My Best DVD commentary Track (for filmmakers)
ROAD TO PERDITION with director Sam Mendes. This isn’t even one of my favorite movies, but it’s by far my number 1 commentary track. Sam Mendes understands and has the perfect balance between actors’ performance & directing the camera. A lot of commentaries are too skewed towards one & not the other.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN with director and uncredited writer Nicholas Meyer. It features the essence of storytelling from a formerly young up & coming director looking back after years of experience.
TRUE ROMANCE with Quentin Tarantino writer’s commentary track. A great story of how the kid from a video store worked several angles to become the “Quentin” that we know as a pop culture icon. More sedate than usual, and at his most endearing, Tarantino’s storytelling is at it’s best with the commentary. Also an explanation of why he does his stories non-linearly is priceless.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS from Bryan Singer director, & writer Christopher McQuarrie discuss the beginnings of the story and again, the balance between story and acting plus the great cinematography of this movie.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (criterion collection edition) from director Jonathan Demme, Jodie Foster, and Anthony Hopkins. Not available on the “special edition” disc widely available, the commentary track has many insights into the actor’s process and the director anecdotes, and trivia make for interesting examination of a landmark film.
SLACKER (criterion collection DVD) – the “crew” commentary with Rick Linklater, & Lee Daniel has many cost saving tips and other seeds that can grow in the minds of many young filmmakers.
CHASING AMY (criterion collection DVD/Laserdisc) – Although it’s the usual comedy & antics of a large group of buddies, in between the jibes mocking Ben Affleck’s movie “Phantoms”, there are some insights into the creative process of Kevin Smith. A few nuggets of info are worth the banter.
LORD OF THE RINGS (all 3 movies from the 4 disc special edition DVD sets) – all 4 commentaries on all 3 movies can mine many great ideas and information on filmmaking in general. That’s over 40 hours of viewing/listening right there.
FIREFLY: THE COMPLETE TV SERIES – disc four, the last episode commentary by Joss Whedon. By his own admission, creator, writer, director, producer Joss Whedon does a somewhat less trivial commentary and tries to describe the origin of the concepts behind the ideas for an episode of phenomenal television. Getting philosophical and still maintaining his wit and humor, Joss’ revelations and gratitude to everyone around him make this commentary special.
EL MARIACHI (all DVD version & originated on Laserdisc) when the opening words of the commentary tell you it’s more like “how to make a movie for $7,000 or less”, how bad can it be? It has a lot of great information delivered as you watch the inexpensive action movie.
The BMW Films series THE HIRE has all 8 films made for the web, plus their commentary tracks. Hearing insights from directors John Frankenheimer, Wong Kong Wai, Ang Lee, Tony Scott, Joe Carnahan, Guy Ritchie, and more make this a riveting and educational tool on telling stories in the short form. Not many will have $1 million per 6 minute short, but the style and motives are priceless if you can learn to adapt the knowledge to match your budget.
THIS IS SPINAL TAP (criterion version DVD and Laserdisc long out of print) – the commentary track by the three lead actors Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest is very very different than the one on the commonly available “Special Edition DVD”. On the Special Edition, they do a commentary as the characters. On the hard to find Criterion version, they do a commentary as actors, writers, and filmmakers. Lesson learned? It really boggled my mind to learn they never set foot out of Los Angeles County to make the movie. The power of suggestion of putting a title that says “Atlanta, Georgia” whilst showing a hotel can really effect perception in the viewers mind.
Honorable mentions -
RUSHMORE (criterion collection DVD) for Wes Anderson on his second movie features a lot of great cinematic advice.
GOOD WILL HUNTING with Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Gus Van Sant carry on about the experience working on this academy award winning “indie” film.
GLADIATOR with Ridley Scott let’s go a lot of epic filmmaking nuggets.
MADE with the “action commentary” by Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley aka Ralphy from “A Christmas Story” where they use the same technology from football games to literally point out things on screen. MADE was an indie film shot in New York and features a lot of Soprano’s cameos, but also has some indie film techniques.
YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN/BLAZING SADDLES DVD’s with commentary track from Mel Brooks let loose some comedy genius and methods of old from a guy who’s been funnier longer than most indie filmmaker’s grandparents have been fornicating.
SEVEN SAMURAI, Criterion Collection DVD, this commentary has the sole distinction of being done by a film critic as opposed to a filmmaker. This DVD of one of the cinema’s greatest films ever made teaches a lot about the genius of Kurasawa from a unique, outsider’s perspective.
The story continues in part three of DVD FILM SCHOOL>>>
Posted on February 21, 2005 in Features by Peter John Ross
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