Welcoming Indicator To the Fold with The Front (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's another label I've been meaning to get onto this site for a while: Indicator/ Powerhouse.  They're a UK outfit that started up in the tail end of 2016, releasing some impressive special editions, often of titles Twilight Time had released as limited editions in the US.  And that certainly holds true with today's film, The Front, which Indicator put out via their own limited edition Blu-ray/ DVD combo pack early this year.  Or last year, I suppose.  It's 2018 now.
The Front's a great, comic take on Hollywood's blacklist during the red scare of the 1950s, that still manages to level lose site of the real history's gravity.  Woody Allen, who stars but doesn't write or direct this time, plays a small time bookie with pretty low aspirations in life.  When an old friend of his, a successful television writer who's been blacklisted from the entertainment industry due to his affiliations with the United States Communist Party, comes to him for help, he agrees because he needs the money.  In short, his friend would continue to write screenplays, but in Allen's name, and they would split the payments.  Their plan becomes so successful, soon other blacklisted writers come to Allen, and everything's going great, until Allen winds up becoming so successful, fame and attention starts to fall on him, and he has to go to greater and greater lengths to hide the fact that he's actually a talentless fraud.
So it's an easy, affable comedy premise.  It sounds like a sitcom, and even sometimes looks like one, since it's all about writing classic television.  But it's also obviously making a genuine political statement, peppered with real life moments of tragedy taken from screenwriter Walter Bernstein, who was himself blacklisted during the McCarthy era.  Lives ruined by paranoia and zealotry, a major character commits suicide.  It's a funny movie, but it's not all fun and games.  Director Martin Ritt and several other members of the cast and crew had also went through the blacklist - the closing credits demarcate everyone on this film who was - so they bring a truth to film that gives it real weight.  Nowhere is this stronger felt than in the supporting role of Zero Mostel (The Producers), the real life black-listed comic actor who gives a heart-rending performance as a black-listed comic actor who succumbs to deep desperation as he's pushed out of the show Allen is pretending to write for.   And the rest of the supporting cast is great, too, including Andrea Marcovicci and Danny Aiello, both of The Stuff fame.  But it's really Mostel's picture at least as much as it is Allen's.
The Front debuted on DVD from Columbia Tri-Star in 2004.  It was a single-sided disc but featured both full and widescreen presentations.  Otherwise, it was essentially barebones, but us Woody Allen fans had grown used to that.  And anyway, that disc was all we had of this film until 2014, when Twilight Time licensed the title from Sony and released it on blu-ray with a new 4k scan, and some nice features, including an audio commentary and their usual isolated score track.  That was limited to their usual 3000 copies, and Sony wound up issuing that remaster themselves as a MOD DVR in 2015, sans extras.  Finally, in 2017, Indicator came out with their limited (also 3000 copies), all region, dual format edition with that same 4k master, Twilight Time's new extras, and even a little bit more.
1) Tri-Star's 2004 US fullscreen DVD, 2) Tri-Star's 2004 US widescreen DVD,
3) Indicator's 2017 UK DVD, 4) Indicator's 2017 UK blu-ray,
       
So, I left the black bars around the first set of comparisons to highlight the differences in aspect ratio.  I mean, you don't need them to see the obvious difference between the Columbia Tri-Star's fullscreen version, and the other three widescreen versions; but it is interesting to note how the original widescreen transfer, though anamorphically enhanced, was slightly windowboxed.  The later 1.85:1 editions naturally took care of that, which frankly would only be an issue on more modern televisions anyway.  In terms of on-screen content, the shift in ARs is minute.  Interestingly, though, the fullscreen version is mostly just an open matte transfer, revealing excessive vertical information including lots of wasteful head space, and slicing just a little off the sides.

Anyway, the new 4k scan is a huge improvement.  The DVD was good for its time, anamorphic and no interlacing; but it had some messy compression.  The film's always been a little on the soft side, but the DVD only made that worse, while the blu really zeros in on the detail, right down to the very natural, untampered with grain.  The general color timing is basically the same, but do have a more natural, authentic feel on the blu (or even Indicator's DVD).  In short, this is a very satisfying jump in quality.

Audio on both discs (and indeed, every release of The Front) is just the original mono track in 2.0, but that's all any of us should want; and naturally the blu's track is a lossless LPCM.  The old DVD did include subtitles, in English, French, Japanese and Korean, while Indicator just boils it down to your basic English HoH.
So, again, the old Tri-Star DVD was barebones.  It just had a couple of bonus trailers.  But Twilight Time created a new audio commentary, with film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman and actress Marcovicci, which Indicator has thankfully licensed for their release, because it's a great track.  Kirgo and Redman alternate between acting as moderators for a very lively discussion with Marcovicci and providing expert commentary for the rest of the film.  The also carried over the original theatrical trailer and the isolated score track from TT.  The only they missed was the small booklet with additional notes by Kirgo.

But then they took the extra steps of creating their own booklet, a heftier 36-pager with notes by Gabriel Miller, who wrote a book on Ritt's films, and archival interviews with Ritt, Bernstein and Allen.  Even more compelling, they've included a video interview with The Front's director of photography Michael Chapman.  It's short but very interesting - don't skip it.  Indicator has also included an image gallery of on-set and promo photos, and reversible artwork, which is basically the same artwork, but minus the ratings and Indicator logos.
So, Indicator delivers another first rate special edition with everything you could ask for and none of the issues that sometimes plague other labels' releases.  I'm sure it's made easier by virtue of the fact that they're sourcing their transfer direct from Sony, but you can't argue with a definitive edition like this.  Don't be bummed if you already bought the Twilight Time edition - it's essentially the same transfer (though Indicator does technically have the higher bitrate), and that Chapman interview comes from a website called webofstories.  So don't double-dip just for that, watch it online.  But still, having it on this disc was a welcome inclusion.  It's absolutely worth double-dipping if you only have the DVD, though; and it's the one to own if you don't have this film yet at all.  And The Front's worth owning.

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