RIP William Becker, the unsung hero of world cinema

A week and a half ago, film distributor William Becker died. His name is not a recognizable one, and his quiet work at Janus Films and the Criterion Collection left a massive imprint on how we consume visual media.

As the co-owner of Janus Films starting in 1965, Becker oversaw the importation of many influential works of world cinema to American shores. He deserves partial credit for the success and influence of directors including Bergman, Kurosawa, and Fellini, filmmakers who might not have come to the United States for some time otherwise. He also co-founded the Criterion Collection, which worked closely with Janus Films to release of hundreds of classic works of cinema and popularized the letterbox film display standard. If you’ve watched The 400 Blows on a television, you can thank William Becker for that.

One person alone is of course not responsible for reshaping the arthouse and international film market in America, but Becker’s transformation of Janus Films significantly helped. Criterion and Janus their exceptional work in distributing high-quality transfers of world cinema, and William Becker silently carved out a spot on the film world for that to happen.

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