Is No One Going To Do Anything About the State of Mesmer?!

Well, I'm not tagging Mesmer M.I.A. because it is available on DVD from Image.  In fact, it has been since 2000, and it's certainly far from rare, although in recent years it's been inching its way up in price as a long OOP title.  There are also foreign releases, in the UK and Australia, among others.  But they're all barebones discs using the same, crap fullscreen transfer.  And damn it, Mesmer deserves more than this!

I've read enough online reviews to know that many unprepared Alan Rickman fans seem to have stumbled upon this looking for some kind of Snape spin-off movie, or some torrid romance novel breathed to life.  And to a large degree, Mesmer delivers on the latter.  But most of them probably weren't ready for all the incest and sexual abuse.  Because the critical thing to know about this film is that it's written by Dennis Potter, so it's not going to shy away from the dark sides of its story.
And I know, often with Potter films, the disappointment is that they're watered down versions of his superior British television originals.  Like, I see a lot of people talking about how pleasantly surprised they were to discover Steve Martin's musical Pennies From Heaven is actually rather good.  And sure, it is, but the shame is that almost none of these people have seen the fuller and far superior original starring Bob Hoskins.  Once you've had that experience, the only reason to return to Martin's is for some flashier production numbers and maybe nostalgia.  Then you've also got the dueling Brimstone and Treacles, Track 29 vs. Schmoedipus, and god save you if you're only familiar with Robert Downey Jr's interpretation of The Singing Detective.  Or to a lesser degree, Alice and Dreamchild.  But Mesmer is a true 1994 original, the definitive and only version.
On its face, Mesmer tells the true story of Franz Anton Mesmer, the radical 19th century doctor who believed our mental and emotional states directly affected our physical health.  He introduced a lot of ideas, like psychosomaticism, that we still used today, but also some pretty far-out new age shenanigans (yes, he's where we get the word "mesmerize" from).  Indeed, this film is book-ended with Mesmer being brought up in front of a medical board on the charge of being a total fraud.  Chief among his critics is David Hemblen, who you'll recognize from all of Atom Egoyan's best, early films.
But Potter isn't really interested in teaching us history; this just qualifies as a biopic by technicality.  It's a fanciful, bleak, humorous and sly exploration of, you know, whatever was going on inside Potter at the time.  Anton rockets through class, working his magic for everyone from street peddlers to royalty.  He's at once a new age charlatan with some truly crazy treatment plans, and a bit of a medical savior, ahead of his time in a field of struggling experts whose answer to most things was still bleeding their patients and torturing them with leeches.  For some reason, it seems to help when his patients are beautiful young women.  Hmm...
Mesmer embraces the art house, so be ready for mobs of French revolutionaries to behave as a theatrical device rather than realistic rioters, or even for Rickman's face to be super-imposed on the moon.  I wouldn't blame you for being skeptical if you looked up the director.  Roger Spottiswoode has some rather spotty credits (sorry; I couldn't help myself) on his resume... his previous movie was Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.  And I'll admit, a finer director might've wrung some more nuance and subtlety out of this material.  But Rickman's is downright transcendent here, and the string's in this score are doing God's work.  I'm starting to run long, so if you still need to be properly sold on this film, I'll direct you to these vintage reviews from Variety and The Atlantic that really seem to get it.
2000 Image DVD.
So, like I said, Mesmer is presented fullscreen here (1.33:1), though this was of course a widescreen theatrical release.  I'm not even confident that this is open matte, as there doesn't seem like a lot of excessive head room, and the framing looks pretty tight.  Most damning, it's just so dark and soft.  The colors are drab, contrast is low so it feels like someone turned off the lights even when characters are out in the sun, and I bet a lot of detail has been crushed in those blacks.  It looks like what it surely is: an old video master made for tube televisions in the early 90s.  At least there aren't any rolling bars, and surprisingly, it isn't interlaced.  But otherwise, things are pretty sad.

Audio is just your basic 2.0 Dolby track, which is fine.  There are no subtitles, and the only extra is a(n also fullscreen) trailer.  That and an insert listing chapter breaks is all we get.
Mesmer is one of those films I've been waiting decades for an upgrade for.  Anytime a studio like Twilight Time or Kino would announce their monthly releases, I'd check to see if Mesmer was amongst them.  I wasn't expecting a loaded special edition, but you'd think someone would at least get it to us in its proper widescreen.  I gave up really hoping years ago, though.  For some reason, this exotic film just feels doomed to neglect.  Meanwhile, Nail Gun Massacre is getting its fifth remaster, this time on UHD.  And if anybody gets that decision, I do.  But come on, studios, publishers... is really no one going to step up to the plate for this?  Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is on blu-ray, with a 'making of'!  Surely this can get a no frills 2k clean-up?


  1. Regarding the last paragraph: "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot" did get a making-of and alternate ending... but only on the DVD released way back when. Neither the US Mill Creek nor the UK Final Cut releases carry any supplements. Maybe there's a foreign version I'm overlooking that has 'em?

    But generally speaking, I agree that it's pretty absurd what is allowed to come to disc and what isn't. How on Earth does a film like "Killer Condom" make it to UHD, while "Loving Annabelle" is stranded on a woefully non-anamorphic standard-def release?!

    1. Yeah, they're on the Italian BD and maybe some others. But in the US or UK, it's probably easier to just get the local blu and hang onto the DVD.

  2. Fascinating. Not too familar with this one. If we are talking about overlooked Spottiswood overlooked films that should be on HD disc I'd like to put forth 'Hiroshima' which could even 'Oppenheimer' could not bring it from its SD slumber. 'Hiroshima' is a fantastic, sobering film. All interested should at least give the DVD of 'Hiroshima' a viewing.