List shows. They’re great aren’t they? We love ’em to bits, every single one, don’t we?
No. We don’t. We hate list shows. We hate everything about list shows, except the fact they can fill an entire Sunday evening when you’re too stuffed to find something else to watch.
DVD commentaries. They’re invaluable companion pieces to movies and TV shows, aren’t they?
No. Audio commentaries are just directors and luvvies droning on about camera angles, mise en scene and how it’s really hard gig, acting. Only trainspotting dweebs like me listen to audio commentaries.
Despite these obvious problems, I thought I’d put together a list of audio commentaries anyway. Sue me.
Now there are plenty of rubbish audio commentaries. I’ll never forget Bridget Jones’s Diary‘s, for example, which consisted entirely of the director saying things like, “Ooh. This was a scene with Rene and Colin. We shot it at night. They were very good.”
But what makes a good audio commentary? Here’s a few examples:
1 Fight Club
Not really that different from most audio commentaries, bar one single fact: Brad Pitt is clearly off his head on something. I’d hazard a guess it’s grass, given his previous statements on the subject, but it might be tequilas. Whatever it was, Brad clearly found everything very, very funny indeed as a result. And as a result, it’s very, very funny to listen to.
2 Big Train
A much-neglected sketch show from Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, starring Simon Pegg, Mark Heap, Kevin Eldon and other comedy geniuses. The audio commentaries for the first two episodes are just Mathews and Linehan struggling to recall what they were thinking about when they wrote particular scenes. But then, joy! The entire cast bundles in through the door during episode three and the hilarity begins. They take the piss out of the writers, themselves, audio commentaries, the series. You name it, they rip the piss out of it. Much funnier than the actual episodes they watch, in fact. “It’s called Eaaaaaarth”. Nice one, Kevin.
Practically existential this one. If you don’t listen to the audio commentary, the DVD is just a DVD. Listen to the audio commentary and suddenly it takes on a completely new aspect. Consider: almost every DVD these days has things like deleted scenes, usually with the director explaining why they were deleted. Watch the deleted scenes on Dodgeball and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the terrible studios had forced the writer/director to excise the true ending in favour of the commercially popular ending. Then you listen to the DVD commentary and you realise it’s all lies: the director cannot be trusted. He’s messing with your head.
At first, the commentary starts with the director and Vince Vaughn discussing the movie. But wait! Where’s Ben Stiller? Oh, he’s late, apparently. Vaughn and the director then discuss – for 20 minutes – what a complete jerk-off Stiller is, how full of himself he is and so on. Then Stiller comes in and starts to play along, demanding someone watch his car for him in case it gets stolen. And so on. Basically, the whole DVD commentary has almost nothing to do with the actual movie, but is just a kind of extended audio version of Extras/Curb Your Enthusiasm/The Larry Sanders Show. And then you realise: even the other bits of the DVD are lies as well. Could they really have shot the ten minutes of extra footage necessary for the new ending in just a day? Would they really have ended the movie the way they originally claimed? Will you ever have faith in a DVD commentary again after this one? It’s all deeply disturbing.
4 The Bourne Identity
Not fantastic, although you do find out about Liman’s dad and his involvement in the Oliver North trial. But Liman does point out the extraordinary lengths they went to for one shot that everyone misses (the bit where Bourne disappears right before your eyes once he gets into Marseilles), and you find out that he ended up having to direct most of the movie in French, which is pretty impressive.
A disturbing insight into David Cronenberg’s mind for nearly two hours. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the “gristle gun” – the gun put together from bones and teeth. What kind of warped mind comes up with this stuff? And how? “Well, I just considered the problems of metal detectors and how to smuggle weapons and it occurred to me that since people can go through metal detectors, it was a logical way to overcome the problem” says Cronenberg. Yeah. Anyone could have thought of that. And it just carries on in that vein. You will never be able to analyse a Cronenberg film again, because you’ll realise your brain works on a completely different wavelength to his. Whatever you think he means, he doesn’t. He really doesn’t.
6 Brass Eye
Chris Morris genius, but the man himself doesn’t provide a commentary. Instead, he gets a bunch of homeless guys in to comment on the drugs episode. It’s original at least.
7 Battlestar Galactica
Originally these were podcasts and what’s fun about them is a combination of the lack of production values and exec producer Ronald D Moore’s honesty. For one thing, they’re almost all recorded in his front room, the same week as the episode aired on television in the US. Frequently, the phone starts ringing, someone’s mowing the lawn, dogs start barking, the LAPD fly their helicopters over his house, for which Moore can only apologise profusely. Then he starts a little double act up with his wife, whenever she comes into the room to talk about the kids and the housework. Then the irritation! People have been talking on bulletin boards about the poor sound quality of the podcasts. Well, you’re damn lucky to get the podcasts! Quit whining. And then he’ll actually start explaining why he thought a particular episode was rubbish. It’s all his fault, but the direction was lame, the script was lame, it wasn’t original enough… If only all DVD commentaries were done like that.
So you see, there are a few neglected works on genius lurking in the spare audio tracks of your DVD collections. Turf them out, listen to them and see if you can find some crackers as well.