Continuing my thought on audio commentaries:
I’ll start with the director I forgot on the last post:
As Heard On: Seven (with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) and Zodiac.
The Must Listen: Fight Club (both the solo track and the actor track with Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter)
I Still Need to Hear: Panic Room and The Game (with Michael Douglas, screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris, DP Harris Savides, production designer Jeffrey Beecroft and special effects supervisor Kevin Haug, only available in R2).
Defining Characteristics: Fincher is a quiet and reserved artist when speaking alone, though his serious tone usually doesn’t grate with any pretension. In a group, especially with Brad Pitt, the director comes to life, and is actually quite funny.
Now that I’ve covered the most dependable solo artists (though many of them work better with others) here are some of the best duos and teams in the commentating business.
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
As Heard On: Spaced (with Jessica Stevenson, Mark Heap, Nick Frost, Nira Park and Julia Deakin) and Hot Fuzz.
The Must Listen: Shaun of the Dead.
Defining Characteristics: Simon and Edgar are just like the rest of us, only decisively more talented. When they speak it is easily with-in the realm of film geeks everywhere. It would be easy to call them Kevin Smith and Friends with a British accent, but they’re even more personable, knowledgeable, and informative.
The Star Wars People (aka: George Lucas and Friends)
As Heard On: All six Star Wars films (in slightly varying incarnations).
The Must Listen: The Empire Strikes Back.
Defining Characteristics: The commentary tracks accompanying each Star Wars DVD aren’t the most shocking pools of information (especially not those of the Original Trilogy), but the editing and pace of each of them makes for easy listening. Lucas is surprisingly lucid for a guy that can’t write dialogue or take and interview to save his life. Special points go to Empire for the inclusion of director Irvin Kershner, who is old, loud, and happy as hell.
Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (aka: The Lord of The Rings Ménage à Troi)
As Heard On: All three Extended Edition versions of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Peter Jackson also goes solo on The Frighteners.
The Must Listen: Return of the King (for the self deprecation)
Defining Characteristics: Besides sporting a trio of adorable Kiwi accents, the LOTR team is one of the most well prepared and enduringly entertaining in the business. And they better be, when they’re talking over movies that run upwards of four hours. I often tell fans of the original books to listen to these tracks to gain a better understanding of the changes the team made to Tolkien’s text. They usually sound pretty exhausted, but they still obviously like talking about their films.
The View Askew Crew (aka: Kevin Smith and friends)
As Heard On: Clerks (all releases), Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Dogma and Clerks 2.
The Must Listen: Clerks: The Animated Series
I Don’t Care to Hear: Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jersey Girl.
Defining Characteristics: I’ve reached a point in my life where I simply can’t watch Kevin Smith’s movies any more. I just don’t enjoy them like I used to. But I still like Smith, and his friends, which is why I can never see myself dumping all these DVDs – the commentary tracks are all rousing fun.
Team Venture (aka: Jackson Publick, Doc Hammer and friends)
As Heard On: Venture Bros. DVD collections
The Must Listen: Venture Bros. Season Two
Defining Characteristics: Sometimes serious, sometimes sarcastic, often chewing things, and often professing their love for one another Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer are the two best friends you will never meet. Occasionally joined by a confused but happy James Urbaniak (the voice of Dr. Venture and Phantom Limb), or Michael Sinterniklaas (voice of Dean, and the current Leonardo), these fellahs are usually more interested in talking about their childhoods, what they’re eating (usually raisins), and what words they’d like to hear leave the English vernacular (‘hubby’) than talking about the show, but it’s all in good fun.
Now I’ll move onto a few Must Listens one shots that don’t really fit anywhere else:
Featuring: Director Chris Smith, producer Sarah Price, and film subjects Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank.
The track accompanying this quintessential little documentary opens up the canvas quite a bit. Mark and Mike, rather buffoonish on screen, are given a chance to talk about themselves on film, and it turns out their both pretty bright guys. Many of the between scenes are filled in, as well as the after story (as it was almost ten years ago).
Capturing the Friedmans
Featuring: Director Andrew Jarecki and editor/producer Richard Hankin.
The two disc Capturing the Friedmans DVD might be the best example of using DVD technology to supplement a documentary feature. The film itself is quite objective, but Jarecki and Hankin don’t let professionalism get in the way of this very subjective commentary track, where they let us in on much more of the behind the scenes story. Fascinating.
Cannibal! The Musical
Featuring: director Trey Parker, producer Jason McHugh, and stars Matt Stone, Dian Bachar, and Andy Kemler.
South Park co-creator’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s first film was a genuinely funny western/horror/musical, which they made with backing from Troma studios. This commentary track is most notable for the participants steadily becoming more and more inebriated as alcohol flows like saline solution in a dehydration clinic.
Almost Famous: Untitled Bootleg Cut
Featuring: Director Cameron Crowe and guests (most notably his mother Alice)
Cameron Crowe made a very personal film in Almost Famous, and for the commentary track he brings out some of the real life people that inspired the semi-autobiographical story. It’s his mother Alice (who is portrayed by Frances McDormand in the film) that makes the track special, as she fills her bits with equal measures of berating and self-deprecation.
And just so I feel fully finished with this subject, here are a few film experts whose names you should look for on the backs of your favorite DVD releases. These guys are guaranteed to learn ya a thing or two.
Tim Lucas (Video Watch Dog, author)
Area of Expertise: Euro horror, specifically Mario Bava and Jesus Franco.
Tom Mes (Midnight Eye, author)
Area of Expertise: Modern Japanese film.
Jasper Sharp (Midnight Eye)
Area of Expertise: Modern Japanese film.
Bey Logan (author, back ground actor)
Area of Expertise: Modern Hong Kong film.
Chris D. (poet, author, musician, friend of Henry Rollins)
Area of Expertise: Japanese underground
Sir Christopher Frayling (author, professor)
Area of Expertise: Sergio Leone, and other Spaghetti Western directors. Also – everything else.
Kim Newman (Empire Magazine, novelist, author)
Area of Expertise: Everything, but mostly horror films.