What To Get the Errol Morris Fan Who Has Everything: First Person

Errol Morris's First Person is probably my all-time favorite television series, so naturally I'm going to cover the DVD set from MGM.  But if you're at all interested in documentary films, you're probably at least familiar with it already.  So I also want to dig a little deeper, because there's also a much more obscure, slightly older First Person DVD self-released by Morris's own company, Globe Department Store, that has an extra treat for the really serious fan.
First Person is an interview-focused documentary series that plays just like Errol Morris's later films.  In fact, the only reason why The Unknown Known or Fog of War couldn't have fit right into the series as additional episodes is that they have longer run times.  Sure, in his earlier films he tended to go out on locations and talk to a ton of people.  But since he created the Interrotron, he's definitely moved into a style of singular, concentrated and, well, first person interviews.  And the show also incorporates his usual editing style of cutting between multiple angles of the interviewee, often looking directly into camera, with silent clips of vintage film footage and occasional cut-aways played to music.
Errol's certainly mastered his presentation, but what makes these episodes so fascinating and endlessly rewatchable are the interviews themselves.  Some are a little famous, but more often than not he finds the most compelling people you've never heard of.  But it doesn't matter; by this time I've learned if Morris wants to talk to them, you're going to want to hear what makes them tick.  A psychologist who used to write letters to the unabomber, a Who Wants To Be a Millionaire contestant who forged his personal records so he could go back to high school a second time, a cryogenic scientist (a known passion; he's been trying to make a movie on the subject for many years) who froze his mother's head.  Things definitely tend to veer into the odd side, but it's never a freak show; it's just interesting people who are going through life a little bit differently than the rest of us.
So First Person ran from 2000-2002 on Bravo/ IFC, and for several years, we were calling out for a DVD release with no response insight.  And remember this was in the heyday of the DVD era, not like today, where many shows don't get physical releases.  Finally, in 2004, Morris took matters into his own hands and released a single episode (One In a Milliontrillion) through his own company, Globe Department Store.  This was to show labels how successful it could be, and apparently it was enough, because in the following year, MGM released the full series in a 3-disc set.
Ugh.  These came out in 2004 and 2005, but they look like they're from 1998 and 1999.  Non-anamorphic widescreen, interlaced, soft and full of artifacts.  The aspect ratio shifts between seasons, from 1.63:1 to 1.77:1, and it doesn't get any more anamorphic in the second season.  The Globe and MGM discs look basically the same and share all the same issues, except the blacks are a little light on the Globe disc, one minor thing MGM fixed, at least.  Both have strong stereo tracks and no subtitle options.
Bonus scene only on the Globe Department Store DVD
So why should anyone care about the Globe Department disc if it's just one episode that's already in the set, where it actually looks slightly better?  Just to have a collector's item?  No, because the MGM set is completely barebones.  Like, not even chapter breaks.  And, each disc in the set starts with that awful "YOU WOULDN'T STEAL A CAR, WOULD YOU?" commercial.  Really, the discs are so poor, it's like MGM made them out of spite.  But the Globe disc does have extras, at least a little.  And it's quality stuff; not like some generic promo feature.  There's 11 minutes of additional footage from the episode.  And it's really interesting, just as good as anything that's in the final cut.  Clearly this stuff was cut for time because of television's rigid time slots, not because of content.  If you loved the episode, you definitely want to see this footage.  Oh and yes, the Globe disc has chapter breaks and no "CAR" commercial.  Oh, and both releases do include inserts, if those even blips on anyone's radar.
First Person is the most criminally underrated show ever.  The MGM discs suck, an especially poor show from a major studio, but they're still essential by virtue of being the best we've got of an amazing series.  And if you're a fan, there is an amazon listing for that Globe Department DVD, and it's surprisingly still reasonably priced all these years later.  I think just because nobody really even knows about them.  Oh, and just for the record, there is one episode of the series (Mr. Personality) included on MGM's DVD of The Thin Blue Line as like a bonus feature, but that episode's in the set and is just as non-anamorphic and crappy looking there.  Maybe we could talk Criterion into taking these on?  Restoring these in HD would be a huge difference, we know Morris could provide some great interviews for extras, and if every episode has extra footage like One In a Milliontrillion, oh man; it could be one of their top releases!

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