“We had to fight to keep this scene” — this is the oft-repeated phrase in the DVD commentaries of both A Scanner Darkly and Crumb, which I sat up to watch last night. At the halfway mark of these movies I had to wonder just what the studio visions would have looked like. I can't imagine the force of will a director has to exert to keep movies like these intact, but directors Linklater and Zwigoff seem to have it in spades, and I'm grateful for it.
A Scanner Darkly: I don't consider myself a Dick-head — I've only read a handful of his many, many books, and A Scanner Darkly isn't one of them — so I was surprised by how little of note was revealed in the conversation. Dick's daughter Isa was the most welcome voice: she's gently frank about her father's social difficulties, but her enthusiasm for his work seems genuine. Linklater wryly notes “how much better the script got when Keanu [Reeves] came on board,” and later observes that everyone in the room is laughing harder as the story on the screen becomes more tragic. (This last point confirms a suspicion I've had that filmmakers can get so caught up in the joyous generation of the illusion that they lose touch with the emotional depth charges their images set off.) I was also startled to hear that the movie's most devastating scene was added by the filmmakers, and wasn't in the novel at all.
Is the commentary recommended? For A Scanner Darkly I'd have to say not particularly. Although eavesdropping isn't a complete waste of time, another viewing of the film without the chatter would have turned up many of the insights the commentary offers. Crumb, on the other hand, is fairly revelatory. Left on his own, Terry Zwigoff's commentary would have consisted chiefly of noting the film's (in his view) many imperfections. Thankfully, Roger Ebert brings his curiosity to bear in a dialog with Zwigoff, and pulls out volumes of back-story that would otherwise have remained obscure. So, for Crumb, yes: commentary recommended.