This week, I watched the second Abel Ferrara movie in my queue, The Driller Killer. The first one was The Blackout. Neither one was very good, in fact, the latter was plain awful. The Driller Killer is one of those "be in the mood for dumb murders" movies. But the commentary on The Driller Killer was better than either of these films, which reminded me of Ferrara's commentary track on King of New York.
Ferrara rarely talks about making the films; rather, he bemoans which starlets would not have sex with him. "This shot with Walken, was, in my opinion, one of the best...oh, wait...look at her, that extra, in the background. Hello! Can I take you to dinner? That woman tortured me. I tried everything, I offered her lines in the movie, everything. She wouldn't have a thing to do with me. Not that every woman thinks of me that badly, but she sure did...and this shot was all due to the lighting. It's all about lighting."
I've heard a rumor that for his commentaries, he takes the money up front, ALLEGEDLY buys any substance he can, ALLEGEDLY takes them until he puts himself into a state of pontificating stupor, then hits "record." I don't know if it's true, but it sure sounds like it is.
Which makes me think of commentary tracks and commenters I love. Here, in no particular order, are some of the gems.
This documentary about The Brian Jonestown Massacre is not to be missed. If you were anywhere around the Lower Haight in the mid '90s, you probably saw this band whether you wanted to or not. They played everywhere and anywhere. I remember them playing the Peacock Lounge often with the likes of Heavy Into Jeff. The denial and self importance of club rockers has never been so well displayed. The singer/songwriter, Anton Newcombe had a lot of promise, and a lot of people love his music, but he seems to love fighting and spectacle better than success.
The commentary track is made up of former members of the band whom Newcombe kicked out. Their insights -- into his mannerisms and behavior -- add so much to the film that if you haven't seen it with the commentary track on, you haven't seen the complete film. Favorite commentary track ever.
Larry Cohen, filmmaker
Larry Cohen worked his way up from screenwriting to writing, directing, and producing his own films. Bone, starring Yaphet Kotto, was a brilliant film about race and race relations. He followed that with Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Taking another turn, he went into science fiction and horror, with movies such as God Told Me To, The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent, and three It's Alive! movies. Cohen breaks his films down shot by shot, and explains the entire process from start to finish: what he was thinking when he wrote the script; the battles getting the money to make the film; how he got the cast; and how each shot was done. The commentaries are invaluable, and are like taking a film class in low budget filmmaking.
The latest release of the original King Kong has commentary that I couldn't believe. I'm not sure where it all came from, but the DVD producers found it and released it to the track. Hearing Fay Wray's voice is enough to make any film nerd well up. She had passed long before this DVD was released, but it sounded like it was an interview that was spliced up and well placed throughout the film.
Ray Harryhausen, the stop motion genius, also provides memories of seeing the film in the theater when he was a child. Harryhausen did the special effects on another giant monkey film, Mighty Joe Young. He went on to do most of the Sinbad movies, Clash of the Titans, and the science fiction classic Earth vs. The Flying Saucers. He explains what went on in his young mind as King Kong inspired his future career.
Peter Bogdonavich agreed to make this film, his first feature as a director, for Roger Corman. The stipulation, which he states in the commentary track, is that he shoot 20 minutes of Bela Lugosi in two days, since Lugosi owed Corman the time, and that he use another 20 minutes from the Nicholson/Lugosi Corman film, The Terror. As Corman explained it, all Bogdonavich would have to do at that point was film another 40 minutes.
Bogdonavich takes us, shot by shot, through the mind of a young man whose dream job of being a film director is suddenly thrust upon him. We see each shot as it is set up and executed, with all the shortcuts he learned during his tutelage from Corman.
John Frankenheimer, director
I've only heard two of his commentaries, from The French Connection and 7 Days in May. While The French Connection is well known, the lesser seen 7 Days in May is one to pick up.
7 Days is up there with Dr. Strangelove and Fail Safe among the best of the cold war military paranoia movies. It was written by Rod Serling, the creator of The Twilight Zone, and stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Frankenhemer's commentary reminds new viewers of the political climate and technology of the day. There were a lot of items in the film that were supposed to look futuristic, like digital clocks and video conferencing. Frankenheimer points out which items didn't exist at the time.
During the commentary for The French Connnection, Frankenheimer also gives a film class for free. The film had a million dollar budget, but it wasn't nearly enough to make a film of this scope. Money was saved by clever cinematography and efficient filmmaking. For the famous car chase, the director affixed a camera to the front of Gene Hackman's car, and held another in the passenger seat. The chase was done only once, and by Frankenheimer's count, ALL of the collisions were accidental. More horrifying is that the streets were not closed off; the chase scene was done without permission.
Those are my favorites. I would love to hear about yours.
My Pick Of The Week:
My must-queue pick is for Only Fools And Horses. I watched Series 6 this week. It would be good to start with Series 1 if you haven't seen any of them. See full review.