapolis, MN


Shaneybo said...

excellent letter! We need more people to do the same thing!

Olivier said...

I understand your plea and, even though I can't possibly imagine what it must be like to be deaf, I think it's a bit exaggerated a letter.

I think subtitles of the spoken language and of the language of the country the disc is released in should be required on any DVD/BD as an option for both the film and the extras.

However, I think Criterion is doing way more than presenting movies in excellent audio-visual quality. To me, they offer a wide range of movies that are impossible to find anywhere in this country (and sometimes not even in theaters). You give the example of "F for Fake" and I don't believe this film has ever been available in this country under any other label than Criterion's.

I also think that their pricing, though quite high, is overall a good thing as it has us pay a price that is fair to what we get. A good DVD/BD release costs money and it's only fair that we pay what it is worth.
Each film usually comes with appropriate and interesting bonus features. You also rightly mention in your letter the essays that most discs are usually accompanied by.

This rather high price also makes us buy a movie for what it is and not just consume a flick that will be forgotten in a few days.

As a side comment, I would also say that I highly doubt bonus features will help keep DVD/BD sales afloat in the online streaming competition. I don't remember ever buying a DVD or BD because of the bonus features. I tend to favor the film first. Besides, most bonus features (and Criterion stands out on this) are pretty poor and self-congratulating.
I have bought many DVDs and am now buying Blu-rays. I also enjoy services like Netflix. The only reason I buy BD is because I like owning the films, and I use Netflix to "catch up" on what I missed in theaters or didn't feel like spending $15 to see.

Anyway, for all the reasons stated above, I think calling to boycott Criterion is wrong, even though they should subtitle both their movies and extra features for deaf and hard of hearing people.

Raymond Luczak said...


Thanks! Please encourage others to write letters too!


Raymond Luczak said...


I'm not disputing the fact that Criterion puts out quality transfers in terms of image and sound at all. That's why I *used* to buy Criterion movies.

I appreciate your support of full information accessibility on both the movie and extras.

The point of my letter remains INFORMATION ACCESSIBILITY on the extras. Some studios take the time to caption their extras, so why not Criterion? We are already paying a premium price for their titles.

In the world of home video distribution, money talks. Hence, if many people stop buying Criterion discs because of their unsubtitled extras, then Criterion will need to reevaluate how they serve the Deaf and hard of hearing communities here in America.

Thanks for reading!



CCACaptioning said...

We share your interest in full inclusion - captioning inclusion in all places needed. Please see our efforts, e.g. the website www.ccacaptioning.org, all volunteers. We welcome new members!

Raymond Luczak said...

Thank you for sharing your web site with us!

Andrea said...

People don't seem to understand this key thing. Information accessibility is as important as physical accessibility, if not more so. When they compare ASL to other languages, which is a good thing, they forget that spoken language (audio content) is actually literally inaccessible to Deaf.

Raymond Luczak said...

Andrea, you're absolutely right! Thank you for reading my letter.

me said...

Thanks for writing this letter! Olivier, one response to your comment I would make is to your saying that the price is fair for what we get. It doesn't seem that Raymond is arguing that the price is unfair, but that it is unfair that we deaf people are not getting what we are paying for.

Raymond Luczak said...

Thank you, "me," for making clearer my position. Like most people, I want to get my money's worth!

Mr. Sandman said...

Did you ever hear back from him?? Criterion does not seem to be captioning/subtitling ANYTHING. I have never watched any of their films, but recently rented a few, and NONE of them were accessible at all.