Judge Brett Cullum is never leaving 1976 San Francisco.
"Welcome to my little bordello."—Anna Madrigal
The original mini-series, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, was produced by the UK's Channel 4, and shown in the States on PBS. In January 1994, the show was off the charts scandalous, featuring men kissing, people smoking pot, and some brief nudity to boot. Hard to believe twenty years later it just seems quaint and homey, thanks to the likes of Queer as Folk and The L Word which have rendered it modest and literary rather than shocking and daring. But back in the day, minor things like male nudity made raging conservatives threaten to pull funding from PBS.
With a dynamite cast that included Laura Linney (The Truman Show), Olympia Dukakis (Moonstruck), Thomas Gibson (Criminal Minds), Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer), Parker Posey (Waiting for Guffman), and Paul Gross (Due South) the show had a great foundation. The fact that author Maupin was involved made sure the scripts were true to the book, and you couldn't ask for a better translation. The narrative takes place in the summer of 1976 following Mary Ann's (Linney) decision to stay in San Francisco. It spans her misadventures until New Year's Day of 1977. She moves into a complex which is run by a pot smoking landlady (Dukakis). The story involves several gay men and bohemian types who all intertwine to make a soap opera worthy of novel's source material, a sprawling personal tome that translates well to the mini-series format. Printed in periodicals over a period of time, the story captures a landmark time in history before AIDs and crack cocaine. It's a time when things seemed just a bit more magical, and dabbling was not a bad thing.
Acorn Media's 20th anniversary presentation is a welcome release, since all other editions are now out of print. They do right by combining all the extras from previous releases into one package. We get all six episodes on two discs, with a standard def 1.33:1 full frame transfer that shines with vibrant colors and a nice depth of field. There are still some issues with too much grain, but that's the era in which the show was produced. The original Dolby 2.0 Stereo track is preserved true to broadcast.
What's really cool is that they take the audio commentaries from two prior releases and give us dialogue with Armistead Maupin, director Alastair Reid, Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, and Barbara Garrick on episodes 1, 3, and 6. We also get a good 30 minute behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as an eight-page booklet with essays by Maupin and producer Alan Poul. My only beef with Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Edition is that it's not entirely unedited. Somehow the rights to the uncut version remain with Channel 4, so we can only see the full monty if we invest in the European release. That's going to disappoint quite a few fans, but at least we don't have to pay hundreds of dollars just to get a copy. Besides, the strength of the material outshines the lack of unedited footage.
Well worth the revisit to hear these tales again.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
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