Good DVD director's commentaries
November 16, 2005 8:51 PM   Subscribe

For people interested in film-making, which DVD's come with director's commentaries that are truly insightful and a cut above the norm?

...not that it necessarily has to be the director, mind you.
posted by nthdegx to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I find John Carpenter's commentaries fascinating. Especially the ones with Kurt Russell for The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China. They don't intellectualize the films (which is good, in my view, as I don't think that directors should intellectualize their own work), there is interesting technical detail, and they're incredibly entertaining.

Other than that, the only commentary that stands out for me is Guillermo del Toro's for The Devil's Backbone. Lots of interesting technical stuff (they had a special camera rig, unavailable in the US, that sounds like a cross between a SteadiCam and a crane), an entertaining tone, plus he points out a vaginal leit motif that shows up in most of his movies, which I had missed completely.
posted by brundlefly at 9:00 PM on November 16, 2005

I find most commentaries boring, but one that I remember finding very interesting from start to finish was "Donnie Darko".
posted by Emanuel at 9:15 PM on November 16, 2005

Not the director, but you have to check out the commentary on Blow. Only commentary I know related by the real-life protagonist of the movie ... from jail.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:18 PM on November 16, 2005

The commentary on Conan The Barbarian is really fulfilling. Arnie makes these unintentionally hilarious comments between John Milius' interesting insights on the film.
posted by aburd at 9:19 PM on November 16, 2005

The commentary on the studio-edited version of Brazil that's part of the 3-disc Criterion set by Gilliam expert David Morgan has great insight into the differences between the two versions of the film.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2005

The Criterion Collection editions of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums have Wes Anderson really playing up his film school geekery talking about all the scenes from old films that inspired shots in his own movies.
posted by themadjuggler at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2005

Oh, and without a doubt, the most entertaining commentary is that on the This is Spinal Tap special edition (not the Criterion version) by the band members themselves, in character, which is like watching a whole new bonus Spinal Tap movie.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:24 PM on November 16, 2005

You need to get Robert Rodriguez's DVDs of Desperado and El Mariachi. He has some things he calls "10 minute film school" as well as really good commentaries about making films on the cheap and with your own initiative.

Also, I like the commentaries for Out of Sight, Fight Club and the Zero Effect.
posted by aaronh at 9:25 PM on November 16, 2005

I second Spinal Tap as the greatest film commentary ever, bar none. Rodriguez's are must-listen for film lovers, too.
posted by zerolives at 9:28 PM on November 16, 2005

Previous DVD commentary threads.
posted by flod at 9:32 PM on November 16, 2005

Election (Alexander Payne) - it's the best.
posted by cowmix at 9:35 PM on November 16, 2005

I also love listening to any commentary by Mel Brooks, specifically Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Partly because I love his voice, but also because he clearly has love and respect for everyone involved. You might not learn a lot, but it's sweet how he'll spend up to 10 minutes talking about every person whose name, face, or work appears on screen.
posted by Robot Johnny at 9:40 PM on November 16, 2005

Ric Meyers commentary on Once Upon A Time In China.
posted by birgitte at 9:48 PM on November 16, 2005

From brundlefly's assesment that Guillermo del Toro's commentary on The Devil's Backbone stands out, I think that perhaps as a true film fan, del Toro must know exactly what the viewer/listener wants from a commentary. I haven't seen Devil's Backbone but it would be worth you checking out is his very detailed commentary on the exhaustive 3-disc version of Hellboy. It's very enjoyable, and full of great information, so leave a good, full day to take in everything.
posted by DannyUKNYC at 9:51 PM on November 16, 2005

One of my favorites is the commentary to Catch-22. The commentary is by two great directors--Mike Nichols, and Steven Soderbergh--discussing frankly which scenes succeeded, which failed, and why, and why Nichols made the choices he made. I highly recommend it to any film geek
posted by curtm at 9:54 PM on November 16, 2005

The commentary for Cannibal! The Musical starts with Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and the rest of the cast cracking open bottles of liquor, and ends in incoherence. Genius.
posted by granth at 10:02 PM on November 16, 2005

John Waters' commentary on his DVDs is absolutely the best and the funniest i've ever heard. He tells stories about the scenes, the actors, growing up, and Baltimore. Listening him talk about it is an amazing insight into his personality and process.
posted by troybob at 10:03 PM on November 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

The commentary track on the Coen Brother's Blood Simple. It's probably the best commentary track i've ever heard.
posted by deafweatherman at 10:15 PM on November 16, 2005

Call me crazy, but I enjoyed Ebert's commentary on Citizen Kane and Casablanca. LOTS of trivia.
posted by null terminated at 12:12 AM on November 17, 2005

Off the top of my head, Cube is good for an indie/low-budget commentary.
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:57 AM on November 17, 2005

If you see "Catch Me If You Can" try to catch the DVD extra featuring an interview with Frank Abignale (the guy who the film is about) - read his book too.

I like the commentary's on good animations: The Incredibles, Belleville Rendevous, Creature Comforts are all great examples: so much time and care has to be put into every scene that there are usually some worthwhile tales to tell.

Finally I recently listened to the Commentary on Sunset Boulevard. The film has a number of great stories about it so I'd recommend this too.
posted by rongorongo at 1:48 AM on November 17, 2005

Without spoiling it, the director's commentary on the documentary "American Movie" hasthe most surreal and "meta" non-manufactured moments I have ever encountered....Great movie and commentary even without that.
posted by ill3 at 3:23 AM on November 17, 2005

I haven't heard it, but I seem to recall reading the commentary on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas consists of Hunter S. Thompson heckling the film.
posted by Orange Goblin at 3:31 AM on November 17, 2005

Any commentary by Werner Herzog. He's a genius, but he's also often completely crazy. Which makes for a very entertaining commentary. Can't go past his films for brilliance too.

umm... also just to clarify your question: did you specifically want recommendations for commentaries that give insights into technical info about how the film was made?

The thing that comes to mind if that's the case isn't actually a commentary... it's a documentary about editing that's on the bonus disc for a DVD release of the Steve McQueen movie "Bullit". As an editor I can say that it hit the nail on the head, and it's no surprise, given that it has lots of interviews with famous editors and directors, and extended interview footage with Walter Murch. (actually, I wasn't sure of the name of the doco, but looking at Walter Murch on imdb I found that it was this. As you can see from the link, the list of those interviewed is extensive and impressive).
posted by ancamp at 3:39 AM on November 17, 2005

Dark City.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:53 AM on November 17, 2005

I thought the commentary on Starship Troopers was totally insane. It adds a whole other dimension to the film, which appears to have afew dimensions anyway. That Paul Verhoeven is nutty.

Do you want to know more?
posted by bdave at 4:01 AM on November 17, 2005

The commentary on Primer was inspiring from an independent filmmaker's viewpoint. It has two sets of audio - the director solo and the director with some of the cast.

The commentary on Ozu's Floating Weeds (I forget who did it - some film critic) was really really insightful both about the film and Ozu's style.
posted by chocolatepeanutbuttercup at 4:32 AM on November 17, 2005

If you're looking for insightful, as opposed to entertaining, I'd recommend the commentaries on Se7en. They aren't chuckle-fests, as many of the above suggestions are, but there's a great deal of discussion about writing, music and sound, and general directing.
posted by Gator at 4:43 AM on November 17, 2005

Any of the Kevin Smith commentaries are both insightful and organized -- it's never just a bunch of dudes just sitting and watching a movie.
posted by ph00dz at 5:34 AM on November 17, 2005

It's been awhile, but Titus sticks in my head as having a great commentary track by the director, Julie Taymor.
posted by claxton6 at 5:39 AM on November 17, 2005

The commentary on the Firefly TV series (precursor to the film Serenity) is fantastic. Especially the commentary on the final episode. It's fantastic.
posted by jaded at 5:46 AM on November 17, 2005

Ancamp guns it - Werner Herzog is the uncontested champion of fantastic comment tracks. Crazy fucking genius. A real genius, not a "genius."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:13 AM on November 17, 2005

Off the top of my head: City of God, Blue Car (A filmmaker who gets the power of editing!), Amores Perros, Young Adam, Paragraph 175, Chicago.
posted by desuetude at 6:26 AM on November 17, 2005

The commentary on the Criterion Collection DVD of The Seven Samurai is terrific.
posted by gwint at 8:05 AM on November 17, 2005

I find most commentaries boring, but one that I remember finding very interesting from start to finish was "Donnie Darko".


The commentary track on the Coen Brother's Blood Simple. It's probably the best commentary track i've ever heard.

And others in the thread... Did you read the question? He's asking for commentaries that are helpful for people who are interested in filmmaking and offer insightful info about it. Neither of these suit that purpose. DD is a wank fest with little filmmaking info and it actually makes the story more confusing. Blood Simple is a joke and has ZERO info about filmmaking that's of any use (yeah, it's hilarious, but it doesn't suit the question).

Any of the Kevin Smith commentaries are both insightful and organized -- it's never just a bunch of dudes just sitting and watching a movie.

Wah? I assume you're joking as it's always a bunch of dudes sitting around watching a movie. If I remember correctly on one of them a guy falls asleep and we have to listen to him snore.

nthdegx, I think it depends on what aspect of filmmaking you're talking about. Commentaries by directors, editors, screenwriters, cinematographers... they're all going to focus on different things. I'm mostly interested in storytelling and screenwriting so find commentaries about those things interesting.

My favorite commentary, without question, is Howard Suber on the Criterion Laserdisc of The Graduate. It is the yardstick I used for measuring all commentaries and when I do that, they all come up short. Unfortunately, it was LD only (you want dvd) and it's out of print. However, I have converted it to an MP3. Let me know if you want a copy. It's huge, though.

Other commentaries I like are Steven Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs on The Limey (though the dvd producers stupidly fucked with the audio track--try and ignore their nonsense). Actually, most tracks with Soderbergh are worth a listen. He pops up in odd places (Seabiscuit and Point Blank, for instance, and the aforementioned Catch 22).

Seabiscuit was also the first disc I saw where, during the commentary, the filmmakers pause the film's picture when having extended discussion so that it doesn't get ahead of them.

The Gene Youngblood commentary on L'Avventura is terrific and one of the few commentaries that I think can be watched PRIOR to seeing the actual film in order to get more out of the movie on a first watch.

Many Criterion commentaries are very good. My favorites are:

- The Wes Anderson ones (haven't listened to his last one as I hated the film)
- Straw Dogs
- L'Eclisse (though I wish they'd gotten Youngblood again)
- Naked
- Rashomon

Walter Murch's commentary on The Conversation is good; Coppola's is as boring and useless as all of his commentaries (and most of his films in the last 31 years).

The multiple commentaries on hurlyburly are interesting to compare/contrast to one another. There's the director and writer on one track talking about the process of getting the film made (not too interesting), there's Sean Penn on another track talking about how he approached the character (interesting) and feminist Janet Brown talking about the film from one (narrowly perspectived but very interesting) audience member's pov. David Baerwald also talks about the sccore, but I didn't find it interesting.

If you can find an audio dump of the commentary from the old They Shoot Horses, Don't They? laserdisc box set, it is well done--unfortunately, it's not on the DVD. Same goes for the Altman and Tolkin commentary on The Player.

Robert Wise and Marty Scorsese on The Set-Up are good.

Altman on 3 Women is interesting from a story development / improv / process pov.

As mentioned, the Citizen Kane commentaries are definitely worth a listen.

The French Connection commentaries are somewhat interesting (I more so than II) but they're more logistics than technical discussions.

That's all I got off the top of my head. Remember, I approach all of these from a screenwriting pov--how to tell a story visually, rather than a "how we used cgi to add lasers to the shark" angle.
posted by dobbs at 10:19 AM on November 17, 2005

Ditto on Verhoeven's and screenwriter Ed Neumeier's commentary on Starship Troopers. Really really intelligent and interesting. Same for Verhoeven's commentary on Robocop, which has acquired semi-cult status among commentary geeks.

I must also recommend a filmmaker who I think is excellent, but who always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop: Joe Dante. Not only a great genre director, but an intelligent and informed cinephile. He does two separate commentaries on Gremlins, and one on his masterpiece, Gremlins 2, all of which are really interesting. Oh, and his commentary on Piranha is quite good, too.
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2005

I thought the commentary on Starship Troopers was totally insane. It adds a whole other dimension to the film...

Verhoeven: And this is DEEgetal Johnny ... REEal Johhny ... DEEgetal Johnny ... REEal Johnny
Neumeier: I re...
Verhoeven: DEEgetal Johnny ... REEal Johnny


Um, anyway, another one that I found outstanding was Richard Linklater's commentary on his unreleased first film, It's Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books, which is bundled onto the Criterion release of Slacker.

The Slacker commentary tracks are mostly unmemorable, but Linklater seems a lot more focussed on Plow, and there's loads of detail about the really primitive Super 8 filmmaking that Linklater was doing at the time.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:21 PM on November 17, 2005

You absolutely must hear the commentary to the little-known 1953 independent film Little Fugitive. Director Morris Engel discusses the difficulty of directing a movie with virtually no budget, a cast of mostly children, and a crew of two people. He laments the Ohio censors' decision that the line "Hey mister, you're layin' on my pants!" was offensive. He observes of child actors, "Now, you don't direct a kid about how to eat a watermelon." He points out that the drowning seen at one point in the film was real, and he doesn't know whether or not the victim survived. He explains that the scarcity of dialogue in the film was a necessary rather than a stylistic choice, because all sound was recorded in the studio and it's hard to get kids to dub accurately.

Most inspiring quote for aspiring filmmakers: "We were just two people, and I always thought that two people could make a movie -- all you needed was a good camera and a halfway decent story. And I think this movie proved it was possible."
posted by Acetylene at 3:22 PM on November 17, 2005

Rodriguez - mariachi, desperado and once upon a time in mexico.

All have his 10 min film school + concepts.

Seven - has like four + good commentaries.

Defintely listen to a kevin smith film + usual suspects, just to give you the idea how much the difference between what you write/plan and what happens.
posted by filmgeek at 9:17 PM on November 17, 2005

Dittos to Dr. Wu. Dante is a vastly underappreciated filmmaker and his commentaries are great.

Oh, and dobbs, how did you add the lazers to the shark?
posted by brundlefly at 11:54 PM on November 17, 2005

The commentary on Matchstick Men is by the two screenwriters and director Ridley Scott. They cover many aspects of making the film. At one point Scott is discussing the lenses he used at certain points and why. The writers talk about wrestling with the source novel. Scott talks about wanting to provide hints to the ending without giving too much away.

It's amusing to hear the writers being awed that Scott wanted to make their movie; they talk about meeting him the first time, and he mentioned that his brother is in the movie business, and they thought, "Oh, really?" ... and then realizing who he was referring to.

Plus it's a very entertaining movie, IMHO.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:38 AM on November 19, 2005

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