Saturday, August 27, 2005

My 10 Favorite DVD Commentaries

I remember when I got my first-ever DVD ('Ronin,' way back in 1999), the first thing I wanted to do was listen to John Frankenheimer's commentary on the disc. It was a feature I had read about when the digital format was being developed and it has remained one of the most popular special features on a DVD. Below are 10 of my favorite commentaries:

10. Peter Bagdonavich ('Citizen Kane')
'Kane' has two excellent commentaries, including one from director Peter Bagdonavich. It is never fully explained by Peter how he came to know Orson Welles as well as it seems he did from the anecdotes he gives, but his incite on the director and his movie are excellently candid. Bagdonavich's laid back approach includes some rare criticism of 'Kane,' adding that it's not even his favorite film by Welles.

9. John McTiernan ('Predator')
The tone for director McTiernan's commentary on 'Predator' is set in the opening minutes when he admits, in a voice that can best be described as a hungover Jeff Lebowski: "It's been a LONG time since I've seen this movie!" Although McTiernan seems less-than-enthusiastic about giving a commentary on his film, he gives some great insight, including how he dealt with the Mexican crew on the set and how the infamous gatling gun worked (it was hooked up to numerous batteries and could be barely be lifted).

8. Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach ('The Life Aquatic')
Like his movies, Wes Anderson's commentary track on 'Aquatic' is far from ordinary. He and co-writer Noah Baumbach recorded the commentary at the very restaurant where the two conceived of the film. Throughout the track, you can hear the hustle and bustle of the eatery in the background which adds to the how simple Anderson and Baumbach make the filmmaking process sound.

7. John Carpenter and Kurt Russel ('Big Trouble in Little China')
Just like Carpenter always comes off as an everyman director, Russel just seems like he can be your neighbor. The result is a very genuine conversation/commentary between the two friends with Carpenter explaining his trademark framing techniques and Russel pointing out how fun it was to do the various stunts. Carpenter also drops this bomb of geek info on you: 'Big Trouble' was originally intended as a straight-up Western, now how cool would that have been?

6. Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhall ('Donnie Darko')
Since Kelly was a 26-year-old first-time director with 'DD,' he brings a very honest and youthful tone to the commentary, with Gyllenhall acting like his junior high buddy who busts his chops at every opportunity. Kelly reveals where the grotesquely creative visions for 'DD' came from and little tidbits of filmmaking goodness here and there (like the ghastly sum that The Pet Shop Boys wanted for the right to include 'West End Girls' as the dance team's song)

5. Tim Burton and Paul Reubens ('PeeWee's Big Adventure')
What a coup it was for PeeWee fans when Reubens signed up for this commentary. Burton and Reubens have a lively look back at the production of 'PeeWee,' which the latter was involved in maybe more than you thought. Reubens reveals that the bicycle plot came was inspired by Warner Bros. giving the comedian a nifty bike to ride around their studios during pre-production. Also, most of the odd toys in PeeWee's bedroom actually belonged to Reubens.

4. Michael Mann ('Heat')
The main reason I double dipped on 'Heat' was to hear Mann's take on his masterpiece. Not only does Mann talk about working on the set with Pacino and De Niro, but also how much his years of reasearch into criminal behavior added to the authentic feel of the film. Mann's commentary adds to the belief of how hard it is these days to make a sweeping crime epic like 'Heat,' they don't come around too often.

3. Roger Ebert ('Dark City')
I love it when film critics add commentaries, especially when it's someone like Ebert talking about one of my favorite movies. Ebert boldly proclaimed 'Dark City' as one of the best movies of the year and is able to add a never-dull track to its disc. Ebert gushes on and on about the strange nuances of the original plot as well as the genius natural lighting and authentic sci-fi-noir look of the movie. Ebert points out something that I never noticed: There is not a single cuss word in the entire movie.

2. Hunter S. and Anita Thompson ('Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas')
Criterion's inclusion of this new commentary track is perhaps the firm's best special feature to date. After Thompson's death, this commentary serves as a nearly living time capsule for fans of what kind of person Thompson was. Yes, he really was that crazy (a few times he lets out piercing wails for no reason), and yes he really was that smart (poignant analysis of the Book of Genesis as one of the greatest examples of writing). This is far from your normal commentary, as Thompson tries to call Johnny Depp and Benicio del Torro during the recording session (neither were home) and also takes questions from a University of New Orleans professor on the lasting legacy of the movie.

1. Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer ('This is Spinal Tap')
Wow! For the true 'Tap' fan, this commentary is like a sequel to the funniest movie ever made. Speaking in character, the three musicians take us through their last 20 years of their career and give us their uncensored takes on the co-stars of the film, such has how Marty DeBergi lied to them and how most of the people in the film are dead now (at least they think so).

1 comment:

Mike Sheffler said...

I haven't bought The Life Aquatic yet, but I've listened to Anderson's (he has the onerous distinction of having the very worst publicity photo on all of IMDB, by the way)commentary on The Royal Tenenbaums and it's incredibly insightful.

Most people (correctly, I think) assume that most of the 'art' in a movie, painting, photograph, etc. is conceived of after the fact -- the artist creates a piece and then fills it with meaning. However, the tone and scope of Anderson's comments suggest the sheer vision that he had in conceiving of and creating the film.

Also, you are familiar with the Onion AV Club's 'Commentary Tracks of the Damned', yes?