Sunday, March 06, 2016

What the Matter with Hollywood: America’s Vanishing National Resource: The DVD Commentary

As a general rule, the internet is obsessively comprehensive about geeky things, but it’s always had a few baffling blind spots, so let’s address one of those: The DVD commentary. As far as I can tell, there are only two rarely updated sites dedicated to commentaries and both are very cursory. There is no definitive list of DVD commentaries or their quality. Ideally, we would have a massive searchable, ratable, reviewable database of all commentaries on all DVD editions of every movie (Commentaries tend to appear and disappear as movies get multiple releases).

Much of the time, Amazon doesn’t bother to properly differentiate between different editions of a DVD/Blu-Ray, nor to tell you if the disc has a commentary when you order it (Many are listed as having no features that actually do have commentaries, and sometimes vice versa). Even on Bit Torrent, most movies don’t include their commentary, nor are there any collections of commentaries being shared. (Or so I’ve heard.)

The big problem, of course, is that these commentaries are disappearing because streaming services don’t tend to offer them (they certainly aren’t commissioning them), and even if you order the DVD from Netflix just to get the commentary, they tend to now offer the “Rental Version” without the commentary.

This is a problem because these are a huge resource. Many great writers and directors took the time to do amazing commentaries on their movies before they died. John Frankenheimer never wrote a memoir, but before he died he recorded amazing in-depth commentaries for The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, and lots more right up to Ronin. Even if these DVDs stay in print and/or get translated to Blu-Ray with the commentaries intact, all of that information will still be unindexed and unsearchable. We need some Film Studies MA program to collect every commentary, transcribe them all, and, ideally, make them all available online, especially if they’re out of print. (Of course, one problem is that, with all those commentaries readily available, there would be little reason to pay a fortune for a Film Studies degree)

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey Matt, don’t you care about this and don’t you have an illustrious movie website? Why don’t you do it? Because it’s a lot of work and I don’t wanna! I want you to do it! Any volunteers?


J.A. said...

It really is a problem. I keep expecting some platform to start offering commentaries as an alternative audio track, and it never happens. And the filmmaker commentaries aren't the only thing, I usually appreciate the critical commentaries more. I'm always up for a free film studies lecture, especially if they focus on analysis more than history. Some filmmakers are great at giving you a few interesting stories, what they were thinking for certain scenes, why they made the decisions they did... but younger filmmakers tend to stick to anecdotes instead of discussing process in any meaningful way. In any case, the entire DVD/Netflix disk era seems to be a golden age of accessibility, or at least affordable accessibility, that is disappearing into the past.

Matt Bird said...

Oh yeah, a scholarly commentary is usually even better than a director and/or writer commentary.