Sunday, June 07, 2009

DVD Commentaries

Before we get to Michael Radford's 2004 film of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, and why it is worth owning a copy and watching more than once, a word about DVD commentaries.

It is almost a standard feature on DVD releases. By enabling the commentary that is among the menu options, you can watch the movie with "live" commentary by the director, the producer, an actor from the movie, whoever was available that day. They watch it as you watch it, and their voices keep up a steady patter on top of the movie as they wax anecdotal over the making of the movie, perhaps elucidating the secret of their creativity as the confide in you of their creative process.

Despite my soul-marriage to the live theatre, I also like movies and find them interesting. To my wife's eternal annoyance, I constantly click the menu and watch the movie through again with the commentary. As a result, I have heard quite a few of them and there is something I wonder about.

For such a handy feature, making such worthwhile use of the DVD medium, a lot of these commentaries sound rather slapdash and chatty. As with bad radio chat hosts, there seems to be a taboo about silence or "dead air" and subsequent pressure to keep on blabbing even when the blather does not contribute to our appreciation of the film. Granted, there is some value to the loose and spontaneous feel, but it's not as if we are going to be fooled into believing we are kicking back with Sidney Lumet or Lawrence Kasdan or the gal who played the villain's lover, like they might ask you to pass the chips any moment now.

All I'm sayin' here is, they could edit these things. Snip out the hemming and hawing, prune the off-the-cuff bibble-babble, go for quality over quantity. We really don't need to hear an executive producer and a director struggling to remember somebody's name or otherwise chatting. Hush.

They should all get their hands on the original Godfather DVD and sit through Francis Ford Coppola's commentary, using it as their model. The Coppola commentary on The Godfather (1972) is almost 100% worthwhile, entertaining, and illuminating. He is fearlessly candid about the dunderheads at Paramount who almost ruined the movie countless times. He also educates, explaining the how-to of making an historical movie on a tight budget, the problems that arose and how he solved them. This is what the DVD commentary is supposed to be about: enhancing your appreciation of the medium itself.


quid said...

Thanks for the tip on "The Merchant of Venice". I hadn't seen it, but I'll remedy that.

I'm one of those people that always has to spin through the DVD commentaries. I'll admit, that many of them are exercises in futility, slapped together because that is what the public expects.

I've seen Coppola's commentary, but as usual, you've piqued my interest and I'll have to go back!

Kelly said...

I have to really want to see a movie to take the time to sit through one. I'm sure as heck not going to watch it again with commentary!

Well, I take that back. There might be a few movies I've enjoyed enough that I would consider hearing what the director had to say.