Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Commentary by Steven Soderbergh"

I've sat through two of Steven Soderbergh's DVD commentaries: a film-geek's dream-come true, Point Blank, with director John Boorman . . .
Marvin's shoes provide an interesting anecdote (believe it).
 . . . and his own The Limey, (a personal fave) with scriptwriter Lem Dobbs.
Terence Stamp's costuming, on the other hand, is unremarked upon.
The back-and-forth with Dobbs is quite the curiosity. Dobbs seems to have a chip on his shoulder the size of Montana-and-change. Given the business he's in, I can hardly blame him. But he's combative and critical, while Soderbergh is largely . . . amused.

If you've the temperament and time you can devote the better part of a weekend to Dobbs' personality and read this interview. I'd hoped Soderbergh would be up for another three rounds with Dobbs, for Haywire (another fave), but Soderbergh is at that stage in life where he's only interested in what he's interested in -- which is good enough for me. He's one of those rare film people with interesting things to say, and thanks to him I'll actually be adding to my collection of DVDs.

B&W photo of Lee Marvin comes from this site, which has quite the trove of behind-the-scenes curiosities of older, cooler films. Check it out.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

"Commentary by Roger Ebert"

Roger Ebert did scene-by-scene commentary for six films: Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Floating Weeds, Dark City, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and Crumb. I lack only two of these titles, which I'll get to in a moment.
"...fast asleep, like much of the current audience..."
Watching the films with the commentary on tends to be a bit complicated, emotionally. There's the business of his voice, first of all, which was taken away some years before the rest of him. It brings to mind an observation he made about himself -- regarding a tape recording of his father's voice, which he kept close through the years but never listened to because the effect of hearing his father again would be too heartbreaking. Some of that element is in play when I revisit these flicks. I recall watching Crumb shortly after Ebert lost his voice, and feeling tetchy and angry through the duration of the experience. And of course, since he's died, there have been a handful of films I wish he'd lauded or panned -- because his voice on the matter seemed to resonate so much more than others'.

Also complicated: the two Rogers we get, depending on the movie in question. Citizen Kane and Casablanca bring out Professorial Roger, giving us the authoritative goods on the flick in question. Although he can unearth the unexpected in these uninterrupted monologues, much of what he says can seem obvious to a viewer who has also seen the films a few dozen times.

Then there's Casual Roger -- the Ebert that joined Crumb director Terry Zwigoff on the couch for a bit of back-and-forth as the film unspooled. One gets the impression Ebert did this soundtrack as a favour to Zwigoff, a director he championed early. Where Zwigoff sees mistakes and creative decisions he laments, Ebert sees an entertaining exploration of character. And where Zwigoff sees a character with deficits that frequently wreak personal havoc on himself and the people around him, Ebert sees someone commendable in his candor.

It's probably obvious which Roger I prefer. I'm missing Floating Weeds and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and I expect I shall spring for the forthcoming Criterion re-release of the latter -- because I imagine his recollection of the experience of closing off the '60s with Russ Meyer and a gaggle of gorgeous actors is probably quite entertaining -- if not necessarily insightful.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About The Meaning Of Life

Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of LifeYour Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About the Meaning of Life by Steven Hyden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Here we are, again, with the nights growing longer, the weather slowly turning cool. Summer is wrapping up, fading into yet another memory fated to grow increasingly smudgy until it finally disappears with the ponderer. I know of no better way to stave off the seasonal melancholy than to pick up and read yet another cheeky meditation on the earth-shaking significance of rock 'n' roll music -- and Steven Hyden's Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me: What Pop Music Rivalries Reveal About The Meaning Of Life more than qualifies.

Hyden's shtick is of a piece with Steve Almond, Carl Wilson, Chuck Klosterman, Andrew Beaujon and many, many others. As with the aforementioned, Hyden free-wheel riffs off the flotsam and ephemera of pop culture at large, spinning narrative significance into not just the rivalries (perceived or real) under examination, but within the larger sea of noise that surrounds us all, whether from forgotten TV shows or the back alleys of the internet.

The most magisterial of these meditations is chapter 9: Competing With Yourself and Losing: Roger Waters vs. The Rest of Pink Floyd in which Hyden manages to tie together such seemingly disparate pop-cult strands as Waters' contentious history with Pink Floyd and the fans, the Jay-Conan folderol over the "legacy" of the Tonight Show, and the 1987 NFL players' strike -- all to settle the question, "What is, or isn't, a rock group?"

There were still 116 pages left in the book after this tour de force. And though I had no difficulty reading to the book's conclusion, much of the momentum was lost after Chapter 9. Some of that was my own generational baggage (Biggie vs. Tupac = whatevs (and how sad is that?)). And some of that is just the nature of the beast -- even Almond and Klosterman struggle in the back stretch.

Regardless, for the low cost of a signature CD you, too, can enjoy hours of entertaining "cultural criticism, personal anecdote and music history" (book-flap) -- surely the best way to savor the fading glow of the evening's bottle of wine, and the season's close.



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Comedian

"What's more fun than hanging out with comedians?"

"Nothing. Nothing. That's the sad part." - exchange between Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn, Comedian (2002).

I vacillated between adding this disc to the list, or banishing it to the bin of unremarked-upon DVD detritus. Back in the day, the documentary felt like a revelation. Besides following Seinfeld's surprisingly bumpy return to the stand-up stage, we got a joshy commentary from the comedian and his friend. But then, prior to 2002 the opportunity to eavesdrop on droll exchanges between Jerry Seinfeld and buddy Colin Quinn was something only another friend or a stand-up devotee could chance into. Now it's an internet staple.

But I gave it another look last week -- the theatrical release, as well as with Seinfeld and Quinn's running commentary -- and it still (snicker!) stands up. And it's all thanks to Orny Adams.


The poor guy leads with his chin. And, given his chosen profession and the people this choice obliges him to hang out with, he gets it on the chin -- again and again and again. He's young, he's anxious not just for success but for validation -- that ephemeral end-point that, people who are older and wiser realise, simply does not exist. Older and wiser folk also recognise that this yearning fuels his ambition, so they tolerate the accompanying histrionics.

To a point. I was not at all surprised by the ease and glee with which older comedians took to lancing the boil of Adams' festering id. But I was surprised by their equanimity -- for every put-down there's a validation of what the kid gets right, or a recognition that, yes, this turmoil is indeed a recognizable and inescapable part of the journey.

Much is made of Adams' clueless solipsism. But there's another cluelessness on display -- the sort that slowly takes over when someone becomes a standout success. Both bear close examination.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Cherished DVDs: Welles Criterion

I've got three Criterion DVDs, and these are two.
If you're surprised I don't have more, so am I. Criterion caters to the arty-farty crowd, to which I cheerfully cop pretensions. Even when Criterion re-releases kitsch, camp or meatball action films, it pads the prime attraction with serious commentary -- printed and recorded. Sauce for the goose, you'd think.

They tend to be pricey affairs, however -- costly enough to force reconsideration. Does this release truly qualify for the limited shelf-space on my Wall Of Plastic? More often than not, the answer is a clear "no."

I have owned close to a dozen, in my day -- but after a viewing or two I've given them away to friends whose passion for the particular flick greatly exceeds my own. Those are gifts worth giving, let me tell you.

I can't think of anyone, however, who might be into these two Orson Welles enterprises. Mr. Arkadin and F Is For Fake qualify as curiosities to most cinéastes -- good for a look or two, depending. I find them both rather troubling, in ways that some of Welles' more celebrated features are not. The short explanation: it seems to me Welles was haunted by the elusive spectre of authenticity.

And if you think about that for any length of time, you become haunted as well.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Cherished DVDs, First Entry

Let's get the obvious ones out of the way: the Star Trek movies -- TOS crew, naturally.

Someone else's collection, not mine...
Full disclosure: I own 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 (STNG: First Contact) and 11 (J.J. Abrams' first), and I've thrown away all the boxes -- for reasons beyond my fathoming, Paramount persistently opts to deliver Trek content in the ugliest and most ungainly packaging possible.

As for extras, Shatner and Nimoy's commentary on 4 is worth the listen (by Shatner's own admission, theirs was a relationship that frequently waxed and waned, but at this point they were apparently friendly with each other and happy to spend the time together). But Nicholas Meyer's director commentary on The Wrath of Khan is stellar. He is critical of his own errors in judgment, as well as indulgences he allowed some of the principal actors. He beautifully articulates the high-wire act every director has to walk when dealing with the studio, the franchise, and even a star like Shatner.

That any of these films made it to the screen is nearly miraculous -- that a few of them managed to be entertaining, beyond miraculous.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Cherished DVDs: I'm Listing Again!

Look at this mess.

What a racket, what a shake-down.

Everything I thought as I made these many, many purchases was dead wrong. "If it's good, I'll watch it more than once." "I could see myself watching this while the wife is afield." "Oh, the kids will definitely want to see this when they're older."

The biggest lie of them all: "If I don't buy it, there's probably no other way I'll get to see it." Ka-ching!

A great percentage of discs are still handy to have around -- the Disney/Pixar stuff, basically. Even if grandkids don't ever enter my family picture, some occasion usually presents itself in the form of kids-of-friends, or other family members. So I don't begrudge those purchases -- we already got our money's worth throughout the girls' childhood.

I would estimate that at least 75% of the DVDs I own will never be played/seen by me a second time.

Of these, even the uber-classic movies I just knew I'd queue up at least once a year, are just . . . taking up space. The Godfather trilogy, for instance. Millennials are getting a bad rap because they get twitchy within minutes of the opening sequence -- but sheesh: so do I. Who wants to sit through over three hours of a single movie -- one of three -- when there's all this fabulous television to catch up with?

And now with streaming and on-demand being what it is, the catalog of possibilities is far larger than I ever could have imagined when I initially forked over the $5-$25.

Still and all, there are a handful of movie DVDs I value -- deeply. In some cases you can easily get the movie on demand, but there remains a larded pantry of wonders on the DVD extras. In other cases, it's just a fondness unique to the fetish of the particular package in question.

So this is me, coming out of "listing" retirement and announcing my list of cherished DVDs. Might be a top-10, I don't know. We'll see. What I won't do is put them in any particular order, with the exception of Number 1 -- because there is a particular DVD among the bunch that delivers maximal marginal utility.

Stay tuned.