Review for Cleanin' Up The Town: Remembering Ghostbusters
I missed the golden age of documentaries about movies. You might think that’s poppycock coming from someone who has been collecting DVDs and Blu-rays packed with extra features since the year dot, or a commentary on today’s decline in physical media, replaced by streaming services. But the really good documentaries accompanied films on laserdisc. Those were high-end niche products, and documentarians took a traditional approach to curating extra material and crafting interesting narratives. Some of that did trickle down to VHS. For years I treasured the Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark tape that came with the widescreen trilogy, as it was far better than the extras that came with the DVD. By the time DVD became ubiquitous, studios had cottoned on to the ‘extra feature’ , and new films tended to come with hours of EPK fluff, made solely to promote the film, or classic films got everything and the kitchen sink simply thrown onto the disc, good or bad.
Ghostbusters got that treatment for its DVD release, and the subsequent Blu-ray added to that panoply of extra features. You might wonder why it warrants a standalone documentary, even if the documentary producers, siblings, Anthony and Claire Bueno went the independent route to eliminate the prospect of it becoming a studio promotional. It’s been a labour of love for them, which has taken 12 years to come to fruition. They conducted interviews with members of the cast and crew from 2008 to 2014 to put together this retrospective, indeed they have so much material that what started off as one film has now become two, and “Too Hot To Handle: Remembering Ghostbusters II” is yet to come.
And that start date to this project is telling. In 2008, all we had were the DVDs, all there was of Ghostbusters in the world were the two films, the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, a handful of video games, and the toys, but as a franchise it had been dormant for quite a few years, with the few attempts to make a third film unsuccessful. That was the perfect time to remember Ghostbusters. In 2009, the franchise came back to life with the Activision computer game (so impressive that some think of it as a third movie), the films got Blu-ray releases, and then of course there was the Ghostbusters reboot movie, and this year hopefully, we’ll get the Jason Reitman movie as well. With all that came a whole lot of interest in the franchise, and plenty of willingness for people to talk about the films. Of late, even Bill Murray has been happy to talk about Ghostbusters (he is noticeably absent from this documentary though), and just last week, I watched Ghostbusters Reunited Apart online.
This isn’t 2008, everyone remembers Ghostbusters, and there is a lot of documentary material online and on movie discs for people to access; which once again begs the question as to what this documentary feature can add?
It turns out that it can add a lot, a whole lot.
As mentioned, Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters is a passion project for fans Anthony Bueno and Claire Bueno. They’ve spent 12 years interviewing the cast and crew of the 2 Ghostbusters movies, had crowd-funding and spent their personal savings to get this project over the line. But the results paid off when they got a theatrical premiere at the IMAX London. Cleanin’ Up the Town is an in depth look at the making of Ghostbusters, with interviews with the cast, including the late Harold Ramis, director Ivan Reitman, and many of the unsung heroes who created the film’s unforgettable special effects.
The film gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p presentation with the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English. Alas there aren’t any subtitles for the hard of hearing, but those speaking in the documentary are clear and audible; however I did find the speech clearer in the stereo track than in the surround track. The image is fine for a documentary, and there are neat bits of animation flavouring the experience. One potential issue with this being an independent production is the lack of music from the film, but Ghostbusters inspired music and songs have been commissioned for the documentary which evoke the right sense of nostalgia.
You get 1 disc in a BD Amaray. The inner sleeve has storyboard art which carries through to the disc label art. There is also a 20-page booklet that documents the making of the documentary. The disc boots to an animated menu (incidentally, the Stop button doesn’t work on the main menu screen).
There are quite a few extras on this disc, and as you might expect, it’s those interviews that didn’t quite fit into the narrative of the documentary, but are worth listening to anyway.
The Filmmaker Intro lasts 7:22, and Anthony Bueno and Claire Bueno explain just that.
There are 21:26 of Deleted Scenes.
There are 11:08 of Additional Tales.
John Decuir Extended lasts 2:27.
There is a 2:11 slideshow of Fan Art.
The European Premiere Interviews lasts 11:08.
Finally there is the trailer for Cleanin’ Up the Town.
Ghostbusters is one of those films, one of those events that mark time. There’s before Ghostbusters, and there’s after. If you ask people to pick a film that defined the decade, Ghostbusters would be at or near the top of an admittedly long list (the eighties was a unique decade for film). Buffy the Vampire Slayer even references the film, with the characters stating that the phrase “Who Ya Gonna Call?” can never be used again. Ghostbusters owns it. That is just as true today as it was 17 years ago. So as much as I was salivating over watching this documentary, I fully expected it to be preaching to the choir, telling me the stories that I had heard a hundred times, seen in a dozen featurettes or TV interviews, and I could just bask in 2 hours and 10 minutes of pleasant, familiar nostalgia.
I was wrong. Cleanin’ Up the Town really is the untold story. There is so much here, so many anecdotes and tales that I hadn’t heard before, or hadn’t heard in this particular context that it all felt brand new to me, and I was glued to the screen for three hours as I drank in the documentary, only to be left thirsty for the extra features. I’m tempted to tell you what juicy tidbits there are in the film, but you should discover that all for yourself. Although I will mention that I was surprised to see audition tapes for some of the other actors who tried for Dana Barrett, but not as surprised as I was to learn why we’ll probably never see Sigourney Weaver’s audition tape.
The secret to a good film documentary is to find the story, a narrative for the audience to hook onto. That can be as simple as following the making of a film from beginning to end, but unless we’re talking Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote movie, it can often be comparatively dry and un-engaging, especially these days when most movies boil down to actors in front of vast swathes of green. For Cleanin’ Up the Town, the Bueno siblings found an aspect of the story that we haven’t really heard, regarding the special effects for Ghostbusters. That particular tale begins when the contract is signed, and the director Ivan Reitman and the producers realise that they have just 13 months to get a film into cinemas. Ghostbusters was just an idea at that point, and they didn’t even have a script. They also didn’t have a special effects house to do the film’s effects, so a new company was formed from scratch for Ghostbusters.
As well as the expected engrossing conversations with the actors and the filmmakers, the documentary also encounters many of the artists, sculptors and puppeteers behind memorable characters like Stay Puft and Slimer, and they recount how they practically invented these effects from scratch. Technically it’s a fascinating education into how these effects were done, but the film really brings out the human side of the work, getting to know the artists as people. It also uncovers an injustice that needs to be rectified.
If the job of a documentary is to entertain and inform, then Cleanin’ Up the Town succeeds admirably. I was expecting good things from a retrospective look at one of my favourite films, but this documentary is so much more. If you’re a fan of Ghostbusters, then you simply have to watch this. And keep an eye out for Too Hot to Handle: Remembering Ghostbusters II.