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September 2004, Week 4


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Dennis Bingham <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 23 Sep 2004 12:14:51 -0500
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I agree that most director commentaries are dull, literal, and
unenlightening.  Of course, there are exceptions.  In addition to the ones
David Tetzlaff names, I've learned a lot from Robert Altman's commentary on
THE PLAYER.  The best commentary I know is on the DVD of DON'T LOOK BACK, with
D.A. Pennebaker and Bob Neuwirth, who was Bob Dylan's personal manager during
the 1965 London tour which the film covers.  I learned a trove of background
on Dylan and the tour, which one would never know from the film alone.
Perhaps documentaries, and especially cinema verite (where what you see is
usually all you get) are more poised to benefit from commentary by those who
were there than fiction films.  DONT LOOK BACK also is a film that looks
different through the mists of time, and the commentary is very interesting in
that regard too.

Actually, besides Spielberg, a director who appears to take great care with
his special editions is Robert Wise.  The commentary and documentary
accompanying the 2003 release of WEST SIDE STORY is one of the most
informative I know.  Also, the notorious flop STAR! benefitted, in its laser
disc edition, from one of the most complete special edition packages I know.
The best documentaries and commentaries are generally those from whose first
release some time has passed, provided they are fortunate enough to have a lot
of the participants surviving.  When the STAR! package was put together in
1995, virtually all of the major makers of the film were still alive and well
(Producer Saul Chaplin and costar Richard Crenna have since died) and they saw
the laser disc as a reclamation project for a generally vilified and much
underrated film IMO.  What results is a virtual archive on the film.  In fact,
I hope to pay a visit to Wise's papers on the film at USC next month and I
won't be surprised if I don't learn a whole lot more than what is included in
the laser disc.  Unaccountably, none of the laser disc material was included
when STAR! was released by Fox on a bare bones DVD earlier this year.  Why,
who knows?

The other thing to keep in mind is that fifty years from now, cineastes might
be thrilled just to have an audio-visual record of what, say, Quentin
Tarantino had on his mind about KILL BILL in 2004.  What seems like junky
filler and puff pieces now might be extremely useful for future generations of
film scholars.

Dennis Bingham
Associate Professor and Director of Film Studies
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
Indianapolis, IN 46202

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