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“Amateur Night at City Hall” is a stunning look at one of the most troublesome mayors in American history. Rizzo rose from a brutal cop to becoming Mayor of Philly by appealing to Democratic working base. Eventually, he turned against them after earning federal funding favors for backing President Nixon’s re-election in 1972. The documentary originally crafted in 1977 covered the approaching end of Rizzo’s time as Mayor. Crafted for PBS, director Robert Mugge followed a man that was dodging polygraph issues and spending money on suing companies that besmirched the name of Philadelphia. The film has been remastered for modern audiences, but it seems to hit on something timely.

All of Mugge’s clips and quips show a man that was out of his mind. A clip of a voter states that they are proud that such a dumb man got so far in life. Releasing a documentary about a politically fluid man that likes beating down his opposition and saying whatever it takes to get elected? I wonder why MVD thought now was the time to release this now? It’s almost like Mugge, MVD and others want us to see how these patterns keep repeating. But, I could be wrong.


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The Plot Thus Far

Francis Lazarro “Frank” Rizzo first came to prominence as a tough, headline-grabbing Philadelphia cop-on-the-beat in the 1960s. His increasingly mythic persona led to a 4-year stint as crusading, law-and-order police commissioner (1967 to 1971) and then 8 years (1972 to 1980) as Philadelphia’s most polarizing mayor of modern times. While many working class white citizens saw Rizzo as their protector-in-chief in a threatening urban environment, minority citizens, liberal and wealthy whites, civil libertarians, and others saw Rizzo as an authoritarian bully who, himself, created a climate of fear and repression throughout the city. Robert Mugge’s and Heidi Trombert’s 75-minute film, AMATEUR NIGHT AT CITY HALL: THE STORY OF FRANK L. RIZZO, shot throughout 1977 and released in early 1978, illustrates key events from Rizzo’s colorful and controversial career and attempts to analyze both causes and effects of his actions. Although the film was released before Rizzo’s controversial assault on radical group MOVE, it chronicles attacks he ordered on Black Panthers and on young people lounging in Rittenhouse Square, his failed polygraph test, and his routinely tough talk (“I’m gonna make Attila the Hun look like a faggot.” The film’s primary theme is “politics as show business,” and it includes many amateur musical performances from South Philadelphia’s Triangle Tavern. Among the many interviewees are broadcast journalist Andrea Mitchell, local politicians including future Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, and stripper Blaze Starr who discusses her reputed affair with the self-proclaimed family man. The film had its 2-week world premiere run at Philadelphia’s Walnut Mall Cinemas during the blizzard of early 1978. In January of 1979, PBS premiered an abridged, one-hour version titled RIZZO: A DOCUMENTARY MELODRAMA. Among the film’s early awards was a 1978 Silver Hugo from the Chicago International Film Festival (the highest documentary award given that year). Transferred to HD from the original 16mm film and lovingly restored for the best possible viewing experience.


Troy Anderson is the Owner/Editor-in-Chief of AndersonVision. He uses a crack team of unknown heroes to bring you the latest and greatest in Entertainment News.

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