By Matt Singer | Criticwire April 23, 2012 at 9:14AM
Q: If you could record a DVD commentary track for any film, what would you choose and why?
The critics' answers:
"The film that immediately comes to mind is Howard Hawks's shamefully not-on-DVD or Blu-Ray 'Ceiling Zero' (1936). As one of the director's more concentrated expressions of his worldview and with its deep connections to its mid-Depression historical moment, Hawks's masterpiece is well-suited to function as a database for commentary. My personal runners-up would include the not-just-shamefully but criminally unreleased, 'Through the Olive Trees' (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994), as well as the not-on-Blu-Ray 'Déjà Vu' (2006)."
"The film I would most likely choose to do a commentary track for is probably Andrei Tarkovsky's 'Stalker,' only because there is a treasure trove of ideas buried within each scene. There are great philosophical discussions to be had about life, death, nature and dreams along with interesting stories about the production that would most certainly be interesting to contrast with the final product."
"I'd want to do a commentary for 'Bloodsport.' I literally wrote the book on Jean-Claude Van Damme -- a postmodern novel/longform essay/tall tale called 'The Van Damme Papers,' published serially in Bordeaux, France between the years 2003-06 -- and more than that, I could babble for hours about how it's a perfectly structured fight movie, more so than any other besides Bruce Lee's 'Enter The Dragon.' The only difficulty would be to keep from giggling, but maybe that'd be an asset."
"Maybe I'm feeling particularly nostalgic after the passing of William Finley, but I would record a commentary for 'Phantom of the Paradise,' still one of my all-time favorite movies. It's a movie that many a movie geek loves that still doesn't get a lot of critical recognition -- its reputation is due to be restored. Of course, my commentary probably wouldn't accomplish that. I would be too busy singing along to Paul Williams' songs and gushing over how much ass the movie kicks."
"Given that I prefer conversational commentaries to the lone talker variety, I'm going to base my choice on the dream roundtable I'd like to have about one of my favorite films. With that in mind, I'm going with a commentary on 'The Exorcist,' with director William Friedkin, writer William Peter Blatty, and the British film critic Mark Kermode. Friedkin and Blatty have already done commentaries on the film, but separately. Given their outspoken natures and somewhat combative history, getting them in a room to talk about the film could be memorable. I want Kermode on hand because he's perhaps the movie's biggest fan, wrote the documentary about it that appears on existing DVD extras, and is the best radio critic working today. He doesn't shy away from an argument either. Come to think of it, with those three going at it, I might not get a word in edgewise. I'd be fine with that."
"There are dozens of films that would be fun to talk about from a critic's or fan's perspective, but off the top of my head, I'd have to go with David Lynch's 'Mulholland Drive.' The film got a bare-bones DVD release in 2002, and there were subsequent collector's editions and a Blu-ray released overseas. But even those editions only added things like interviews, featurettes, and chapter stops (which Lynch omitted from the original DVD, encouraging viewers to approach the film holistically and not as a series of playlets). It's a gorgeous, dizzying film that sits at the intersection of Lynch's perversity and accessibility, and a commentary would be a great opportunity to talk about the film in the context of Lynch's work and his statements on fame, illusion, and desire. Plus I can't resist the idea of engaging in a conversation about such a weird, wonderful movie."
"'Un Chien Andalou.' It’s my favorite film, it’s very short so I don’t have to provide too much tongue-tied content, and despite what Dali and Bunuel might have said, there’s definite meaning to be found. Well, I have my own personal take on it anyway. Or a few. Can I have multiple tracks?"
"Obviously the easy answer would be for a film that I know the most about and hold most dearly to my heart, which would probably be 'Star Wars' or 'Alien' or something of the ilk. But I think it would be more interesting to record a DVD commentary for something that challenges and fascinates you most, which for me would be Gaspar Noe's 'Enter the Void.' The film is a technical marvel, no doubt, but is stylized so distinctly that I thought I was going to go into a seizure upon first viewing. Still the film offers much to discuss and dissect, especially within the first 10 minutes or so. I could easy record 45 minutes just on the title cards alone."
"I would very much like to record a commentary track for Paul Verhoeven's 'Showgirls,' if only to replace the embarrassing track by David Schmader that is included now that celebrates its supposed awfulness. Ideally, it would be a group track featuring other like-minded defenders of Verhoeven (my MUBI colleagues Ignatiy Vishnevetsky & Daniel Kasman for instance) to declare it as the masterpiece it truly is."
"I would pick Powell and Pressburger's 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp,' because it seems really underrated and underseen. It's funny, charming, and incredibly emotional rich, not to mention a Technicolor feast for the eyes. There'd be a lot to talk about, both in terms of the intricacies of the story and its realization by the actors, and in terms of its formal virtues. It'd be tough not to turn my commentary into The Chris Farley Show, though."
"I'd probably have to go with a movie that i really, really hate just so I could give a running commentary of every single thing that's bad or wrong about the movie. There are a lot of movies that fit that bill on a yearly basis, some that get away with it until my annual Terrible 25 list. Using that criteria, I'd have to go with one of the movies that I gave only 1 out of 10, and I think I'd go with the 2005 Lionsgate stinker 'Undiscovered,' a bad movie that was doubly insulting to anyone who has ever worked in the music business in any capacity. It was Ashlee Simpson's acting debut (it was produced by her father) but she wasn't the worst part of the movie -- and therein lies why it seems worth revisiting, preferably drunk, ready to record the most bile-filled DVD commentary ever. Maybe I'd even try to get the cast involved to denounce their sins."
"I would want to record a commentary track for 'Showgirls,' but only if I could do it with Jacques Rivette (and a translator), since the 84-year-old New Wave filmmaker is on record as a defender of Paul Verhoeven's loony masterpiece. If there's any way to link Nomi Malone and Cristal Connors to Céline and Julie, he's the guy who could do it."
"If I were to record a commentary track for any film, I guess it would have to be Chris Marker's 'Sans Soleil,' although I suspect the results would ultimately sound less like a commentary track and more like one of those 'Twilight' reaction videos. Either way, I think it would make for a solid choice because I could ramble on about pretty much anything and it would ultimately seem as relevant as anything else, and that's important when you have absolutely nothing of substance to contribute to the experience of watching the film."
"I'm no expert on any one film, but I'd provide a commentary for 'Marilyn: Alive and Behind Bars,' if only to provide a voice of comfort for those that are exploring what is easily one of the worst films of all time. It would be more of a "spirit guide" than an informative track. I'd want to make sure they made it safely to the other side with their sanity intact."
"I would choose 'Miami Vice,' Michael Mann's essential, game-changing DV crime saga concerned with the evolution (and failings) of societal institutions on the verge of collapse. I'm not only endlessly fascinated with Mann's themes of moral ambiguity, professional codes, and tireless workmanship in 'Miami Vice,' but the way his grainy visuals and booming sound design perorates all three. This is a deeply passionate and cynical piece of genre subversion, and it would be a pleasure to engage with all of it's disjointed, odd, and combustible moving parts directly via a DVD commentary track."
"I would have to take this hypothetical to the next level and insist I do the commentary with the director or a special guest. For instance, I would love to do a commentary track for 'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall his Past Lives' with Apichatpong Weerasethakul. After an awkward 20 minutes where I would insist he teach me how to properly pronounce his name, giving me an edge over any other American critic, we would get down to the brass tacks of the cultural inspirations for his beautiful movie. I remember in interviews he mentioned the Monkey Men with the red eyes were inspired by sci-fi films of his youth. I'd want a list so I could watch them later."
"Coincidentally, I was just thinking about this topic recently after talking to a college group about Altman's use of sound/music in 'The Long Goodbye.' That's one I'd definitely consider: It's a movie I love, there's a ton to discuss, and a lot of 'open space' to babble without covering up all of Elliott Gould's funny lines. That said, my first instinct is to go with a Billy Wilder film -- probably 'Double Indemnity,' but 'Stalag 17' or 'Sunset Blvd.' would also be in the mix. Ideally a good commentary track should make a case for something, express at least one key idea that hasn't already been hashed and rehashed; all three are great movies that I've got a perspective on, however slight and insignificant it may be."
"Jean Rouch, the great ethnographic filmmaker, made a rarely seen movie called 'Petit a petit' about an African bushman who journeys to Paris ostensibly to research the city's skyscrapers so he can build one back home. Like most of Rouch's films (he's most famous for co-directing 'Chronicle of a Summer'), the narrative combines fiction and documentary techniques into a sly, funny and touching analysis of cultural representation and the ills of colonialism. In a sequence that anticipates the antics of Sacha Baron Cohen, the bushman hilariously messes with clueless Frenchman by stopping them on the street to measure their jaw sizes and other physical details for his 'report,' while actually spoofing the condescending gaze enacted on his own people by the western world. In short, lots to talk about and pull apart."
"Though there are other films I love more, the film I think I could speak most intelligently on is Robert Altman's 'The Long Goodbye.' I've done a ton of research on it and pretty much read every interview that Altman, Leigh Brackett, and Elliot Gould did on the film. I also have a lot of theories about the film I haven't seen in any other papers or criticism, so I feel i could actually add to someone's experience of the film. Plus, the current DVD is sadly barebones and deserves a better release (Hi Criterion!)."
"'The Crying Game.' I'd just spend the whole first half of the movie going, 'Oh my gosh, you guys, you'll NEVER believe what's coming ... seriously, it's CRAZY ... aren't you excited? It'll BLOW YOUR MIND!' and then giggling every time Jaye Davidson came on screen."
"The fancy answer would be 'Nights of Cabiria.' It was my mother's favorite Fellini film and it's one of my favorites, period. Or maybe 'No Country for Old Men.' But if I'm being honest I'd probably have to go with 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.' The childhood nostalgia is just too powerful."
"While part of me would want to record one for 'The Shawshank Redemption' (my all time favorite film) or a misunderstood classic like 'The Fountain,' I'd have to go with 'Elizabethtown.' Hear me out. I recognize that most find this to be Cameron Crowe's worst film, but I inexplicably love it. Essentially it'd be almost 2 hours of me trying to explain why the movie is better than its reputation, but hey, I'm up to the task."
"This might sound weird, but I'd pick the John Travolta/Lisa Kudrow flop 'Lucky Numbers.' I live and work in Central Pennsylvania, and the movie is loosely based on a fascinating piece of local history. In 1980, several people -- including the lottery announcer -- fixed the state's Daily Number game. They weighted the balls so that only those numbered 4 and 6 were light enough to get sucked out of the lottery machine's vaccum tube during the live drawing. (The winning number that night was 666.) The true story of how they pulled if off and were eventually caught is far more interesting than the fabricated version told in the film. I think it would be fun to do a 'truth is better than fiction' commentary, comparing what really happened to the movie's unsuccessful manipulation of it. Also, since 'Lucky Numbers' was actually filmed in Harrisburg, PA, I could spotlight some of the interesting locations used, as well as the amusing inaccuracies that only someone from this area would pick up on. One example: the real lottery numbers were drawn by senior citizens (who often had a very hard time performing the task), not attractive models."
"I would probably pick 'Broken English,' because it would consist of me talking to Parker Posey's character the entire time as if I were watching a horror movie rather than a romantic drama. 'Don't sleep with that actor with the douchey mowhawk, girl! That sh*t never ends well!' or 'Go to Paris! See the Frenchie with the boating hat!' also because some of it was filmed in my neighborhood, I could provide a running commentary on location."
"'Inland Empire,' but only if I didn't have to do it solo. It'd be great to go through that film with another critic and attempt to figure out how each piece relates to the whole (to the extent that there is one, at least). My immediate, hyperbolic reaction to it back in 2006 was that its very existence negated the possibility of there being any semblance of order to the universe, so it'd be nice to revisit those rabbits, hookers, and Balkan criminals to shed some light on what they're up to. "
"I'd love to do a commentary track for 'WALL-E.' I just love that film more than most and would enjoy breaking down its cinematic homages to sci-fi and Chaplin. Not gonna lie, I'd also love to point out each bit of truth around the humans in the movie and get some scientific experts to comment on how, in many ways, we're on a path to such doom and gloom with our increasing laziness, gluttony and disregard for real human interaction. On the lighter side of the track, I also have a fondness for robots in film. Geek? You betcha!"
"I think I would record a commentary for Nobuhiko Obayashi's 'House' (1977). The Criterion Collection released this movie a few years ago and there isn't a commentary track on it, which is a bit frustrating because this is the type of film that screams for more insight. It's a wacky, fantasy/horror film that follows a small group of Japanese schoolgirls into a haunted house. But the twist of this film is the style and construction of its storytelling. This movie utilizes practically every in-camera special effect and also incorporates fantastical animation and video chroma key. It's crazy! This film is also one of my all-time favorite movies so I think I can contribute something to a DVD commentary track, simply in terms of enthusiasm."
"I'd have to take a Steven Spielberg film, because he doesn't do tracks for us, so I might as well step up to the plate and handle the commentary on his behalf. With so many to choose from, I think I'd like to tackle 'A.I. Artificial Intelligence.' It's an unfairly dismissed Spielberg film that has an identity crisis worth exploring. A commentary track would allow you to delve into Kubrick's influence, Spielberg's Peter Pan obsession, the director's cowardice (if that's the right word) about committing to Kubrick's ideals, and -- of course -- the creepy teddy bear."
"I'm not smart or articulate enough to provide a serious commentary on a movie like 'Citizen Kane,' so I'd probably go with something like 'Wet Hot American Summer,' if only to point out the funny parts and then mock those who just don't get it."
"My first thought was 'Jaws' because I've devoured plenty of behind-the-scenes info on it over the years. But as it was my choice for favorite horror movie a couple weeks back, I hesitate to repeat myself. So, I'd select 'Shaun of the Dead' because zombie movies have long been a special fascination of mine. I generally revel in the blend of gore and allegory they offer, and Shaun offers something more by blending in elements from rom-com (another genre I love in spite of its overabundance of dreck). Fittingly, there's plenty in this zombie movie for me to sink my teeth into."
"'Can't Hardly Wait' is maybe the movie I most enjoy watching over and over again with a group of people, both because you get to anticipate all your favorite scenes and find out theirs, and because the movie is jammed full of people who later became really famous. I'd love to just watch the movie again with someone equally as into it and find all those little Easter eggs -- and maybe use the power of commentary to convince people how awesome this movie is."
"I would pick 'Brewster's Millions.' This is not a joke. I would pick 'Brewster's Millions' for two reasons: (A) Because I've been fascinated by the 'spend $30 million in 30 days, with no assets' storyline since the day this movie was released and I want to explore this more deeply. Also, (B) because I love living in a world in which the director of 'The Warriors' also directed 'Brewster's Millions.'"
"This is super-nerdy and no one would want to listen to it, but I would love to choose a tight comedy like 'Airplane!' and pick apart the jokes one by one, analyzing the types of humor they employ, why they work or don't work, and so forth. Sure, some would say that this process takes all the fun out of humor. To those people I say: [fart noise]"
"I would record a commentary for 'Julia,' a terrific thriller starring Tilda Swinton that has nonetheless gone largely unnoticed. I already have spent a lot of energy reccomending it to others, which is probably the best way to prepare for a commentary track."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 23, 2012:
The Most Popular Response: "The Cabin in the Woods"
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Deep Blue Sea," "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," "The Kid With a Bike," "A Separation."