Après, le Déluge

DVD Commentary, You Stole My Gal

 2002: the year of the expanded edition. While mass culture machines churned out spin-offs, replicants, and sure-shot franchise components, the sloppy-seconds market was stuffed to bursting with associative extras. Most recent big-budget flicks have been shot with the eventual DVD in mind: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with its bulked-up movie, two discs of docs, and miles of still art; Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones' virtual tech residency at Skywalker Ranch; Monsters, Inc.'s unsullied digital-to-digital transfer and interactive Pixar tour; Spider-Man with its exhaustive Stan Lee side-by-sides. Add-ons to art-house charmers like Y Tu Mamá También don't evidence as much forethought, though Mamá's home-movie-style making-of featurette holds its own with its post-facto sprung rhythms, jauntily documenting the tussles, pranks, and bear hugs among its playful cadre. Even dogs are getting their DVD day. If Unfaithful passed for high-camp trash, its DVD just keeps on giving: Hear Diane Lane's mezzo purr fawning over genius Adrian Lyne. Check out deleted chaff like Olivier Martinez wedging him-self between theater seats to go down on his Fabergé-orgasmic amour in an empty Woody-style matinee.

But what does all this cheap backstory do to the way we see ourselves as devotees? Fans? Even just casual renters seeking insight or escape? Why do many cinephiles among us remain DVD holdouts, avoiding the ancillary glut of push-button scholarship? While watercoolers everywhere are increasingly privy to awed swaps about the VR goggles used to film the CGI Moria Cave Troll, lots of Criterion collector types have never ventured past the simple "play" button. Resistance might be tied into the fact that, with the exception of laser disc techies, early DVD adopters tended to be Tecmo Bowl cum Madden "entertainment-center" dudes. To purists, especially those who did the pre-Internet legwork to learn about beloved directors and films, all this has an unpleasant, hair-of-the-dog, sweat-socky vibe (course, we said that about Hacky Sack and roofies and look at us now).

And to a generation of film lovers blessed by glimpses of insight provided by those few documentaries like Les Blank's chronicle of Herzog in the Amazon, or the epic implosion of Hearts of Darkness, the new mandates on requisite demystification radically alter the creative process. In the guise of transparency, they introduce a new remove. Violate gestation. Encourage premature declaration. Perhaps enervate a work. Tipping his hat to this point, Wes Anderson made sure his Albert Maysles-directed doc was included on the Royal Tenenbaums Criterion disc.

Rough magic: Rings on DVD
photo: Pierre Vient/New Line Cinema
Rough magic: Rings on DVD

The deed-to-doc gap has collapsed to zero. And while our ability to isolate and historicize films was already compromised with the advent of VHS, the DVD offers the added surreality of providing commentary and backstory potentially at the same time as the initial encounter with the movie, drastically abbreviating the time we spend considering its images and ideas before toggling to a track that angles us "correctly" along the set lines of authorial intent. We curiously follow current Broadway and DVD impresario Baz Luhrmann behind his Red Curtain, into the warren of rooms housing the greenroom secrets of Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge. The work itself expands to control its own post-theatrical life.

Tech savvy is another of the format's many strange identity-shaping gifts. And when we make our own MP3 MST3K, we'll be all scans and vectors and aspect ratios. The Lord of the Rings four-disc set doubles as a course in the artisanry of special effects, but also lovingly dotes on the communalism of the 16-month New Zealand trilogy shoot. (How different from the stressed-out quasi-corporate atmosphere of Lucas's ILM cloners.) For all Jackson's emphasis on the need to make the world of Middle Earth seem "real" (not fantasy with a wink), what ends up seeming truly magical is the collaborative working environment, young designers and middle-aged talking-book illustrators poring over sketches, casting molds, painting "bigatures," discussing the best ways to render one of young adulthood's most vivid and kick-ass adventures. It's the Real World version of the hermetic Sorkin-esque idealized workplace, with offices replaced by workshops and hobbit holes. And when we fall off around 3 a.m., we dream not of leaping onto Bucklebury Ferry, but about sharing a laugh with our well-paid comrades while having our feet glued on.

How much time, though, can we invest in such transport? A friend mentions that while he loves his deluxe In the Mood for Love edition, he "still hasn't gotten through" the labyrinthine array of offerings (which include the deleted scene cementing the lovers' affair as well as a booklet supplement of Liu Yi-chang's short story "Intersection"). The tone in his voice betrays that he feels he must. And so, it becomes a test of devotion. Are we willing to go the distance to preserve our status as rigorous and responsible fans? Have we watched all four Fight Club commentaries? The Monsters, Inc. spin-off short? The limited-edition forward cut of Memento? What happens when Kevin Smith starts doing endless real-time commentary on his own commentary? Roger Ebert once suggested that we Internet Lifers start making our own commentary tracks and putting them online for download, and now, freelance hellraisers everywhere are doing just that. It's a great idea, since it's only the odd example (check out the contentious chat between Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier on the Starship Troopers DVD) that ventures any wave-making contradiction. Just wondering, though, how are we gonna do all of this and still feed our Sims?

 
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