Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Another Round Of Great DVD Commentaries


Several years back I posted about great DVD commentaries with a top ten list of my favorites ("Let Them All Talk" Sept. 29th, 2005). Since then I've been collecting notes every time a new (or new to me) commentary was particularly interesting. I'd thought I'd share them in yet another patented Film Babble Blog list.

Now, I know a lot of folks don't listen to commentaries but I thought talking about some really notable ones would encourage folks to give them a try and turn that track on - if only just to sample. So, here goes:

10 More Great DVD Commentaries 
                                                  
1. THE PASSENGER
(Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) 

A rare feature-length solo commentary track by Jack Nicholson puts this at the top of the list especially as he declares: "This picture, 'The Passenger', was probably the biggest adventure in filming I ever had in my life."

Nicholson's involving comments are helpful because without them the film can be a long haul. Most compellingly is Nicholson's breakdown of how the final sequence was filmed (contains Spoilers!):

                                                 

Nicholson: "Now, that shot was the reason they built the hotel. The hotel, in order that the camera be able to dolly out through those bars and out the window...why I hope Michelangelo doesn't mind my revealing of the magic of his work...was that the entire hotel could be mounted on a crane and broken in half so that they could go out into the courtyard, shoot film back towards the hotel, after they exited, with the hotel having been pushed back together again and reconstructed for the remainder of the shot."

Whew! Hope Jack sees fit to do other commentaries 'cause that one's a keeper.

2. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF
(Dir. John Hughes, 1986)



This customer review on Amazon says it best: "Film buffs, DVD collectors, and John Hughes fans beware! The "Bueller...Bueller..." edition DVD does not include the commentary track by writer/producer/director John Hughes which was included on the original 1999/2000 DVD release. It is a great commentary and is sorely missed from this edition."

That's right, even the new Blu ray of this '80s teen classic is sans Hughes commentary and the DVD I was recently sent from Netflix was the "Bueller...Bueller..." edition.

The Hughes track on the 1999 edition is well worth seeking out because it truly is one of the most insightful listens all the way through. Some sample quotes: 

Hughes: "After the film wrapped, Mr. and Mr. Bueller (Lyman Ward and Cindy Pickett), in real life, got married. At the time we were shooting this, Jennifer Grey and Matthew (Broderick) were dating. It was kind of a strange situation because everybody in this scene is in love." And my favorite bit is the art gallery scene:




                                                    

Hughes: "And then this picture, which I always thought this painting was sort of like making a movie. A pointillist style, which at very very close to it, you don't have any idea what you've made until you step back from it. I used it in this context to see that he's (Alan Ruck) looking at that little girl. Again, it's a mother and child.

The closer he looks at the child, the less he sees. Of course, with this style of painting. Or any style of painting really. But the more he looks at, there's nothing there. I think he fears that the more you look at him the less you see. There isn't anything there. That's him." Watch the scene sans commentary here.

Used copies can be found fairly easily of the 1999 version with the commentary as its only special feature (what more do you need?). 

3. TOUCH OF EVIL: THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
(Dir. Orson Welles, 1958)

The packaging is mistaken when it lists the “Preview Version feature commentary” to be Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Restoration Producer Rick Schmidlin.

It’s the 1998 “Restored Version” that contains their commentaries. The other versions – the theatrical and preview cuts have fine bonus audio tracks with writer/filmmaker F.X. Feenet and historians Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore, but it’s the Heston/Leigh/Schmidlin track on the first disc of the wonderful 50th Anniversary Edition that I strongly recommend.

Wonderful moments abound: Schmidlin pointing out: “When you see Joseph Cotton - listen to the voice, but it’s not Cotton…”

Heston: “It’s not Cotton?” Schmidlin: “It’s, uh, Orson’s voice.”
Heston: “For Heaven’s sake.” Leigh: “Orson did Joe’s voice?”

Also its amusing to hear Schmidlin call out which shots are Welles’s from which are Harry Keller’s later inserts to the repeated rekindling of Heston’s and Leigh’s memories. “You’ve really done your homework” Heston remarks with a slight chuckle in this charming and essential commentary.

4. BLOOD SIMPLE (Dir. Joe Coen, 1984)

This beyond odd track features audio commentary by "Kenneth Loring", the "artistic director" of "Forever Young Films" (a fictional gig - but whatever). Maybe the most surreal listen on this list.

(Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)

As 5 time Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus in a tense moment making a Vietnam War movie, in black-face mind you, Robert Downey Jr. declares: "I don't drop character till I done the DVD commentary!" You know what? Like a real method actor, he keeps his word.

In this free form three way between Downey Jr., Stiller, and Jack Black, the snark level is high which is way apt considering the over the top tangents of said film. One such sample bit during the opening mock trailers - specifically "Satan's Alley" with Downey Jr. and Tobey Macquire as tortured homosexual monks:

Stiller: "Sort of an alternate universe for Spider Man and Iron Man."

Downey Jr.: "I was trying to ride Tobey when we was shooting this thing but he wouldn't have none of it. Talkin' 'bout happily married."

(Dir. Todd Haynes, 2007) 

Haynes’ odd yet transfixing meditation on “the many lives of Bob Dylan” (one of my top 5 films of 2007) confused a lot of people, particularly those unfamiliar with the troubled troubadour's background. Haynes delivers a commentary that should clear up that huge cloud of confusion as he sites references and breaks down various inspirations for every detail in every scene. Some sample quotage:

Haynes: "This is the entrance of Cate Blanchett in the film. The role of Jude was something that I'd always planned, from the very first concept of the film that I gave to Dylan in 2000, that it would be portrayed by an actress. And the reason for this was really for me to try to get to the core of what this next change really looked like and felt like to audiences at the time.

How he became this sort of feline character offstage and this sort of bouncing marionette onstage. Full of all these extravagant androgynous gestures that we'd never seen before and we'd never see again after." The commentary is filled with so many more elaborate descriptions, or justifications, for every aspect of Haynes' challenging anti-biopic.

7. SUPERBAD: UNRATED EXTENDED EDITION
(Dir. Greg Mottola, 2007)

                                                  
Every Judd Apatow production’s DVD commentary is entertaining, from Freaks ‘N Geeks to PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but this group cast track with director Mottola, screenwriter Evan Goldberg, actors Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and producer Apatow is IMHO the best of the bunch.

Largely because Apatow brought along his nine-year-old daughter Maude. Apatow tries to get the guys to keep it clean but it doesn't last long. A sample exchange:

Hill: "This scene is fuckin' hilarious, man."

Apatow: "Jonah, Jonah..."

Hill: "Yeah?"

Apatow: "Maude's over there."

Rogen: "You keep swearing, stop swearing Jonah!"

Hill: "Dude, what is this, bring your daughter to work day? I mean..."

Apatow: "Just be cool man, be cool! This is the only way I could do it...I don't have a babysitter, I'm in New York City here to do Conan and Colbert by the way...I don't have a babysitter so what am I gonna do? Leave her like, uh, with the concierge?"

Hill: "I dunno, dude I'm not..."

Cera: "Like 'Home Alone 2!'"

Hill: "It's "Superbad"! I curse the whole movie...the commentary, I mean, it's like...whatever."

Apatow: "You know, I'm not trying to ruin it...I'm not trying to ruin it..."

Hill: "Let's just go back to the movie; let's just go back to talking about the movie..."

Rogen: "It's kinda ruining the commentary Judd, if Jonah can't say what the fuck he wants to say."

Hill: "Yeah! I can't curse, why don't you just..."

Apatow: "You know what? I'm not 15 years old and don't have a kid - I'm an adult like Greg, I have a child. This is my reality."

Hill: "If I had a kid I wouldn't bring it to work with me."

Whoa - some actual drama there mixed with the laughs. Let's minus the laughs for this next one:

8. TAXI DRIVER (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1976)



Writer Paul Schrader sounds a bit hesitant upon first opening up ("whatever comments I have...are really not from inside the director's vision") about the film and his screenplay's seminal 70's statement about urban alienation but once he gets going it's quite a cutting companion piece. Sample quotage:

Schrader: "What happens at the end happens at the beginning."

"When Marty first told me that he cast Albert (Brooks) I was sort of surprised because, you know, it was a nothing character. Well, that's the secret: cast the comic in a nothing character and you get somebody interesting."

"I don't believe the script should have any references to camera angles whatsoever. There's only one camera angle in the script, and that's the tracking shot at the very end, and I put that one in there because I thought that it was important we see this crime scene from the eye of God. And the only way we could make that point is if we put the camera on the ceiling and track."

(Dir. Lou Adler, 1982)

In the interest of space I'll refer you back to this post ("Talking 'Bout A Generation Gap" Oct. 3rd, 2008) in which I first babbled 'bout Diane Lane and Laura Dern's very funny commentary.

10. NASHVILLE
(Dir. Robert Altman, 1975)



Luckily before beloved "New Hollywood" auteur Altman died he recorded a number of worthwhile commentaries but this one is absolutely essential for his magnum opus.

As rambunctious as Altman was infamous for being, his gruff ingratiating commentary makes you feel like you're sitting on the couch with him as he rambles.

Some random rambles:

"When this film first came out, they hated the music. They said this wasn't real country music. But I wasn't looking for good music, not that they make a lot of it there..."

"We cast these cars as carefully as we did the people who drove them."

"Since we knew that I had no way I could control the palette of this film, the color of this film, because I knew I was going to be dealing in real situation for we were just invading an event. Even though if we created it, we had to deal with...we weren't paying these people as extras we just had to go where they were."

Special TV Series DVD Set Honorable Mention: 

Spaced (Dir. Edgar Wright, 1999-2001) 

This short lived but brilliant BBC series is outfitted in a nice 3 DVD set with multiple commentary tracks featuring guests like Kevin Smith, Diablo Cody, Patton Oswalt, Bill Hader, Matt Stone, and Quentin Tarantino sparring with Wright and various cast members including, of course, Simon Pegg and Jessica Haynes. Great stuff.

Okay! I hope that'll point out some good commentaries out there. I'd love to hear your thoughts on essential bonus audio tracks so please send 'em on.

More later...

19 comments:

mrdrow said...

Was happy to see Spaced get a mention at the end. For a set with two commentaries for each episode there's little to no overlap on what they cover. It's 14hrs of commentary total but well-worth the time.
As for other commentaries, Cannibal: The Musical has one that's not exactly good but not necessarily a commentary gone wrong. There's drinking involved.
A good one though would be Ghostbusters if just for Harold Raimis mentioning he had no intention for the scatological interpretations of "crossing the streams".
And Paul Verhoven's commentary for Robocop. He states when when we're introduced Clarence Boderick beating on his get away driver: "Kurtwood Smith is such a nice man" or something close to it.

Daniel F. said...

Any DVD commentary by Bruce Campbell is worth the price of the DVD alone. Here are three of his best:

1. Bubba Ho-Tep - To my knowledge, the first time an actor has done a DVD commentary in character; in this case, Bruce Campbell as Elvis. Just priceless (and Mr. Campbell does a second commentary as himself to boot).

2. The Evil Dead - A lot of DVD commentaries contain ho-hum info or half-remembrances. Not so with this. Mr. Campbell is a fountain of off-beat, little known trivia throughout the entire movie that even casual fans of the movie can be entertained by. The commentary by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert pales in comparison.

3. Running Time - This little-seen crime-caper gem had a great banter between the director (Josh Becker) and star (Mr. Campbell). These two long-time buddies crack jokes at each other throughout the entire movie. Fun stuff.

Finch said...

my personal favorite
Ocean's 11 with brad pitt, matt damon

Anonymous said...

The best commentary EVER is carrot top on The rules of Attraction. He has nothing to do with the movie and he sits down to watch it for the first time while doing the commentary. So hilarious.

Levi Agee said...

Just gonna say another Judd Apatow joint "Freaks & Geeks has nearly every episode a commentary with the likes of creator Paul Feig, Apatow himself, Rogen, Martin Starr and other Apatow alumns. They're really insightful and funny but ultimately just make you hate NBC for canceling the greatest show ever.

Noir-It-All said...

A really good commentary by director Wm. Friedkin is found on the film noir, The Narrow Margin. You can tell Friedkin loves this film and its stars as he explains the tricky camera angles used when filming the train and chase sequences and suggests improvements.

S.Doc said...

Another really good series of commentarys are the John Carpenter/Kurt Russel ones. Big Trouble in Little China. The Thing, Escape From New York. Very interesting listening to these two old friends talk about how much they love thse movies and how the industry has changed so much.

Also a nod to Dark City Dir Cut, Eberts commentary is very insightful and lastly Robert Rodriguez comms are great if your into movie making or anything associated. The mans a master at getting things done.

David G said...

Two of my Favorite commentaries besides Bubba ho tep was
1) Cast commentaries for Lord of the Rings. It was funny and at the same time insightfull
2) the one originally done for "the Lion King"'s Laserdisc edition that was slightly edited for the Deluxe DVD. the Director and producer have great sense of humor

Anonymous said...

Nice list. Check out this list from the staff of Videoport, the best rental store in the world...yeah, I said it...

www.videoportjones.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/the-best-dvd-commentaries-you-decide/

Chris said...

One of my favorite commentaries is from Deadwood, Ian McShane and Timothy Olyphant making fun of some of the other actors.

Apathygrrl said...

My 2 favourite commentaries are:
1) The Fellowship of the Ring - The cast with the Hobbits. Hearing the 4 of them crack jokes and talk about pranks they pulled during filming was hilarious.
2) UHF. Weird Al Yankovic is friggin hilarious. I was nearly in tears listening to this. Right at the beginning he opens with this little song "Orion... Oriiiion... is Baaaaankrupt!"

Anonymous said...

Interesting list. A must-listen to is Francis Ford Coppola's commentary on Bram Stoker's Dracula 2-disc special edition. Another must listen is the totally hilarious commentary between Robert Downey, Jr. and an off-the-chain Val Kilmer for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Honorable Mention: The commentary for The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is strangely charming; those kids have really fun chemistry/energy. I would love for Tyler Perry to do a commenatary as Madea for one of his films!

Fluffy8u said...

The best ones that I've found is for the Simpsons season (especially the ones that feature Jon Lovitz and Yeardley Smith). In their 13th season they actually tell you about the Simpson's Movie and it's release date. Another really good one is Can't Hardly Wait. They tell you about the characters that were edited out and the mysterious red balloon that bops around the party.

Kidd said...

Any commentary with Joss Whedon is worth the price of admission alone. Period.

wolferiver said...

Thank you, S.Doc, for the mention of Ebert's commentary on Dark City, and also the Robert Rodriguez's commentaries for El Mariachi and Desperado. I thought they were both excellent, and each one is a little mini-class in film making.

I would add that the commentaries for episodes of Farscape are all uniformly excellent and informative. (Farscape was a little known scifi show which featured the most cinematic production values ever seen on television this side of Deadwood. Despite all the hoopla over several other scifi shows that came afterwards, this is the one that set the bar for good, well written, well-acted, and fun television scifi.) The commentaries are made by a variety of the actors, directors, producers and writers, but all of them display a deep knowledge of their craft, and of the art of storytelling.

I also recommend the commentary for L.A. Confidential, Time Bandits, The Boxer, and 12 Monkeys.

Anonymous said...

Mr Show with Bob and David.

Nuff Said!!!

Major Bloodnok said...

John Frankenheimer's commentary on RONIN is like a film school 101 class. I enjoyed it.

Marc Edward Heuck said...

This is admittedly a self-serving comment, and perhaps outside of the radius of your scope, but since you mentioned the Lane/Dern commentary for THE FABULOUS STAINS, I would like to direct you to check out my historical commentary for STAINS, which was recorded for the disc but ultimately not included on the final release. I've made it available for free download, and since you are a fan of the film would like to hear your thoughts on it.

http://home.earthlink.net/~meheuck/thefabulousstains/

Anonymous said...

I am really glad to see Blood Simple included in the list, as it has always been one of my favourite commentaries... so off the wall, and far more entertaining than the movie itself (yeah, I said it!).

I also really love the Carrot-Top commentary on Rules Of Attraction, probably the funniest i have yet heard.

Another standout was Bound, with commentary by the Wachowski's and cast.