Werner Herzog's Meeting Gorbachev

Here's a brand new release that's probably flown completely under your radar: Werner Herzog's latest documentary, Meeting Gorbachev.  Well, it's written, narrated and co-directed by Herzog, but also co-directed by Andre Singer, who's been producing projects with Werner since Little Dieter Needs To Fly.  Anyway, Meeting Gorbachev has just come out on DVD (only) this week from a small documentary-focused label called Passion River.  I've haven't seen it covered anywhere (that is, I did read some stuff about the film when it was making the festival rounds earlier in the year, but nothing about it coming out on disc), but you can order it from the usual outlets like Amazon, Best Buy, etc.  It's a pressed, single-layer disc, not a DV-R, locked to Region 1.
And it's an excellent film.  Admittedly, if you come here looking for infamous Herzogian eccentricities, you're going to be disappointed.  He doesn't slowly pan his camera off of Michel Gorbachev to a gecko staring at us from the corner of the room.  This is a serious work more in the vein of Death Row than Fata Morgana.  From early reports, I thought this film was going to essentially be a single, 90-minute interview packaged as a movie, which I still would've been interested in.  But no, this is a full-on feature production, comprising several meetings between Herzog and Gorbachev, filming in different locations around the world and conducting interviews with plenty of other key players, including two former US secretaries of state, the former prime minister of Hungary, the former president of Poland and the Russian national security advisor.
Meeting Gorbachev is surprisingly efficient in documenting both who the man is now, and the entire history of his life's journey.  Herzog doesn't feign much objectivity, happily expressing his unabashed fandom of Michel's, largely crediting him for the German reunification, and all the major events you'd expect are covered, from the Chernobyl disaster to his relations with Reagan and Thatcher.  And this includes more obscure and covered-up history you'll probably be learning for the first time - we even get to watch a personal tape a panicked Gorbachev recorded in his home that he intended to have smuggled out of the country if he was killed in a coup around the time of the dissolution of the USSR.  The film's constantly dancing back and forth between vintage footage from various sources, Herzog's findings and interviews with other subjects, and of course the two men's personal conversation which sits at the heart of this film.
US 2019 Passion River DVD.
The bulk of this film is presented in 1.78:1, with the aspect ratio naturally shifting for archival footage of varying sources and quality.  The original footage, though, was clearly shot in HD, and has been compressed to SD for the DVD.  You can definitely see the softness and artifacting that almost certainly wasn't part of the DCP but has come part and parcel with the limited format.  But hey, at least it's anamorphic with no interlacing or any other issues.

This is no special edition, with the only extra being the theatrical trailer.  But the film does at least give you the option between a 5.1 surround mix and a 2.0 Dolby stereo track.  Subtitles for all of the spoken Russian are burnt in, but this disc also has hidden English subtitles/ caption options for all of the English audio.  So not a lot of bells and whistles, but they've taken the care to present the film properly, which is more than you can say for a lot of other no frills discs.
A blu-ray really would've been ideal, of course.  But I gather we were right on the edge of not getting a physical release for this film at all, so we take what we can get.  After all, there's still no way to get Into the Inferno on disc, and that one's three years old now.  So let's at least support what we've got left while we can.

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