10 October 02003

Audio and Image: running commentaries on films

The current (Nov 2003) issue of Word magazine includes a feature that rates some of the best and worst DVD commentaries — where those involved in making the film add their views on films, scene by scene. Thus apparently John Boorman reflects candidly on some of his mistakes in making Zardoz, while This is Spinal Tap has a spoof commentary with the characters getting their own back on the director who made such an unflattering portrait of them.

I'm interested in these commentaries because they represent another category in my list of 'para-texts' that aim to augment artworks, including indexes of novels and multimedia about paintings.

The idea of these commentaries is clearly prone to being a hit and miss affair: not all commentaries will add to the experience of watching a film. Thus the director of Amelie warns, "If you like the poetry of the film, don't listen. I'm going to destroy everything", before explaining that the goldfish in one scene was computer-generated. In many cases viewers may find that the commentaries' have the unavoidable effect of fixing meanings on particular images or scenes, when perhaps their strength was their ambiguity.

I like the idea of having multiple commentaries that overlap and compete in their versions of what was 'really' going on. Thus the DVD for The Last Waltz has one commentary track where Robbie Robertson and Martin Scorsese (the architects of the event and the film, respectively) give their author-itative version. Meanwhile another track takes a slightly more distant and critical take on the film, although it also includes some participants in the original gig. Apparently there are differences of opinion on how happy or unhappy Van Morrison was on the night...

Back in the late 1980s Channel 4 attempted an ambitious forerunner of the DVD documentary with a series of Movie Masterclasses (or some such similar title) where established film-makers would lead a group of film students scene-by-scene through a film which they had chosen as a classic. I remember in particular Lindsay Anderson doing a masterclass on John Ford's My Darling Clementine and Bill Forsyth doing Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar. I especially enjoyed the latter, which offered many insights into the work of both Bresson and Forsyth, and the relationship between the two (Forsyth's Housekeeping is among my favourite films, and includes many shots that feel touched by the hand of Bresson). The news page from Masters of Cinema's Bresson site speculates that this Forsyth feature could be included in a 2004 DVD release of Balthazar. I hope so.

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Curatorial, Music and Multimedia on 10 October 02003 | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?