Truth be told, I don't make it past the first few minutes on most DVD director commentary tracks. They often tend to dwell on the minutiae of casting, shooting and production that can, frankly, bore me to tears. Neither am I a fan of those that explicate in relentless demystifying detail every frame and every symbol in a movie — it can be murder by dissection. Even the prodigiously articulate Atom Egoyan (poor guy) sounds positively pained while administering a Cliff Notes treatment on the Speaking Parts DVD.
But take The Ninth Gate, a ho-hum movie with a fantastic commentary track by Roman Polanski. He is erudite, relaxed, witty, and with a mysterious edge to him (no surprise there). His comments never descend to navel-gazing detail but instead float far and free from art to philosophy to culture and beyond. It feels like you're hanging out with Roman in your den, having a couple of beers with him, getting to know an interesting artist with a rich personality. Now that's an all-too-rare experience.
Another reliable favorite is Robert Altman, who has fortunately recorded a goodly number of these things: 3 Women, Nashville, MASH, The Gingerbread Man, Gosford Park. His tone is low-key, humble and casual but don't mistake it for perfunctory — he might be, to my mind, the closest thing to what Renoir might have sounded like on a commentary track.
So, here are a few favorites:
- Guy Maddin, in speech (no exaggeration) among the most dazzling of all directors. Unfortunately, he gets bogged down a bit by his co-writer and former professor George Toles on the commentary to Careful and Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs, but is at his best when flying solo, like on Tales From The Gimli Hospital.
- Wes Anderson on Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.
- Todd Haynes, best by himself, not saddled with cast or crew members.
- Claire Denis in conversation with Kent Jones on Friday Night.
- Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Lem Dobbs on The Limey.
Director commentary tracks you like? And why?