Sunday, June 06, 2010

Film Commentaries by Critics/Scholars

The vast majority of audio commentaries available on DVDs feature those involved in the making of films: directors, actors, writers, producers, and so on. Over the years we've had several discussions here about such commentaries. In this post, however, I'd like to help gather examples of your favorite DVD commentaries by film critics and/or scholars.

One of our frequent guests here, Adrian Martin, might just hold the championship record for this category. His commentaries include (deep breath): Vivre sa vie, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, The Exterminating Angel, Masculin Féminin, La Promesse, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, The Blue Angel, Alice in the Cities, Journey in Italy, Gertrud, The Tarnished Angels, Martha, There’s Always Tomorrow, Beware of a Holy Whore, Les Cousins, Ministry of Fear, Fallen Angel, Whirlpool, F For Fake, Le Plaisir, Madame de …, Good Morning, A Married Woman, Le gai savoir, and La Luna (at last count). All of these (as far as I know) were recorded for the Australian label Madman, and thus are not as well known in the US. The first two of these commentaries have just been re-issued on the Criterion DVDs of the films here. I've had the opportunity of hearing a handful of these, and they are unfailingly strong and enjoyable.

Two other favorite examples of critic/scholar audio commentaries spring to mind. On the Criterion DVD of the 'Corinth version' of Orson Welles' Mr. Arkadin, Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore have an informative and insightful conversation that makes you wish more DVDs would use this format. (I look forward to the upcoming Criterion DVD of Close-Up that announces a joint audio commentary by Jonathan and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa.) James Quandt's commentary on Bresson's Pickpocket is the very opposite of an improvised conversation; it's very evidently scripted, a long-form essay read aloud, a wonderfully dense but riveting piece of work. I had to pause the DVD every so often to savor the words just spoken, to let the weight of the analysis sink in. These are just a couple of favorites, of several, that I mention here as examples.

Recently, the video essay has emerged as another valuable form of film commentary. If Adrian is the champ of the audio commentary, the shortlist of contenders for the video essay would have to include Matt Zoller Seitz, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Kevin Lee, Jim Emerson and Tag Gallagher. Catherine Grant has helpfully posted a collection of links as an homage to MZS's and Kevin Lee's video essays; and one to Jim Emerson's essays. Gorin's commentaries on Criterion DVDs, including his classic video essay on Pierrot le Fou, are consistently valuable. An inventory of Gallagher's DVD-analyses can be found at his website (scroll down all the way).

Could I ask you to recommend, if you like, your favorite examples of audio commentaries and/or video essays, either among those mentioned above or otherwise? Perhaps we can assemble a collection of recommendations as a resource for future googlers here.

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Some links:

-- The new issue of Cineaste includes Jonathan Rosenbaum's essay "DVDs: A New Form of Collective Cinephilia."

-- There's a new special issue of Undercurrent on film festivals, with pieces by Chris Fujiwara, Jon Jost, Yvette Bíró, David Sterritt, and others. Also: I've discovered that Jon Jost runs two blogs, here, and here.

-- One of the liveliest debates in the film-blogosphere in the last few weeks has been about "slow films." See: Steven Shaviro; Harry Tuttle; Glenn Kenny; Frieze Magazine's blog; Vadim Rizov; and the Guardian. The original Matthew Flanagan essay "Towards an Aesthetic of Slow in Contemporary Cinema" (2008) is available at 16:9.

-- At Sight & Sound, 51 film critics list their favorite film books (scroll down for full ballots). Here's the aggregate top five.

-- At Catherine Grant's place: a valuable collection of links to "Bazinian, Neo-Bazinian, and Post-Bazinian Film Studies".

Nicole Brenez's video essay on Boris Barnet's By The Bluest of Seas, courtesy Kevin Lee.