GENERAL IDI AMIN DADA: SELF-PORTRAIT
Criterion Collection, $25.49
AT ONE POINT, he was the world's deadliest clown. Idi Amin was the jovial, baby-faced psychopath who ruled Uganda from 1971 to 1979, gaining power by literally feeding his enemies to the crocodiles. And oh, he had enemies—at least 300,000 of them.
He was still a clown, though, and all the scarier for it. In Barbet Schroeder's unexpectedly funny 1974 documentary, Amin emerges as an ineffectual buffoon with delusions of grandeur. He plays the accordion, of all things, and even receives credit for the film's score. He's fond of statements that are either very knowing or alarmingly unaware: "Everyone must be loved," he says with an innocent gleam, shortly after dumping his foreign minister into the Nile.
Then, of course, there are the unsettling silences. From time to time, the camera catches Amin staring back at us and his joviality suddenly vanishes. That's when we know he's deranged.
These days, Schroeder directs the occasional indie film like Our Lady of the Assassins plus more frequent Hollywood formula flicks like the Sandra Bullock vehicle Murder by Numbers. But he's best when contemplating the mordant humor often lying beneath horror, as in Reversal of Fortune. Here he presents the dictator as an unlikely comic hero—albeit a hero who can't grasp his own terrible absurdity.
As for the DVD's extras, don't expect Moulin Rouge. The package includes a remastered print, an interview with Schroeder, and a scant time line of Ugandan history. Fortunately, the film doesn't require any padding; it's potent enough as it is.
ALSO POTENT the second time around is Criterion's bells-and- whistles set of Traffic (out May 28), a frustrating 10 months after the first no-frills edition. June 4 brings no cheers with The Mothman Prophecies (memo to Gere: Stick with adultery pictures), some old TV episodes of Scooby-Doo (how topical), and a reissue of 1992's Mr. Saturday Night, featuring more—yes, you read that right—more of Billy Crystal on the commentary track. Fortunately, the same date greets new editions of 1961's The Hustler, with Paul Newman among others commenting, and Blue Velvet, with deleted scenes and interviews but no full-length Lynch exposition.