Thursday, November 23, 2006

Good Commentary Alert!

I don't know how many of you actually listen to the commentaries on DVDs but if you do you know that most of them are pretty uninformative. Directors don't seem to talk much about the things I find interesting - like storytelling, staging, editing, acting, etc. - and they all seem to fall into talking about things that I don't really have any interest in hearing about. They usually talk about stuff like which scenes were shot on location and which were shot on a soundstage, how hard it was to get the movie made or how they were able to persuade a particular actor to be in the movie.

Maybe I'm in the minority here and the public is actually interested in hearing about stuff like that. But all filmmakers - even bad ones - are always thinking about story and how to put the movie together while they are working on their films so I wish they would discuss it and give us all the chance to learn from their experiences. Maybe by the time the film is done they are just sick and tired of talking about it. Or maybe they don't want to share their secrets with the rest of us!

In any case I make it my duty to let you know whenever I stumble across a good commentary. So this last week I listened to both commentaries on the "Miramax Collector's Series" edition of the"Swingers" DVD and I enjoyed them very much!



The first commentary is by Doug Liman (the director) and his editor. There are some good little sections where they discuss the editing and storyline of the movie that are pretty interesting. Doug talks about some scenes that were changed in the script and why they didn't work and how they fixed them. That's always great to hear. There are some sections where they discuss the locations where stuff was shot and how they managed to pull off making the film with no budget and stuff that is probably interesting to guerilla filmmakers. I have no interest in that kind of stuff but some people might, and like I say, there's enough interesting stuff to make it worth listening to.

The second commentary track is by Jon Favreau (who not only acted in the movie but wrote the script as well) and Vince Vaughn. I found this track to be really interesting and informative. Usually when actors do a commentary track they don't have much of interest to say but Jon and Vince are really articulate and really have a lot of great stuff to say. They really know why every scene is in the movie and they talk about what makes the movie work and why their characters do what they do. One of the things Jon said that really struck me was that since he was writing a movie about friends he "wrote scenes where they were always fucking with each other, because that's what friends do. You don't really mess with someone unless you know them and like them".

Another good feature on the disc is some deleted scenes. There is an alternate scene for the ending that Doug refers to in his commentary and he says "It just didn't work that way so we used this version". It's really great to compare the deleted scene with the one in the movie because you see right off the bat why the final one is superior. The deleted one was just wrong in tone and the staging really hurt it. It's always great to be able to compare and contrast scenes that way.

Anyway I don't want to oversell the DVD but, to me, thecommentaries were far superior to the usual DVD fare. The worst one I ever listened to was "The Score" - Frank Oz and his cinematographer talked about what kind of lights they used to light each scene. I'm sure this is interesting to budding cinematographers but it drove me insane because that's not my area of interest.

Now take all of this with a grain of salt. Personally, I really like "Swingers". To me it's a really smart movie and unlike anything else I've ever seen. And every time I watch it I see a new layer. But that's just me and it's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. It's a small indie film and it's not "Lawrence of Arabia". Doug Liman is one of my favorite directors (am I the only one that thinks "Go" is a work of genuis?). Anyway, I always hate to recommend something that people might not enjoy as much as I did, but for $10.99 from Amazon I think this disc is definitely worth buying. Or add it to your Amazon wish list and someone will get it for you for Christmas. Or add it to your Netflix queue. Hopefully you'll enjoy it as much as I did!

38 comments:

pbcbstudios said...

Another really good DVD commentary you should check out is the Beastmaster platinum remastered collectors 4 disc. There's commentary with Marc Singer (Dar) talking about how people always think he's Kevin Bacon and how difficult Kodo and Podo were to work with. HA! Those wacky Ferrets!

I've got it at work - i'll let you borrow it.

toonamir said...

Sounds good, I’ll pick it up and look for what you’ve mentioned.

I Love listening to commentaries, even the slower ones, if you catch an interesting story, it’s worthwhile, and a valuable learning tool.

On the “Pleasantville” dvd, Randy Newman comments on the soundtrack and mentions working on animated films.
He talks about Carl Stalling’s Looney Tunes and “How fantastically difficult they were, He was really a master. Directors say they don’t want Carl Stalling, and I say: That’s good, ‘cause I can’t do it!”

FantasiaMan said...

I think the Fantasia commentaries are fantastic. You should check those out, too (if you haven't seen them already).

SMacLeod said...

"Wargames" had a great commentary.

Doron Meir said...

Thanks for sharing, Mark.

Adding my recommendation: excellent commentary from the scriptwriters on the first Pirates of the Caribbeans.

Gug's blog

Jenny said...

Thanks! It's really an overlooked goodie--the good(or great)commentary; when done well it's a virtual class in filmmaking. I'll look for this one.

Some others I consider must-listens are: the original Bond laser/Criterion commetaries; some of these were pulled shortly after release due to too much "frankness" from some of the interviewees, but they I think have been rereleased on DVD--at least I hope so. You can listen to not only the director but also the cinematographer and art director.

Rudy Behlmer's commentaries for "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and "Scaramouche" are not only a fascinating film history resource, but a shot-by-shot analysis of some great direction that's never boring. Behlmer edited a several books of internal studio memos from the golden age of film production, one's "Memo from Darrell F. Zanuck"(head of production at Warner Bros and later Fox), and "Inside Warner Bros"; all totally top-secret, uncensored memos about film production. Good stuff! He quotes from a lot of the memos at appropriate places in the "Robin Hood" commentary. You'll laugh your head off in spots.

Also Martin Scorcese's commentaries and interviews w/Michael Powell on some great Powell & Pressburger films, "I Know Where I'm Going!" and "Life & Death of Colonel Blimp"(also Criterions). That's just a start!

On the downside, there are some really poor "academic" commentaries I've suffered through, in particular one or two of the early Hitchcocks; far from a Truffaut-style support, you wind up listening to a total bore reading off their dissertation of Hitchcock they probably wrote for their PhD. For a director as clever, populist, adroit and NOT DULL as Hitch, that's unforgivable to me. "Film semiotics" should be at best left to an additional, not the main commentary track, imho.

Anonymous said...

Marko-

I can vouch for this on the strength of MADE, directed by Favereau and starring him and Vince Vaughn. A fun movie with an intesnsely satifying commentary.

--Will

Benjamin said...

Sam Mendes' commentaries are really good, or at least so I've been told. I've only seen the Road To Perdition one, and it's really really good. Lots of stuff about the actors, the staging/cinematography, story, visual metaphores, etc. A lot of deleted scenes with commentaries on that DVD too. I definitly recommend it.

Matt J said...

I'm with you on GO & didn't Liman do the first Jason Bourne flick? Good track record BUT I just saw MR & Mr Smith this weekend however ...

I find Ridley Scott's commentaries to be highly informative, especially THE DUELLISTS,ALIEN, LEGEND & GLADIATOR. The making of docs on his films are excellent too. MATCHSTICK MEN was not his best picture but the making of film really shows how an A-list movie is put together.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for writing, everyone!
I appreciate the tips on great commentaries. I will check them out!

mattj - yes Liman sis the Bourne Identity as well as the disappointing "Mr and Mrs Smith". I will check out the Ridley commentaries, thanks - I thought Matchstick Men was really good myself! I can't remember if I listened to the commentary...

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

2 of My favorite commentaries:
Donnie Darko the original release: Writer Director Richard Kelly and Jake Glyllenthal give a lively and informative commentary.
Donne Darko The Director's Cut; New commentary with Kelly and Keven Smith! Fascinating! Kevin and Richard talk story, the writing process, directing, character, you name it! Both editions are worth owning !

chickennuggets said...

aww man, i gotta borrow that from Tom again. poo.

chickennuggets said...

BTW, your blog color is so "money".

Mike Huddleston said...

Hi Mark,
A source of constant good dvd commentary is Writer/ Director Guillermo Del Toro (The Devil's Backbone, Blade 2, and Hellboy). His commentary on Hellboy is particularly great, perhaps better than the film itself.
I also really enjoyed the exhausitve commentaries on Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy.


ps. Thanks for the blog. I've learned alot.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to contribute Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. Not only is the film an absolute masterpiece, its also got a terrific commentary track analyzing the film from a filmaker's point of view.

Benjamin said...

Talking about Guillermo Del Toro: he's also got a forum on his official (fan?)site, where he's answered tons of questions about how he approaches his films. He's also got a blog somewhere (only has a few posts, though), where he mentions a huge list of artists and films that inspired him.

here are the links, if anyone's interested:
http://www.deltorofilms.com/
http://www.deltorofilms.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=2
http://www.deltorofilms.com/blog/

Also, don't miss his new film, Pan's Labyrinth/El Laberinto del Fauno. It's a gem.

grant said...

Most of the View Askew films have pretty good commentary.

marcobucci said...

The worst commentaries I've ever heard, believe it or not, are on the Seinfeld DVDs. They just have nothing to say. I always enjoy Pixar's commentaries, particularly Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, and Finding Nemo. It's a Shame that The Score's commentary isn't any good - Frank Oz is one of my heroes!

robh said...

i saw "GO" in the theatres and i agree, it's brilliant
Robh

Andreas said...

I liked the commentary to Seven Samurai (Criterion Collection) up until the point where he stopped talking about the film. Although I appreciated the information he gave, I was left wanting more commentary on the film.

oats said...

Every Commentary by Michael Mann is excellent - particularly the one for 'Heat.' He goes into SUCH depth about the characters and what is going on in their hearts and minds. Wes Anderson is also great (Rushmore, Royal Tenenbaums) his stuff is more film-history-heavy, but amazingly informative about the details of making a film.

Also: I LOVE THIS BOLG, Mark! Thanks!

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