Melvin Van Peebles Gets Career Retrospective With New Criterion Box Set

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The set also includes a film from his son, Mario Van Peebles.


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The Criterion Collection keeps offering the best of cinema, now with a special box set honoring Melvin Van Peebles, both a revolutionary filmmaker and a defender of Black consciousness in cinema. Coming this September, the “Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films” box set includes new 4K restorations of The Story of a Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Don’t Play Us Cheap.

The new collector’s set features hours of special features including commentaries, documentaries, and both new and archival interviews. 2003’s Baadasssss!, a feature film based on Van Peebles’ diaries while making Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, directed by Van Peebles’ son, Mario Van Peebles, is also part of the box. To complete the package, the box set will also be distributed with an original cover portrait by artist Emory Douglas.

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Image via Cinemation Industries

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The “Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films” box set is not the only effort from Criterion Collection to bring more diversity to its archive of films. June’s additions to the Criterion Collection also honored Black filmmakers, including Dee Rees’ impressive debut Pariah, and a comprehensive collection of Marlon Riggs’ works. This follows Criterion’s president Peter Becker’s promise to diversify its catalog after a 2020’s piece by The New York Times pointed out how few Black filmmakers were featured. The special box set is not only a perfect collector’s item, then, but also a great way for a new generation to get to know the work of a Black filmmaker so vital for the film industry.

Criterion’s new box set also includes an impressive lineup of special features:

  • New 4K digital restorations of all four films, approved by filmmaker Mario Van Peebles, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks for The Story of a Three Day Pass, Watermelon Man, and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for Don’t Play Us Cheap
  • Baadasssss!, a 2003 fictional feature film based on director Melvin Van Peebles’s diaries from the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, directed by and starring his son Mario Van Peebles, with commentary by father and son
  • New conversations between Mario Van Peebles and film critic Elvis Mitchell; producer Warrington Hudlin and critic and filmmaker Nelson George; and scholars Gerald R. Butters Jr., Novotny Lawrence, and Amy Abugo Ongiri
  • Audio commentary by Melvin Van Peebles from 1997 on Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
  • Three early short films directed by Melvin Van Peebles
  • How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), a 2005 documentary on Van Peebles’s life and career
  • The Story Behind “Baadasssss!”: The Birth of Black Cinema, a 2004 featurette
  • Melvin Van Peebles: The Real Deal, a 2002 interview with the director on the making of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song
  • Episodes of Black Journal from 1968, 1971, and 1972, on The Story of a Three Day Pass, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and Don’t Play Us Cheap
  • Interview from 1971 with Van Peebles on Detroit Tubeworks
  • French television interview from 1968 with Van Peebles and actors Harry Baird and Nicole Berger on the set of The Story of a Three Day Pass
  • Excerpts from a 2004 interview with Van Peebles for the Directors Guild of America Visual History Program
  • Introductions to all four films by Van Peebles
  • Trailers
  • New English subtitle translation for The Story of a Three Day Pass
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: A 64-page book featuring writing on the films, including an introduction by film scholar Racquel J. Gates

“Melvin Van Peebles: Four Films comes out on September 28, however, preorders are now available on the Criterion website. Check out the cover for the set below.

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