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Friday 13 September 2013, 15:35

Mark Kermode Mark Kermode

This week I recorded commentary tracks with Bill Forsyth for Gregory's Girl and That Sinking Feeling. He took time out to talk to me about this strange activity...

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

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Film Club: Local Hero

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    Comment number 1.

    I never listen to commentary tracks for this very reason. iId rather just be watching the film. It's great to see Bill Forsythe though! I used to love Gregory's Girl though I must admit to never having seen That Sinking Feeling. It would be great if he could start making films again. I'm sure that anything he made would be better than some of the rubbish served up for our supposed entertainment nowadays!

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    Comment number 2.

    A skilfully done commentary track can add a lot to the movie, it can add to your understanding and appreciation of the movie. One man who does a particularly good job is Joss Whedon, his commentaries on various movies (Serenity springs to mind) are usually very good.

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    Comment number 3.

    Some directors have the right frame of mind to do an insightful commentary track all on their own, while others are either too technical or just plain unrevealing. When it's a few actors and/or crew members together they can easily get too jokey at the expense of being informative. So overall, I tend to prefer commentary tracks in the steering presence of an informed outsider who has the same curiosity as the viewer.

    On my recent trip to the UK I snatched up the DVD of The Devils and I would like to thank the Good Dr. for his contribution to that great release. The overlap of anecdotes and trivia on the commentary track and bonus documentary is easily forgiven.

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    Comment number 4.

    I'm sure "the academics" will love it. "Direct quote from the director at x point and time recording in the film... suggests to me... deep... layers analogous interpretative... zzzzzzzzzzzzz!"

    I somehow flicked on Del Toro commentating in Pan's Labyrinth (unless I dreamt I did), and it was a bit like the guy interrupting or being interrupted all the time in a conversation - he couldn't get his timing right so it was mostly mumbling a few words expecting to be interrupted or forgetting he was going to be interrupted and cutting off! I thought this guy is usually eloquently spoken and expressive in discussing his thoughts and feelings... as well as completely ruining the background film adding in some unnecessary symbolism everywhere: I wonder if he was feeding the academics (pausing to double-over laughing then continuing)? Verdict: ROOT MENU!

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    Comment number 5.

    I would advise any to listen to audio commentary tracks from director David Cronenberg, always an interesting and highly informative couple of hours. However, for the sheer beer induced batter of good friends and a fine director/actor partnership, look no further than the fantastic audio commentary given by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell for their 1982 classic, The Thing.

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    Comment number 6.

    Commentaries are a mixed bag: Christopher Frayling, Oliver Stone, John Carpenter and Kurt Russell or Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are all endlessly fascinating. I like watching 'The Crazies' for the commentary with George Romero and William Lustig - I hardly ever watch the film on it's own. Worst though, is when you get people who either don't care or simply don't understand what a commentary is supposed to be (worst case scenario, sadly, Mark 'Chopper' Read).

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    Comment number 7.

    As noted by others, commentary tracks vary widely. When DVD's were first out, they seemed like a great idea, and sometimes justification for repurchasing films already owned on VHS (although the idea started with the less successful Laserdisc).

    One of the most disappointing commentaries was from my comedy hero, Mel Brooks, on his masterpiece Young Frankenstein he often just describes what's on screen, or comments about a joke (oh, that's funny), with occasional nuggets of anecdote about the film. The most unexpectedly charming commentary was on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which consists of a reunion of the child actors who just chat about who they had a crush on, what they're up to now (Charlie's a veterinarian) and uncomfortably ignore the german kid, who sadly still doesn't have enough english to contribute.

    Commentaries are essentially feature length interviews that have the unfortunate need to keep pace with their subject. It's like trying to have a serious discussion about a film whilst simultaneously timing a MST3K riff track. In the mid 80's when I was attempting a level of film scholarship at uni, we were shown films with an analytical projector which was able to show films at a slower speed without damaging the film stock; we'd watch a sequence at normal speed, and then be shown the same in slow, so we could take notes. Given that experience, what I'd really like out of a commentary is to be shown a film scene by scene, with filmed discussions after each scene for as long as they can say something interesting (30 seconds, ten minutes), but not be obligated to just spin the wheels.

    The real problem, at the end of the day, is I barely have enough time to watch all the films I want to watch, let alone sit through each a couple of more times to take in commentaries that often overlap with the other DVD extras. And yes, my small library consists mostly of discs I want as much for their commentaries (otherwise rent or stream what I watch). The upside though, is that, in some cases, these add grist to the mill that may bring unreleased or restored films out on BR or DVD. Certainly, a pair of Forsyth's will be on my Xmas list.... and Tideland.... and The Devils... and, and, and.... oh crumbs!

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    Comment number 8.

    I do like a good commentary. After watching the film (and if I like it) I find it extremely interesting watch it again to hear about what was going on when the film was being made; the filmmakers thoughts, tidbits of info, amusing anecdotes and such.

    It should be noted that the quality of commentary does vary from film to film, director to director .....

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    Comment number 9.

    Okay, this is exciting. If "Greg" and "Sink" are getting commentaries for new Blu-rays, does this mean Local Hero's getting the same? No mention of it in the clip, but surely this is happening! I remember, a few months back, putting out a feeler here about that very same hope. As Bill Hicks used to say, "I'm plantin' seeds, baby, plantin' seeds" !!

    As for commentaries themselves, I'm glad Dr K's moderating as Bill Forsyth's 20min interview on the Film4 Local Hero DVD was mind-numbingly dull and I've never been so disappointed by a lone DVD extra for a film I love. Moderation for shy film-makers, uncomfortable talking about their work, can be a wonderful tool for bringing them out of their shells and getting them to talk succinctly and interestingly about the things we want to hear.

    Fingers crossed for Local Hero.

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    Comment number 10.

    I've only ever forced myself to sit through one commentary (for Citizen Kane). I hated it. It cuts against everything I feel strongly about with film viewing. I far prefer silent appreciation and then, if further background information is required, a good old-fashioned documentary.

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    Comment number 11.

    Commentaries...yesterday I listened to Mark, Ken Russell and co. on the BFI set of 'The Devils', two points: 1) What is an extra? The woman who plays Madeleine's mother is surely more, she's a key presence in a very powerful scene and, as KR, reappears later in a speaking role in the church. Surely she deserved a credit in 1971, and now retrospectively. Why weren't more credits given in those days? Surely the performers deserved it. 2) Sadly they didn't say where that amazing last shot was filmed, not at Pinewood presumably. Was a ruined wall constructed near some vast low-lying area? Where? It's one of the great final shots of cinema.

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    Comment number 12.

    Sorry, 'as KR' = as Ken Russell says.

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    Comment number 13.

    God I love Gregorys Girl.

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    Comment number 14.

    I seriously can't stand commentaries: I find them as irritating as two people talking behind you in a cinema, and I can honestly say I've never heard anything said that was particularly earth-shattering or changed my view of a film. It's usually all "Oh we had a great time doing that scene. Wonder where that guy is now?" blah blah. I never listen to them now.

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    Comment number 15.

    I find it odd that people here are so negative about commentaries. Remember they are an extra to the film and added value. You aren't forced to use them and if you do you should value the experience of someone involved with the film talking about it (if you have ANY interest in cinema). Would you be so negative if someone gave you a ticket to sit in a room with the director as he/she, there and then, personally spoke to you about the film? Probably not.
    The best commentary I've got is on Ron Howard's Apollo-13. You can choose to watch the film with Jim and Marilyn Lovell as the commentators and it adds a whole new layer of interest!

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    Comment number 16.

    The best commentaries are those where the participants (cast, crew) have taken the trouble to research the TV episode or film that they are talking about and therefore can give useful and correct information. The worst are those where the participants spend a lot of time either talking about something irrelevant to what they are seeing on screen at the time or else spend ages waffling about "yes we filmed this somewhere in west London but I'm not sure where" or "I wonder who that actress is" when they should have taken the trouble to come prepared to the commentary session. The commentary should be informative and add something to the film or TV programme.

    When there are multiple participants, it helps if there is a genuine spark of mutual liking between them, otherwise the bad atmosphere can be tangible!

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    Comment number 17.

    It's hard to track down (apart from finding snippets online) but the original laserdisc commentary from John Sturges on Bad Dad At Black Rock is famously cited by Paul Thomas Anderson as being more informative than 20 years of film school!

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    Comment number 18.

    Danny Boyle is the master of directors commentary. Strongly recommend checking out his thoughts on Sunshine. He speaks with great insight about a various aspects of the story, the production process, the research that went on the thematics etc. And every now and then he stops and says, 'I'll just pause and watch this bit' so you still get a chance to keep pace with the story.

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    Comment number 19.

    I'm seeking a way to watch Bill F's 'Andrina' http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325002/ seems impossible to locate/stream. Anyone have any info? michaelmaclauchlan at gmail dot com

 

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Outspoken, opinionated and never lost for words, Mark is the UK's leading film critic.

This twice-weekly video blog is the place where he airs his personal views on the things that most fire him up about cinema - and invites you to give your own opinions.

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