We end our sixth year of Lost in Criterion with a bit of a change. Since our inaugural episode, Lost in Criterion’s end of year non-Criterion special has been a Christmas-adjacent movie, an action film that incidentally takes place at Christmas. With only one exception, the holiday has little effect on the themes of the films we’d talked about. We’ve talked previously about how there aren’t a lot of non-Christmas end of year holidays represented as so normal they can exist in the background without comment in an action film.
So we searched a for a film that treats any other non-Christmas (and non-New Years) holiday with the same passivity. That sort of representation of non-Christian culture is a rarity in Hollywood films. But Don Bluth’s animated classic An American Tail is rare. The film starts on one night of Hanukah that gets interrupted by violence, and though it relies on some stereotypes of other European immigrant groups coming to America, it portrays a very true to life, very specific late 19th century Russian Jewish immigrant story. And it is realistically dark.
The immigrant experience in the US is not easy. Many come to our country under the impression that “there are no cats in America” — that the powers that oppress them at home, that they are fleeing, don’t exist here. But those powers exist everywhere; that particular Devil has been with America since its beginning. If there are to be no cats in America, it must come from the cats of America choosing to give up their feline status. If the lion’s going to lay down with the lamb, it’s the lion whose nature has to change.
Looking back, we’ve seen some very good films this years, films I’d call timely, though in growing as a person I’ve realized that the messages I’m calling timely are always timely. We started early with a film that encouraged us to ask the right questions about revolution which also contained my one of my favorite sequences we’ve seen in any movie, one where everything has been commoditized and commercialized to such an extent that even Communism is being sold — at 15% off. We spent some powerful time in Poland dealing with Nazis and other authoritarians. And we saw films that act as propaganda for Authoritarians of a different set. We escaped with some Lubitsch and Donovan H. joined us to deconstruct Samurai films. Speaking of escape, we confronted hope and hopelessness in ways we haven’t yet with one of the best documentaries ever made, and attacked fakery and false authority in one of the best pseudo-documentaries ever made. There are lessons to be learned, positive and negative, all around us. But one felt particularly important in a world that seems mired in hatred.
Listen to this year's Lost in Criterion non-Criterion special end of year episode An American Tail via iTunes or LostInCriterion.com, and while you're at it, like us on Facebook or support us on Patreon.