Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lunchtime Poll: DVD Commentaries

When DVD commentaries first became the rage I used to listen frequently but aside from a couple terrific ones (I recommend Julianne Moore's commentary on The End of the Affair) I got bored by either:
  • nothing interesting being said (maybe it's too politically dangerous for Hollywood types to share opinions about what works and what doesn't and why)
  • lack of participation from my favorite auteurs --some of them don't believe in commentaries you know
  • stars who have obviously not been together during the recording so it's all cobbled together bits and pieces
  • lots of participants but too party-like and insular to involve talking to you, the listener about the actual film (I'm talking to you Boogie Nights)
So I don't listen much anymore. But I've been in the mood recently. So...

Q:
What DVD commentary do you find most fascinating / enjoyable?
Give us recommendations. Nick recently told me that Junebug's is terrific (Embeth Davitz and Amy Adams, everyone's favorite meerkat loving pregnant chatterbox, participate) but let's have more recommendations.

46 comments:

Scott said...

My favourite DVD commentary is probably Happy Endings'. Don Roos, Lisa Kudrow and the cinematographer J. Clark Mathis all participate. Not only do they have great chemistry, but Roos and Mathis in particular go into a lot of detail about the filmmaking process, which is really interesting.

sozzy said...

The Merchant of Venice commentary is wonderful, very enlightening. Micheal Radford and Lynn Collins do it. She doesn't contribute much, but Radford points out stuff that I would probably have missed forever, but which illuminate the entire film and its story. I believe he says that Shakespeare was the first English writer to broach the question of slavery - and assigns the task to Shylock, an almost equally repressed guy. I have to rewatch the commentary to make sure that's what he said.

The Junebug commentary IS very good. I was surprised though that nobody addressed the fact that Madeleine gets all the blame for not being with Ashley when Peg explicitly and rather cruelly told her not to come with Ashley to the hospital.

Now you've got me interested in listening to other commentaries. Checking my inventory I see Good Night and Good Luck has one that could be interesting . . .

Dave said...

Any of John Waters' commentaries are more than worthwhile, but I'm having trouble recalling which specific ones I enjoyed most. I think "A Dirty Shame" was more interesting than the movie itself, and "Cecil B. Demented" and "Serial Mom" are both favorites as well.

WhiplashWilli said...

Oh, commentary tracks. Probably one of the main reasons I just won't cease to buy DVDs.

My best recommendation would be any commentary by John Cleese (he recorded one for A Fish Called Wanda, and Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life habe all-Python commentary tracks that were edited together, but his bits stand out). I like them a lot because they aren't your standard This is a great film and everyone involved in it was a genius-commentaries, but rather critical of the work, often with good observations about what didn't work the way it should.

The only man I esteem even higher for his commentaries is Werner Herzog, who filled my shelf with DVDs I purchased for listening to the fascinating things he has to say. I don't know, though, whether he recorded English language commentaries for DVD releases in the rest of the world as well.

sean said...

sideways is really good. thomas haden church an paul giamatti do it an they r HILARIOUS together. you can really feel that they are friends

Nick Davis said...

Actually, Phil Morrison isn't around for the Junebug confab, but it's still a fun one.

Todd Haynes, Julianne Moore, and Christine Vachon are fascinating, detailed, and mutually supportive (though not just fawning) on the track for Safe.

The commentary track with Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, Rudy Behlmer, Baz Luhrmann, and others on Singin' in the Rain is a total pip, and full of great anecdotes. Behlmer and Karl Malden also chat memorably and in detail on the Streetcar Named Desire disc that came out last year.

Even if I didn't worship the movie, I think I would have been hugely taken with the Jane Campion/Jan Chapman commentary on The Piano, which connects all kinds of technical issues to thematic ones, and speaks engagingly about the actors and the trials of producing something independent and international. This track is only on the Region-2 version of the DVD, though.

NATHANIEL R said...

has anyone heard the babyjane commentary that supposedly features lypsinka and charles busch? cuz that sounds like it should be awesome and worth the money

Jen said...

I love the director's commentary on "Elizabeth". It's like taking a directing class in film school. He talks about his lighting choices, how he borrowed from Bollywood cinema techniques, everything. One of my favorite parts is over the revenge montage at the end. He says "Some people said that I stole this from the Godfather II. And to them I say... I did!"

Ali said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ali said...

I think we've already discussed highs of the once-in-a-lifetime grouping of Streep/Moore/Kidman on The Hours; I often find myself listening in when I'm writing papers, studying, etc.

Nathaniel, you *must* listen to Emma Thompson's track (along with producer Lindsay Doran) on the Sense and Sensibility DVD if you haven't already. Emma's hysterical (self-evident, but still.)

Other favourites: Gillian Anderson for Little Women, Mira Nair for Monsoon Wedding, and Anthony Mingella for The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Anonymous said...

The "This is Spinal Tap" commentary is hilarious. They stay in character, and talk about how they think they were portrayed by the film: grumbling about how they were made to look stupid due to editing, mocking Derek's decision to wrap his cucumber in aluminum foil, etc.

Michael C. said...

Any of Roger Ebert's commentaries are well worth a listen. (Citizen Kane, Casablanca)

I also found Paul Greengrass's commentary on United 93 a very illuminating companion to the film. I admired the film even more after hearing it.

I remember Sidney Lumet's track on The Verdict was facinating. Anyone who enjoyed Lumet's writing on film should seek it out.

And whoever said Sideways was right, that was a riot.

J.J. said...

I second The Verdict. Lumet is a fantastic commentator. He realizes how valuable this feature can be, and uses it wisely. See also the newish DVDs of Network and Dog Day Afternoon. In fact, I watched all three in a row with the commentary, and it's a filmmaking seminar in and of itself.

Jack Nicholson on "Something's Gotta Give." Seriously. I've always meant to post on it. The man gives such consideration to his acting, even with these lighter, "throwaway" roles. He is *never* phoning it in.

Bruce Campbell is also a master at audio commentaries. Aside from his work on the "Evil Dead" tracks, he does the "Bubba Ho-Tep" commentary as Elvis, naturally.

But above all, you must experience Ken Loring's audio track on "Blood Simple." It is a masterwork. I posted on it a couple years back. His best line? "What an irony that this film should be both about the tragedy of pointless waste and a perfect instance of it."

Ben said...

The best commentary that will probably never exist would be David Lynch's on Mulholland Drive.

I found Cameron Crowe's commentary on Vanilla Sky to be an interesting listen. Ditto Sam Mendes on American Beauty.

The best I've heard may be Jodie Foster's commentary on Contact, although I'm probably incredibly biased because I absolutely love love love the film. Any commentary on Arrested Development, though, takes the cake without a doubt, though, I know, it's not a movie. Oh well.

StinkyLulu said...

Ditto on John Waters. A lot of his usual schtick, but he really grooves on the backstory/gossip angle.

The one I listened to recently, that I quite enjoyed, was Altman's on Nashville. I don't think he did it alone, or that it lasted the whole film, but it was really nice for context... (I do like Herbert Ross's commentary on Steel Magnolias too.) Oh, the cast reunion commentary on Willy Wonka is a hoot...

But now that I see this in text, I realize I only like the commentary for the gossip.

Stephen G said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the commentary by a film historian on the 1931 (?) Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with Frederic March. Was enthusiastic, insightful and informative, though can't remember his name for the life of me.

Paul C. said...

One I've always liked was the Soderbergh/Lem Dobbs commentary on THE LIMEY. Instead of mutually stroking each others' egos and complimenting the wonderful choices they made, Dobbs speaks at length about the differences between his screenplay and the finished product. Soderbergh, to his credit, does a pretty good job justifying those changes. I think it's cool that they actually recorded it together, and felt comfortable enough with each other to discuss their creative differences without it turning into an argument or bitch session.

Also, the DVD of BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS has not one but two great commentaries. Ebert's is as good as any he's done, because he's obviously so close to the movie in addition to be a font of information. And the cast commentary is just fun. A lot of the time these things come off as wanky, talking about how great everyone was and how much fun it was to make the movie, but this goes way beyond that. These are obviously people who have a history together- a number of them have toured together in the last few years in association with the film- and that comes out in their ease in interacting with each other. Plus Harrison Page's Russ Meyer impersonation is killer, and Cynthia Myers' voice is still pretty damned sensuous.

Rosalind said...

The Remains of the Day with Emma Thompson, Ismael Merchant and James Ivory. Both hilarious and insightful, particularly about the themes of the film.

Anonymous said...

I think I wrote about my love for the Hours commentary elsewhere, so thanks Ali for giving it a mention.

I've only heard a small portion of the director's commentary for "Under the Tuscan Sun" but it was so interesting I want to rent it again just to listen to the entire commentary.

Vincent said...

Both my recommendations are from a purely non-technical appreciation by two people who had nothing directly to do with the production of the film ...

"The Rules of Attraction" Carrot Top is hilarious, if you can dig him.

"Basic Instinct" Camille LaPaglia is interesting, if you can dig her.

OleNelson said...

I'm kind of surprised no one's mentioned them yet, but the commentaries for "Fight Club" and "Traffic" are most excellent. I actually listened to THREE different commentary tracks on the latter and was fascinated all the way through.

I'm with Nathaniel, though, in that I generally find the things rather dull.

Roberto said...

I've always thought the Julie Taymor commentaries for Titus and Frida were pretty good.

The Richard Kelly/Kevin Smith commentary for Donnie Darko director's cut is fun.

It's already been said, but John Waters does the best commentary around, and not just his own films, but others like Mommie Dearest and Christmas Evil.

Shortbus has a good one, if only because it has Justin Bond on it.

Anonymous said...

Nat: While I agree with your comments re: dvd commentaries, I do believe some are good and worth hearing. I am here thinking more of TV DVD commentaries and not so much movies. I mean Joss' commentary on Once More With Feeling or The Body are gold!

Ali said...

I second the Julie Taymor tracks (how did I forget?) She's a genius.

susannah said...

Oh, I absolutely agree that any commentary on Buffy, Angel, or Firefly by Joss Whedon is beyond excellent.

Also, I think one of the very best commentaries I have ever heard was Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer's for The Usual Suspects. It's very anecdotal (read: gossipy), but not, I am happy to note, too insiderish.

Another fave is Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Jay Cocks, and Willem Dafoe on The Last Temptation of Christ. This movie was impenetrable to me until I listened to the commentary. All very conversational and informative, although some of them (I think Scorsese and Dafoe?) were recorded separately. I could listen to Martin Scorsese talk about movies - his and everyone else's - for hours.

illnaa said...

Goodfellas Special Edition has two commentary tracks one with Henry Hill and his FBI prosecutor and another with bits and pieces of Irwin Winkler, Scorsese, I think Schoonmaker and Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco - A LOT of good stuff in there

Oliver Stones commentary on JFK is also good, insight into the making and where some of his theories came from and how valid they are.

adam k. said...

I second the Hours love. Julianne and especially Meryl were a joy to listen to. Though I remember Nicole coming off a bit vacuous and pretentious by comparison. Maybe I should have another listen.

And anything with Todd Haynes talking is great, cause as you can imagine, the man always says intelligent things.

I also recall the Dancer in the Dark and Requiem for a Dream commentaries being very interesting. Baz's Moulin Rouge! commentaries also are very fun, and Jodie's Contact commentary is well worth a listen. I was actually also a fan of the "everyone get drunk and talk about the movie" commentary for Boogie Nights.

But I really have to give a shout-out to the Thelma & Louise special edition track with Susan, Geena, and Callie Khouri. I could listen to them all day. SO entertaining. Susan's usually saying something deep and meaningful, while Geena is joyously irreverent ("listen to our accents!"). Khouri doesn't add much, but doesn't really detract other. It's a gem.

Basically a rule of thumb, I think, is that if you are a fan of the people involved, you will enjoy hearing them talk. If you're not, then you won't. Also, actors generally give the best ones, since they're just naturally more entertaining people.

adam k. said...

Oh yeah! CARRIE FISHER's commentary on Postbards from the Edge!!! Has anyone mentioned that? It's absolute gold. The crown jewel of all DVD commentaries. The disc is worth buying just for that track. She's hilarious.

That and Thelma & Louise are probably my favorites.

Deborah said...

Wow, someone should take this comment thread and create a master list.

I'm a fan of an odd cult movie called Times Square with Tim Curry. The director's commentary is all about how the director (Allan Moyle) was lied to, manipulated, had his story butchered, and was ultimately fired. The commentary is his first viewing of the film since his ignoble departure, and he is honest, surprised (he doesn't remember it all that well) and bemused.

I like the Seven Samurai commentary track. One of those "expert" tracks like Ebert's, but I don't remember who does it.

Anonymous said...

My favourite by some way is American Beauty. I LOVED the film before I heard it, but after hearing it, my lifelong adoration for it was cemented.

Firstly, I could listen to Mendes all day, but the late Conrad L Hall's wonderful and insightful comments about his lensing/lighting choices have forever changed how I look at cinematography.

I'd also recommend Van Sant/Heche/Vaughn talking about Psycho. It gave me a whole new appreciation for what they were trying to achieve, and I still find that film one of the most theoretically fascinating puzzlers of the last decade. (i.e. Why is it not regarded as one of the greatest films ever made when it's practically a shot-for-shot reproduction with a glorious performance from Heche?)

Rob

Kamikaze Camel said...

I haven't listened to any commentaries lately except the Showgirls VIP DVD one. But I gotta say, the Resident Evil commentary is one of the funniest things I've ever heard. They discuss things such as yeast infections, Milla Jovovich makes sure everyone is quiet for her crotch shot, and at one point a dog walks into the studio and shits on the floor! It is hysterical. Even if the movie is sorta blah.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Oh, I found a review of the DVD from years back:

"the quartet makes fun of Milla's fashion ads, the film's lame marketing campaign and passing gas during nude scenes in the first ten minutes alone. Another high point is when Jovovich's dog craps on the floor during the middle of the movie - a commentary first, I'm sure."

the rest

NATHANIEL R said...

Deborah --i know. this is just why i asked the question. I'm totally making a spreadsheet and i'll try to get to all of these.

i can't even remember the last time i listened to a commentary and this has me rarin' to do that all over again. (the other thing is that I've been thinking it might be fun to record a few of them...sort of an audio version of what i'm halfway through for Moulin Rouge! ---and yes I have started typing part 3 for those who've been asking.

Graeme said...

The commentary tracks on pretty much any Criterion release are worth the time, but my favourite favourite was their edition of "Silence of the Lambs" with Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Jonathan Demme and FBI behavioural specialist John Douglas. Brilliant and very insightful. Also, the commentary track on Talledega Nights has to be heard to be believed. I don't even know who it is, but they talk complete fiction for the entire length of the movie, including the fact it cost $400 million to make because all of the children are a) animatronic, b) CGI, c) forced perspective and d) little people dressed in children costumes.

Samantha said...

has anyone heard the babyjane commentary that supposedly features lypsinka and charles busch? cuz that sounds like it should be awesome and worth the money

We just watched it tonight due to your question, as I hadn't noticed before who the commenters were.

It was, sad to say, disappointing. Busch and Epperson didn't know much about film in general or even this one in particular, many of their anecdotes were inaccurate, and though they delighted in every move of Davis's, they seemed to be under the impression that Crawford was the poor dignified lady greatly put upon by Davis. Those two actresses were legendarily vicious to each other throughout filming.

It was amusing at times, but not a commentary I'd give a repeat listen.

The commentary by Julian Fellowes for Gosford Park was great, as was Altman's.

daveylow said...

I second the recommendations for Emma Thompson on Sense and Sensibility and on Remains of the Day. She is hilarious. Then there is Julie Christie on Fahrenheit 451. Film historian Jeanine Basinger is always worth listening to because she knows so much about Hollywood filmmaking. One of her commentaries is on the Laura DVD.

To be honest, I have a large DVD collection, and I've bought many of the DVDs for the commentaries, but I never had time to listen to them.

Arden said...

The Garden State commentary with Zach Braff and Natalie Portman is so mind-bendingly great! They are both so pretentious and brain-dead that it's worth listening to just so you understand why why no one should ever allow either of them to work again.

It's so cringe-worthy and stomach-turning. Just so wonderfully bland and at the same time catty as hell. Braff is basically one Harold and Maude reference away from full-on asking Natalie on a date. Natalie is such a bitch to him and seems resentful that she not only that she was in the movie but has to sit through it again.

For sheer entertainment value, check it out.

I also like listening to Culturesnob's great drunken commentary track on Lady in the Water. Though not technically a commentary track.

StinkyLulu said...

Some of the commentaries y'all have mentioned are available via online streams at listentoamovie.com.

- Sideways
- Serenity
- Waiting For Guffman

To list just a few. It's a nifty site.

Anonymous said...

You've started part 3 of the Moulin Rouge tribute? Nat, you just made my month!

I still don't see how you're going to cram the rest of the movie into just two parts when you've only covered up to the end of the ELM, though.

-RedSatinDoll

Anonymous said...

Adam K. I LOVE the movie Thelma and Louise, but the commentary bored me. The ladies are very high energy at the beginning (especially Geena, who admittedly is a hoot - she sounds like she's had 10 Hersey's bars and is bouncing off the walls) but then the energy predictably wanes - and for how long can you listen to them discuss how controversial the film was when released? I already KNOW that bit; please tell me something I don't already know.

And I have to admit that Baz' commentary tracks for MR bored me - but perhaps I was on Baz overload by that point (if I heard "red curtain cinema" once, I heard it a thousand times. Yo, Baz - I got the point the first time, thank you.) I think having him on both tracks was a bad idea - they ought to have made room for a fresh POV. Having Ewan on one of the tracks probably would have been fun, but for insight into the filmmaking process it would have been great to hear from, say, editor Jill Bilcock.

And I didn't think Nicole came off as pretentious on the Hours commentary, but rather as more reserved and less "chatty" and warm than Meryl. (But yes, I am one of those infamous "touchy Nicole fans", so I admit I may be biased.)

RedSatinDoll

jess said...

The only commentaries I've listened to that I really enjoyed are Joss Whedon's.

Anonymous said...

The Thing/Big trouble in Little China & Escape from New York are great fun...John Carpenter & Kurt Russell have so many entertaining stories...Oh and Shaun of the Dead's is hysterical too...

crazycris said...

Although I haven't listened to many commentaries recently (my roomate finds them boring), of those I've listened my favourite was definitely THE GOONIES!!!
Almost all the "kids" are there with the director (excepting Sean Astin who was probably wearing hobbit feet in NZ) and you can tell they haven't seen each other or the movie in over a decade. Their comments generate some real laughs (especially with the "shuffle truffle")
Definitely reccomend it!

Ash said...

The commentary by director James Grey for the underatted film "The Yards" is one of my favourite commentaries. It's filled with fascinating insight and I highly highly recommend it. It's a good movie too!

shawn said...

Emma Thompson - Sense and Sensibility

Sydney Pollack - Out of Africa

Patricia Rozema - Mansfield Park

Ásta said...

Ah - I thought I'd be the only one with The Goonies. The commentary much more enjoyable than the film btw.