Film Commentary 

Thursday, October 20, 2005

When DVDs came into their own five years ago, their special features thrilled me. Extra stuff! More for my money!

Then I discovered the special features usually meant trailers of the movie I had just seen or cast descriptions with such piddling text that I couldn't read it off my primitive life form television.

Luckily, with Deep Blue Sea and Titus, I discovered features commentaries.

The directors droned on about the making of their films, the entire film, as it replayed. I knew it was my duty as a miser to digest every word and stretch out my rental dollars to a maximum impossible with mere VHS tapes.

I was getting something out it: education - I remember something about the license plate tribute to Jaws in the former and green pool tables that director Julie Taymor rejected for red ones to fit her colour scheme in the latter.

Later on, when I rented movies with next-day return, a mild irritation nagged at me, that I somehow missed out on something.

Then, DVDs made their way into my possession. Once I owned a DVD nothing stopped me from watching the feature commentary. And I was getting a director plus an actor. Woo hoo. Will life never cease to amaze?

Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, it turned out, make terrible hosts. In-jokes and perfunctory "How are yous?". I've done more entertaining vaccuuming sessions.

Directors and actors, for all their familiarity with their own movie, are just to too close to their baby. They are like parents who bore the rest of us with meaningless anecdotes about their newborn. Yeah, like the rest of us care about your exclusive club and your matching tattoos.

Recently I gave a film commentary one more try.

The last of Hitchcock's British films, The Lady Vanishes, had a notable commentary - by "film historian Bruce Eder."

Eder explained untangled the conspiracies in this 1938 mystery, relating them to actual pre-war machinations and British complacency.

Most memorable are the trivial tidbits:
  • Director Alfred Hitchcock's cameo near the end.
  • The McGuffin at the beginning - the device that drives the plot - in this case, the viewer does not know it until the end of the movie.
  • The fictitious country, Vandreka, has a made-up language of snips and pieces from thirty other European languages.
  • The Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Chambers (Basil Radford) characters, while not gay, were just overgrown schoolboys and became so popular as a result of The Lady Vanishes that they paired up for the screen many more times.
It turns out film historians are better informers than directors or actors.

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