Agh, Commentary Tracks

Well, a pat on my back for watching a disc within a few weeks of buying it (doubt it’ll catch on) but life never gives without taking away, so add another commentary track to the list of all those that I haven’t listened to yet. 

(The disc in question was A Most Violent Year, a film which I first watched on a stream back in 2015 and which I really liked, so when I noticed it cheap on Amazon it proved a no-brainer. More on that maybe at a later time, but yeah its still a great film with fantastic cast/performances, but the Blu-ray comes with a commentary track which tempts and infuriates me at the same time).

So anyway, its such a pity that whenever there’s nothing on the television or I haven’t gotten my head into a book, I can’t just suggest to my wife Claire that we settle down with a commentary track from one of those discs (if I did, she’d give me one of her dirtiest ‘are you mad?’ looks for sure: commentary tracks are for film-nerds. True or false?). 

Not all commentary tracks are equal. Some are awful. Some are great. Some (certainly those when one gets John Carpenter and Kurt Russell together) are legendary. There’s some good commentaries by academics, film historians or critics- some can be very dry, or feel like they are just reading from prepared notes (which sometimes I’m sure they are), but often they can be more balanced than listening to tracks from cast and crew stroking each others egos and ‘goshing’ at whatever’s onscreen. Some can be surprising, I remember that the Matrix films had commentary tracks from philosophers and critics who didn’t necessarily even like the films. Which made me think at the time what a neat idea it was (although studios would obviously be appalled by it), to perhaps put negative views on some tracks, you know, get someone to argue for, someone argue against, the film in question. 

Great unrecorded commentary tracks:

  1. Alfred Hitchcock on Vertigo
  2. Stanley Kubrick on anything (although Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke together on 2001 would have been like brushing one’s hand against a Monolith, or falling into a Stargate, I suspect).
  3. Phillip K Dick on Blade Runner– wouldn’t that have been great? He might have hated the finished film but who knows, he might have loved it and just listening to him see that world through his eyes… sober or high, it would have been a ball.
  4. Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. Just imagine. 

I assure you that if either of those commentaries existed they wouldn’t have remained unlistened to. Crikey, I probably would have jumped into the commentary before even watching the movie. Anybody else got some ideas for great commentary tracks we’ll never hear?

4 thoughts on “Agh, Commentary Tracks

  1. Michael

    I’m always buying the “super deluxe” DVD version with director commentary and practically never getting around to it. I will say that there are a few directors I do make sure to listen to. That would be Ken Russell, for sure. His “Lair of the White Worm” commentary is a classic. Ditto Rob Zombie. He gives good insight in to the “making of” his pictures. Coppola is a good one, also. One director whose commentary never fails to put me to sleep is David Cronenberg. I have two instances where I have actually fallen asleep having been lulled by his monotone voice. Maybe that is his intentions? A dream commentary? I don’t think I have one. Since I don’t listen to half of the ones I do have, I’d be best to not have any wishful thinking.

    1. Thankyou for the comment Michael, I’ve not heard a Ken Russell commentary track- did he ever do one for Altered States? I’d imagine that would be a blast.

      There ought to be a poll of people buying films on disc to see just how many of us listen to the commentaries. I think it would be a sobering result, and possibly convince the studios not to bother recording/licensing them, which would only annoy me hugely. I tend to kid myself that, like all the books I have sitting unread, someday after I’ve retired and I have more free time I’ll be going to those commentaries and finally listening to them. I still feel that old excitement when I purchased my first DVD many years ago and it had a commentary track, just the idea of them was so brilliant to me, the opportunity to listen to John Carpenter and Ridley Scott etc talking to me about their movie. Fantastic.

  2. Matthew McKinnon

    I never listen to commentaries. I can count on one hand the commentaries I’ve listened to – often just partially – in the last 20 years. Life is just too short, and getting shorter.

    I think it’s primarily the fact that you have to put the disc on and sit there whilst what’s effectively talk radio is playing: it there were a means of listening to them off my phone whilst I was doing other things, that might prompt me to give them a go. I remember I did listen to the very funny Nightmare On Elm St one whilst I was doing the ironing once, when I lived in a small flat (a lifetime ago). I’m sure there are dubious means of getting hold of ripped commentaries online for just that purpose, but again – life is short and I have a lot of other things I need to listen to first.

    1. I confess everytime I buy a disc, I feel better about it if there is a commentary track on the disc, because it just seems to add some other reason to buy it rather than perhaps just watch it via streaming or a download. Which is ridiculous because I so seldom listen to them, although in fairness I always tend to listen to at least part of them, intending to return to them someday. For instance, whenever I’ve watched one of Indicator’s noir discs, because its usually a late-night viewing and I need to unwind a bit before going to bed, I immediately go to the commentary track and listen to maybe half-hour of it, if only to glean some added knowledge/appreciation about what I’ve just watched. I just wish I had the discipline to listen to all of it because in the case of such older films, there is a lot of pleasure in those commentaries, especially the very good ones.

      My mate Andy has probably watched/listened to the commentary track on Carpenter’s The Thing more times than I’ve watched the actual movie. It just fascinates him, or he enjoys just sitting (virtually) in the same room as Carpenter and Russel drinking and smoking through the movie.

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