City Hall On Blu

It's been a slow year, so far, for new releases I'm particularly excited about, but we finally got one: Frederick Wiseman's City Hall.  It's a bit ironic, perhaps, as this is one of the least exciting movies in film history; but it works for me.  With the field of documentary film becoming more and more dominated by true crime, political pandering and celebrity garbage, watching a Wiseman flick feels like an increasingly zen experience.  As non-confrontational as his work has always been, it seems like he's been mellowing even further out in the last decade or so - it's hard to imagine the guy who's been giving us At Berkley, Ex Libris, Monrovia, Indiana and now this swinging back to create a Domestic Violence 3.  His shooting and editing formula has eased into a groove so predictable you can call out from your couch, "okay, now we're going to see two still shots of a city street at night and then onto the next meeting," right before it all unfolds on screen.
And that's not a criticism.  At this point he has to expect and want us to relax into a comfort zone.  After all, from the very beginning, Wiseman has been against showy camera tricks, gimmicks, leading narration, emotional score, etc.  The fact that the man behind the camera never leaves you guessing about what he's up to let's you settle in and think exclusively about the people in front of the camera.  For four and a half hours.  By the end of City Hall, you'll feel like a native citizen of Boston, all ready to vote in the next local election, which is the gift of this film.
I do have one complaint about City Hall, however.  One of the consistent strengths of Wiseman's films is what he discovers.  It might be too neat to say each of his films documents a system, but it's pretty true, giving us a keen, insider's view into the world around us we never had before.  From Meat to High School, we're given a deeper insight into what we've already thoroughly experienced (vegans excluded).  "Meetings" are famously dull, but the meetings Wiseman meticulously observes are fascinating because it exposes the inner workings we're usually excluded from.  You could have toured London's National Gallery hundreds of times in your life as a patron, but National Gallery shows gives you the tour only the top level insiders would get to experience.  So City Hall is positioned to be a perfect, multi-tiered exploration of local government, just like his other films have shown us the full cross section of every other system he's turned his camera to.
But unfortunately, this film is really, to use a technical term, up the mayor's butt.  Look, I'm not expecting a scandalous take-down expose from a Wiseman film.  But even in just about every other film he's done, we'd be seeing meetings of the faculty debating what to tell the protesting students or the curators deciding what to charge the patrons.  But outside of one very brief introductory scene, we're not seeing the mayor talking to his staff about what to say at an event or rally, we're just seeing the public speeches he gives there.  I kept thinking, this is what I'd switch off of on my access news channel.  And the mayor isn't just one character in this complex sea of local government, this film follows him around to dozens of events; we're barely given any time away from him before he steps back in front of the camera with another prewritten speech.  I can only assume Wiseman was given very limited access, which would explain barely getting behind the curtain, but even then I can't imagine why he wanted to film all of the mayor's speeches so doggedly.  You start to get the impression that only one person works at city hall.
Not that there's nothing worth discovering; far from it!  There's a frank and charged talk between impoverished locals and business owners who want to open a dispensary in their neighborhood.  We see a number of cases where mostly younger people of color are trying to push diversity movements into their government.  We get an eye-opening glimpse into small room of technicians who monitor and control local traffic with real-time surveillance.  A charming retiree tries to get his landlord to help with a rat problem.  There's a montage of 311 calls that could have been an entire film all to itself.  Nervous scenes where people try to beat their parking tickets or just a calm moment watching a crew slowly pave a road are all great.  Building inspectors, fireman, garbage collectors.  Everything you want from a Wiseman film is here.  Endless indulgent footage of mayoral speeches just happens to be slathered all over it.
2021 Zipporah Films BDR.
Zipporah Films offers this film on either DVDR or BDR, naturally I've chosen the latter.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: their prices are exorbitant for burned discs (they're even high for professionally pressed discs), but at least they do a first class job.  Framed at 1.78:1, City Hall is spread across two dual-layer discs with a clear and vibrant image.  I don't need to compare it to the DVD edition to see from it's obvious sharpness and fine detail that this is pristine HD picture.  Playback can be a little dodgy with BDRs, but I've played these on two different players with zero issues.  We're given the choice of two audio options, both lossless (rare to see on burned discs): stereo in LPCM and 5.1 Surround in DTS-HD.  Optional English subtitles are also included.
So yes, I'd prefer pressed discs, but otherwise you can't say they didn't do a great job.  Obviously, Wiseman is as staunchly against extras as ever[??? I don't get that attitude, but it is what it is], but in terms of presentation, Zipporah has done everything you could ask for.  And City Hall really is a good movie; don't let my complaints put you off.  Yes, I'd have liked to see more of the mayor in the office and certainly a higher ratio of other city employees to him.  But this is still on the level of work most issue-of-the-week documentary filmmakers today should be aspiring to.  I'm already looking forward to his next one!

The Other Essential Bergman Set

So admittedly it took me ages, but I did eventually work my way through comprehensively covering the entirety of Criterion's massive 30-disc boxed set of Ingmar Bergman films.  However there's one more must-have Bergman set I still need to cover.  Of course this isn't the only other collection of Ingmar Bergman blu-rays.  There was the 100th Anniversary box from Germany in 2018, a 10-disc "Essential" set in France a few years before that, etc etc.  But there's nothing in any other Bergman box that isn't in Criterion's.  Ingmar Bergman's Cinema has made all the Bergman sets obsolete, except this one: Classic Bergman, 5 Films By the Master of Cinema from Artificial Eye in the UK.

Four of those films?  Not exclusive.  They're covered in the Criterion, and I've just updated their pages to make detailed comparisons between the releases here:

In brief, only AE's release of Brink of Life, here titled So Close To Life, could be said to have any advantage over the Criterion, which wiped the floor with the other three.  One film, though, is not included in Ingmar Bergman's Cinema, or any other box.  It's not sold separately either.  It's only available in this AE set: 1946's It Rains On Our Love.  So if you're trying to get every Bergman film there is on blu, you have to get this set.  But to sweeten the pot, AE also has a very good, exclusive documentary that covers all new ground, and interviews several actors, that all the Criterion extras somehow missed.
So let's talk about It Rains On Our Love.  It's a sort of fanciful melodrama with a lot of very bleak social realism, which, if you're a Bergman fan, won't sound so unusual.  Bergman's first regular leading man Birger Malmsten stars as a mysterious drifter who hangs out at the local bus station and picks up Barbro Kollberg who's so down on her luck, she decides to throw her whole life in with him on a fleeting romantic whim.  Unfortunately, as Ingmar is keen to show us in an incremental, spirit-crushing series of seemingly never-ending unfair events, modern society has it out for young lovers who try to make their own way in life.  Every kind old farmer and small shop owner turns out to be just dying to take advantage of them and then cast them further out of society once they've bled them dry.  The whole film is essentially an indictment of capitalist culture.
But then there's the fanciful side.  Our story is narrated by an old man with an umbrella who repeatedly interjects himself into the young couple's lives to help out.  When our friends finally do find genuine, trust-worthy friends, they're a trio of balloon-carrying comic relief fools right out of a Shakespeare play.  Their most faithful companion of all turns out to be a small dog who walks everywhere on its hind legs unprovoked.  And it all ends in an implausible trial scene straight out of I Accuse My Parents.  You really get a sense of Bergman's history with classic literature in his unnatural blend of neo-realistic tragedy and with comic fantasy.  Mainstream audiences looking to have their conventional dramatic expectations met will be put off for sure, but Bergman enthusiasts will feel right at home.
It Rains On Our Love has always been a rare find on home video.  The only English-friendly DVD as far as I'm aware (and believe me, I searched) was the Klubb Super 8 Swedish import released in 2007.  But in the summer of 2012, the clouds parted and Artificial Eye included in their 5-disc blu-ray set called Classic Bergman.  To this date, it remains the only HD version of this film on disc, and thankfully it's rather good.
2007 Klubb Super 8 DVD top; 2012 Artificial Eye BD bottom.
In fact, this is quite a big upgrade, although Super Klubb 8 deserves as much blame as AE earns credit for that.  Their print is heavily damaged and soft, seemingly taken from a VHS copy of a worn out film print, and framed oddly at 1.28:1.  The blu comes in at a more natural 1.33:1, revealing more around the image and delivering a far clearer and cleaner film scan in HD.  Grain is clear and authentic.  My one note would be that it's a little heavy on the contrast, bordering on flared out whites and crushed blacks, but it's not too bad and is a far superior viewing experience to the bowl of mushy gray soup that is the DVD.

Both discs include the original Swedish mono track with optional English subtitles, but I'm happy to report - given AE's history with often lossy soundtracks - the blu provides a much stronger LPCM track.
For It Rains On Our Love, the only special features either disc offers is a brief stills gallery from Klubb Super 8.  But as part of Classic Bergman, we do get two very nice documentaries on other discs in the set.  I've already written about one of them, Women and Bergman, here, as it was also included in Criterion's extensive Bergman box.  But that documentary has a twin, Men and Bergman, which is still only available in this set.  It's another round table with some of Bergman's actors, again extra rewarding for including key players who don't appear in any other Bergman extra or doc.  Women and Bergman is about half an hour and Men is just under a full hour.  Men includes Thommy Berggren, Borje Ahlstedt and Thorsten Flinck, and as you might guess from that line-up, gets into his stage work as much as his cinematic.  It goes another step further, too, by also including a separately taped one-on-one talk with Erland Josephson.
It Rains On Our Love isn't one of Bergman's all-time greats, but it isn't bottom of the barrel either.  Once you've made your way through Ingmar Bergman's Cinema, you're going to want this one in your collection, too.  And Men and Bergman is both good and original enough to substantially sweeten the pot.  Don't think of it as a set with a lot of repeats, think of it as one great disc with some excessive packaging.  Unfortunately, AE's box is out of print now, but if you spot it for a reasonable price, definitely snatch it up. 

Controversial Blus: Tourist Trap

The home video situation with 1979's Tourist Trap has been so murky for the lat ten years or so that, as much as I like the film, and I really do - I've been reluctant to dive into anymore after getting the original 1998 DVD.  But the same reason I've felt reluctant to spend any money on it is probably the same reason this site should weigh in.  And actually, since I've waited until 2021, it turns out things aren't so bad anymore.  They're certainly not ideal, but not so bad.
David Schmoeller's (Puppet Master) Tourist Trap is one of those movies that rises in my estimation with each revisit, and I liked it fine the first time.  It's a weird, supernatural slasher that manages to make so much out of its low budget that it shows up the big studios.  That adds up when you realize they've got Texas Chainsaw Massacre's infamous production designer Bob Burns and much of their crew working behind the scenes, plus they managed to secure a top shelf musical score by Brian De Palma's regular composer, Pino Donaggio.  Add a creepy and fairly original concept, a wild lead performance by The Rifleman's Chuck Connors and a surprisingly consistent cast of newcomers, including a young Tanya Roberts, cleverly directed set pieces and some simple but creepy special effects that still hold up to this day and you can start to understand how this was Schmoeller's first but still best work.
Did I mention that this movie was weird?  It's about an off-the-beaten path wax museum that's so run down they just use department store mannequins.  But they're mechanized, deadly and further enhanced by a madman with telekinesis.  Connors runs the place, but he either has an evil twin or a split personality who keeps capturing and drowning people in plaster so he can add them to his collection of mannequins.  And to add to the chaos, one of the group of seemingly typical American teens who wind up stranded there - Jocelyn Jones, giving a performance to rival Connors' - might be just as insane as anyone they find at the "museum."  It's a lot of crazy dialogue and unsettling images packed into a lean 90 minutes.  At some points, anyone who's seen a Psycho or Carrie flick will probably feel like they're ahead of the story, predicting a few obvious developments and kills; but the twists start flying so fast in the final act there's no way you'll have seen them all coming.  It all culminates in a taught ending with many of the best moments and a very satisfying conclusion.
Cult Video and Koch Vision first released Tourist Trap back in 1998 and it was the best, definitive edition for a long time.  It was better than Full Moon's subsequent barebones DVD in 2013.  Even more surprising: it was superior to Full Moon's and 88 Films' US and UK blu-ray releases in 2014.  Why?  Because these blu-rays were missing roughly five minutes of footage!  What's the story there, you ask?  Well, Full Moon claimed, "they are insignificant such as a scene being a few seconds shorter. Nothing drastic is missing," but I disagree.  Some choice moments are missing, including a sizeable chunk of the climax.  The ever-reliable has a breakdown of exactly what was lost.  As to the why of it, I recommend you read the whole, convoluted story at (just scroll past a few other Charles Band controversies), but here are a couple key quotes to give you the basic idea:
"I was not involved in the editing of the shorter version of TOURIST TRAP which is now on the Bluray version – nor did I know it was being done when I did the commentary. If I were to have done any editorial changes, it would have been called 'The Director’s Cut.' The original theatrical cut of TOURIST TRAP is/was the 'Director’s Cut,' as far as I am concerned." - David Schmoeller

"16 years ago, during my tenure as post-production supervisor at Full Moon, I personally oversaw the first anamorphic telecine from the original negative for the 1998 DVD release. Being a longtime TOURIST TRAP fan and having intimate knowledge of the film from this aforementioned work, it was immediately apparent from the first frame that this version was not produced from the same source material. ...Having now seen the Blu-ray, I’m more confident than ever that Full Moon used an inferior (and obviously shorter) film print for the HD transfer, rather than the original negative." - J.R. Bookwalter
So those were basically the choices until 2016: the old and OOP special edition, a later and inferior 2013 DVD, and two botched blu-rays.  But then '84 Entertainment did the best they could without making a proper, new scan of the negatives: the made a composite cut of the 2014 HD master with SD inserts from the DVD.  Shortly after, Full Moon announced "a new version with those missing minutes added."  And eventually, in 2020, they actually released it, in a limited edition BD/ DVD combo-pack with a Chuck Connors action figure(!) and VHS-themed packaging.  Predictable spoiler: it seems to be a rip of '84's composite.
And now, in 2021, Full Moon has released their "Uncut" (which would be better labeled "Corrected," except apparently they don't want to stop selling their botched 2014 blu-rays) blu-ray in a much more reasonably priced edition without all the attendant swag.  And so they got me; I was finally tempted into replacing my original DVD.  Here are my findings.
1998 Cult Video DVD top; 2021 Full Moon BD bottom.
Thankfully, Cult Video's DVD help up rather well all those years.  It was anamorphic widescreen with no interlacing and some nice extras.  But now it has been thoroughly topped.  It's slightly off aspect ratio of 1.75:1 has been adjusted to a closer but still not perfect AR of 1.78:1.  You can see the framing is much improved, as is the color timing, which had gone a bit red on the DVD.  This is a genuine HD upgrade, with grain clearly represented and much of the dirt and damage cleaned up as well.  Some damage perseveres, including a conspicuous light spot that floats around the bottom of the screen for a good five or so minutes midway through the film.  But this is a much bigger improvement than I was expecting after all the troubles they had along the way.  They even corrected a brief error that occurs at 2.32 on the previous blus (but not the older DVDs), where the film jumps off center for just 2-3 frames.  And it's still a BD-25, but it's a several GB greater encode than the 2014 disc.
1998 Cult Video DVD top; 2021 Full Moon BD bottom.
As for the composite footage, well, you can see above it's still sourced from standard def.  You can see the print damage matches (that black scratch isn't on the soda machine, it's on the frame) and the framing is back to the DVD's, cropping in tighter on the bottom and left-hand side.  But it's been color corrected to match the new HD footage, so it blends pretty painlessly.  Credit should probably go to '84 rather than Full Moon, but the end results are the same.

One point where Full Moon still falls short, unfortunately, is that they stick to lossy audio.  We get the original mono with no caption or subtitle options on the original DVD and the latest blu.  At least 88's UK edition had LPCM.  The blus have added a new 5.1 remix, but it's lossy, too.
1998 Cult Video DVD top; 2021 Full Moon BD bottom.
But I can't let you leave before we've looked at the extras.  The original DVD was pretty sweet.  It had a brief on-camera interview and a full audio commentary, both with Schmoeller.  He runs low on steam by the final act, leaving some silent patches; but otherwise these are great, with some fun anecdotes and lots of fascinating trivia.  There's also the trailer, and as you'd expect, a whole slew of bonus trailers.

For the blu, Full Moon created a new commentary, stills gallery and on-camera interview (this time by Ballyhoo).  Though they dropped the trailer.  So I was curious how they would handle it on the "Uncut" upgrade...  Would they leave the five restored minutes silent, or worse: leave the new commentary unedited so it goes out of sync once the cuts begin to differ?  No, I was surprised they actually went with the more elegant solution of bringing back the old 1998 commentary, and ditching the 2014.  As you can guess, the 2014 commentary did have a few unique anecdotes, like Charles Band's contribution to the script and an incident with glass getting in an actress's eye, but they're both saying nearly all the same things the same way.  The pacing is maybe a little tighter on the new commentary, but then he did have five minutes less to fill, after all.  😉

The latest blu also goes with the Ballyhoo interview, which is better for being longer and richer with more content and stylish editing, plus it's in HD so it looks a lot prettier than the old interlaced one.  And in this case, the old interview doesn't say a single thing that isn't in the new one.  The "Uncut" BD also keeps the stills gallery and brings back the trailer (plus more bonus trailers).
So, to sum up, I'm surprisingly satisfied with this latest blu.  I believe the '84 editions have all the extras from the old and new editions combined, but I wouldn't sweat it, since it's basically Schmoeller saying the same things over and over again.  Plus, those mediabooks were expensive even when you could find them new.  Now you'd have to pay through the nose.  This latest "Uncut" edition is nice and cheap, which is as it should be.  It's still a little dodgy with lossy audio and all, so we shouldn't be expected to pay a lot for it.  But with its solid HD presentation, the missing footage composited back in and the best of - if not all of - the extras, we finally have a Tourist Trap blu worth having in our collections.  And if they ever do find the missing footage's original film elements (AGFA says they have it, but I wonder if that isn't the same composite being slightly misrepresented), and they wind up making a fancy super edition down the road with new extras, subtitles and everything, this was cheap enough that you shouldn't feel burned double-dipping.  Or quintuple-dipping, depending how many times you've gotten sucked in.  There was a lot of junk, but this 2021 release is alright.
...And it's a great, little movie!