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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with Barbet Schroeder
  • New interview with journalist and author Andrew Rice about Idi Aminís regime
  • An essay by critic J. Hoberman

General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Barbet Schroeder
1974 | 90 Minutes | Licensor: Les Films du Losange

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #153
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: December 12, 2017
Review Date: December 6, 2017

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SYNOPSIS

In 1974, Barbet Schroeder went to Uganda to make a film about Idi Amin, the countryís ruthless, charismatic dictator. Three years into a murderous regime that would be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, Amin prepared a triumphal greeting for the filmmakers, staging rallies, military maneuvers, and cheery displays of national pride, and envisioning the film as an official portrait to adorn his cult of personality. Schroeder, however, had other ideas, emerging with a disquieting, caustically funny brief against Amin, in which the dictatorís own endless stream of testimonyócharming, menacing, and nonsensical by turnsóserves as the most damning evidence. A revelatory tug-of-war between subject and filmmaker, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is a landmark in the art of documentary and an appalling study of egotism in power.


PICTURE

Barbet Schroederís documentary General Idi Amin Dada: A Self Portrait receives a surprise Blu-ray upgrade from the Criterion Collection, utilizing a new 2K restoration. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. The restoration comes from a new scan of the original 16mm negative.

Though aspects of the old DVD still look fine today the Blu-ray offers obvious improvements in a number of areas. Shot on 16mm it is a grainy film which is handled far better here, rendered more naturally and cleanly and this in turn leads to improved levels of detail; individual blades of grass, for example, can be clearly made out whereas they come off mushy and undefined on the DVD. Some shots can be slightly out-of-focus but the image is very sharp. Colours are also far better here, looking more natural and lacking the slight green tint found on the DVD.

Restoration work has also been more thorough and other than hairs in the film gate I donít recall any significant marks anywhere else. Itís very clean and thanks to the excellent encode it delivers that filmic look.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Limited a bit but shooting conditions, sounding a bit flat and muffled in places, the lossless PCM 1.0 mono track is otherwise pretty good. Dialogue is clear for the most part, the music that does appear doesnít come off distorted, and the overall quality is good, lacking any severe damage or background noise.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterionís original DVD was a smaller release but at least contained an interview with director Barbet Schroeder. That interview has been carried over but Criterion also provides a new interview with him on top of that. The original interview runs 25-minutes and features Schroeder talking about his jumping between fiction films and documentaries (sometimes using the documentary as a way to research a fiction film he may be working on) and how he came to make this one in particular. He offered Amin the ability to basically call the shots on the film, making him the director of his own portrait, more or less, Schroeder saying he was especially overjoyed when he was able to get the dictator telling the cameraman what to film. He gives a very in-depth amount of detail about what it was like from day-to-day, trying to push Amin to do some of his usual duties so he could film them (like the council meeting), and then reflects on some instances he wasnít able to film but tells here. But he has some horrifying tales as well, particularly one involving Aminís reaction to how he was presented in a Ugandan news broadcast, and then there is of course how Amin threatened to kill French citizens in Uganda if Schroeder didnít cut out certain scenes from the film. Schroeder mentions how easy it was to forget what a monster Amin was given his almost child-like and jovial demeanor when one was in his presence, but there were constant reminders of the atrocities he was responsible for.

Itís a good interview but an update or addendum of some sort all these years later (over 15 years) would be terrific, yet oddly thatís not what the new interview with Schroeder is. This 12-minute one more-or-less repeats a lot of what he said in the first interview, though he does expand on a couple of things: in the older interview he mentions how spies went to European screenings of the film for Amin while here he explains that it was actually Muammar Gaddafiís spies, the Libyan leader doing his fellow dictator a favour. He also, in all fairness, does talk a little more about the final physician scene and the tension that was building under that scene, and also explains why Amin never actually saw the full film (Schroeder only gave him a television edit). Still, I would have expected this to have been more of an update, maybe Schroeder commenting on Aminís death since the release of the original DVD, or hell, maybe even mentioning The Last King of Scotland just because. Instead itís more of a summarization of the first interview. A bit disappointing.

There is another new feature at least. The old DVD provided an interactive timeline behind Ugandaís history. It was a simple feature, allowing you to select a certain time period and receive (very brief) notes. In place of that Criterion offers has Andrew Rice talk about Ugandaís history and the rise and eventual fall of Amin, and at 16-minutes itís a more thorough and rewarding feature than the Power Point like presentation on the old DVD.

Criterion then includes another insert, though it is missing both David Ehrensteinís original essay and the reprint of the notes Schroeder provided to audiences at screenings, explaining the cuts he had to make to the film at the time due to Amin threatening to kill French citizens in Uganda if he didnít comply. Instead Criterion includes a lengthier essay by J. Hoberman, who writes about the film and the dictator, but gets into more detail about Schroeder and his work.

Not much of an upgrade ultimately since it still only offers a smattering of supplements and the new Schroeder interview doesnít add a lot to what was said in his older interview. Still, I thought Riceís contribution was a nice addition and I enjoyed Hobermanís essay.

5/10

CLOSING

Itís still a pretty slim special edition but thanks to the new restoration itís a worthwhile upgrade or new purchase.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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