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September 2004, Week 4


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Leo Enticknap <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 22 Sep 2004 20:02:23 +0100
text/plain (63 lines)
Starting off on a negative note, there are two types of DVD 'extras' to
avoid like the plague, IMHO: the first are mainstream titles with 'making
of' features, which are often euphamistically described as documentaries
and generally consist of little more than a re-edit of the promo tape
prepared by the studio PR department for broadcasters.  The commentaries
are quite frequently little more than inarticulate and/or inane drivel from
cast members, who either recount anecdotes which have little or nothing to
do with the picture on the screen, or who have an unfortunate habit of
laughing at everything.  Equally annoying are DVDs of rep or arthouse
titles in which the services of a celebrity academic have been secured
purely in order to add cultural kudos.  You either get the usual suspects
preening themselves in front of the camera and/or microphone, presenting
decades-old research as if they were Moses revealing the ten commandments
(e.g. Ian Christie in the UK Carlton DVD of 'The Life and Death of Colonel
Blimp'), or are inarticulate to the point at which you wish they would
stick to the written word, which is clearly their strong suit (e.g. Ginette
Vincendeau in the BFI's release of 'Le Cercle Rouge').

Frankly, if academics are going to be involved in 'curating' DVD releases,
then I wish publishers would be firm in insisting that (i) they have
substantial media experience, and (ii) they have something original to
say.  In my experience, they are either one or the other.  In most cases
I'd prefer a specially commissioned, substantial discursive essay supplied
in booklet form with the disc rather than critical analysis in the form of
video and/or audio.  Let's face it, the target audience for this kind of
DVD probably knows how to read, and with an essay you're not tied to your
TV set or PC monitor.  But many publishers feel that because the DVD medium
has that facility, they are obliged to use it.

The most useful and interesting discs, I find, are the ones which have
substantial contextualising footage and/or thrown in without an academic or
critic trying to set the agenda as to how you must view it.  The BFI's
'Edge of the World' disc is one example: I actually bought it specifically
for the 1920s St. Kilda travelogue which the Scottish Screen Archive
contributed, and have never actually watched the feature .  Sometimes there
are mainstream titles with useful extras, too, for example a recent
Warners' issue of 'Singin' in the Rain' which contains a complete
reconstruction of a 1930s cinema supporting programme.  The transfers are
very good, too.  Interviews with surviving film-makers who are reasonably
articulate and with intact memories are another thing I look for: for
example, the audio interview with Merian C. Cooper on the Milestone NTSC
'Grass' disc reveals far more about the economic and cultural context of
the film than any academic's commentary could.  Out-takes and cuts can be
another genuine asset: for example the UK version of 'Sunset Boulevard'
includes the unedited rushes of the subsequently deleted prologue, which
are played by pointing and clicking in the appropriate places on
reproductions of the original shooting script.


Dr. Leo Enticknap
School of Arts and Media/Northern Region Film & Television Archive
University of Teesside
United Kingdom
Tel. +44-(0)1642 384049
Fax +44-(0)8712 249151

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