Monday, February 1, 2010

Special Features

I hate to admit that I never owned a Laserdisc player.  I also hate to admit that I still don't have a Blu-Ray (but anyway that's not really the point).  I wanted to put together a post on special features, those great things that come with some of the movies nowadays -- commentaries, special behind-the-scenes documentaries, and any other thing that provides insight into a particular film that you would never have otherwise.

As I've said before, I do like lists and filters.  We can't be like the French New Wave anymore and see everything.  There's simply too much content now.  We need people we trust to point us in the right direction, to tell us how to enrich our time, and more important, how hopefully not to waste it.

It's dawned on me recently that there are some really stellar Special Features out there.  I know I'm missing some great stuff (like "What directors do the best commentaries?",  "What behind-the-scenes are must sees?", etc), but I'm not really sure how to seek them out.  So I wanted to ask if some of you would put together a list of your five favorite special features.  I'll start it out, but I'm hoping to compile a much longer list, as feedback comes in.  Here are just a few of the ones I saw and really loved recently (like I said, I find it hard to keep track):

1.  Behind-the-scenes featurette on Criterion's Permanent Vacation DVD
2.  Cast interviews on Criterion's George Washington DVD
3.  Clu Gulager's short film A Day with the Boys on Criterion's George Washington DVD (a major influence on Green's first feature)


  1. "As I've said before, I do like lists and filters. We can't be like the French New Wave anymore and see everything. There's simply too much content now. We need people we trust to point us in the right direction, to tell us how to enrich our time, and more important, how hopefully not to waste it."

    Jeff - I couldn't agree more this paragraph. There is are so many films that I feel like I want/need to get to, it can be overwhelming. This is where blogs like yours and others around the net are such great resources... if you can find somebody whose taste you trust or are similar to, it can be an invaluable resource for recommendations.

  2. Sorry, I also forgot to add some of my favorite special features. I also have to add that I never seem to find the time to really use all the special features I have in my DVD collection, but here are ones that have really stood out to me:

    1. "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" documentary on the 2-disc Citizen Kane release. A great look at what went down between Hearst and Welles when the film was being made and released.
    2. "An Opera of Violence" three part documentary/featurette look at the making of Once Upon a Time in the West, plus some reactions by various movie personalities on what the film means to them.
    3. The three-part featurette on the disc of The Conformist is very informative, although it is basically just interviews with Bertolucci and Vittorio Storaro.
    4. "Making of Jaws Documentary" on the 30th Anniversary release. I'm not a HUGE fan of Jaws, but it is a very entertaining documentary.
    5. "The Path to Redemption" series of documentaries in the Kingdom of Heaven director's cut 4-DVD set. I actually really liked this movie in its director's cut and these documentaries are also incredible.

    I also admit to not being someone who can usually do commentary tracks... if I put the movie on, I usually end up wanting to just watch the actual film versus listening to someone narrate through it. Just me, I know a lot of people love them.

  3. The best commentary track I've listened to is Quentin Tarantino's for True Romance. I just love listening to that guy talk. Also, Ebert's commentary for Dark City is really good. However, I admit that I am not someone who watched special features or commentaries that often. The only time I feel compelled to is when I'm on vacation and have plenty of time on my hand and just a handful of movies to watch.

  4. Dave, thanks so much for your comments on my paragraph about filtering! I really feel strongly about that and look to you and all the people on my blogroll to help me filter.

  5. Dave, all five of these special features sound fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing. I've seen the first four films and am a fan of all of them. I still need to see KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. I like Scott and for some reason just haven't caught up with this one yet.

    Thanks again! I really appreciate it.

  6. Kevin, those both sound great! I love listening to Tarantino, too. The guy just knows about 1000x more than I do, and I always feel I can learn something. I'd like to hear that Ebert, too. That sounds really interesting.

    Ultimately though I'm with you on rarely making the time to take in special features. Already, I'm unable to see as many movies as I'd like so usually my spare time will always go to taking in another movie rather than to watching the special features.

    Thanks for these!

  7. I feel like I could just pick a top 5 of commentary tracks which maybe something for another post? Anyways, my picks:

    The commentary for THE LIMEY between screenwriter Lem Dobbs and director Steven Soderbergh. It starts of amicable enough but then Dobbs starts to gripe about the changes Soderbergh made to his script and things get down right combative! Very entertaining and beats the usual back-slapping/congratulatory commentaries that seem to be the norm.

    The editing workshop on the DIE HARD five star collection special edition. I love that it allows you re-edit a scene from the film and in doing so illustrates just how crucial editing is, how it changes the meaning of a scene and our understanding of it.

    On the PLATOON special edition DVD there is “Tour of the Inferno,” an excellent, in-depth retrospective documentary that brought back a lot of the film’s cast who talk about their experiences making the film. We are taken through the various stages of production with some great anecdotes being told of the wild times these guys had, including John C. McGinley doing a funny as hell impersonation of Oliver Stone, and Tom Berenger tells a story about the real Barnes that was used in the movie. This is a fantastic doc providing all sorts fascinating insight.

    Another fave is the “Hard Boiled Location Guide” on the HARD BOILED ultimate DVD. It takes us on a fun, fascinating tour of many of the locations from the movie. Some places, like the teahouse (which is now a mall), don’t exist anymore and a little historical background is given to some of the places.

    Also, from the NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 40th anniversary edition is “One for the Fire: The Legacy of Night of the Living Dead,” a feature-length retrospective documentary that opens with actors Judith O’Dea and Russell Streiner recreating their famous drive to the cemetery that started it all. They talk about how they were cast while Romero talks about his background in industrial films and how he cut his teeth on this kind of work. Screenwriter John A. Russo and George Romero talk about the origins of the story. Most of the surviving cast and crew take us through the challenges of making this low-budget film in great detail. This is a fascinating, extensive look at how this landmark film came together.

  8. Wow, JD, what an awesome list! I've seen all these films but none of these extras. I will definitely seek them out. These all sound great. And, yes, I might have to do a "Director Commentary" post in the future. I'd be curious to hear your take on that.

    Thanks again for this. Great stuff!

  9. Good conversation -- I'd love to hear a director commentary post.

    I'll second "The Battle Over Citizen Kane" doc, it's one of my all-time favorite extras. The Ebert commentary for that disc is good as well, if perhaps a rehash of what many cinephiles already consider obvious. There's another great doc on the making of "The Third Man" on the Criterion disc of that, as well.

    I can't offer up much help on good commentaries, as I'm pretty random on when I will or won't listen to one. In fact, I don't typically watch extras, as there is often too many other movies to watch and typically, the extras aren't worth too much time.

  10. Hey, Troy, great to see you here! I'll definitely work on that director commentary post. I think it's a great idea.

    Thanks so much for the special features list. I haven't seen any of those, but they all sound excellent, and I'll have to rectify that here soon.

    I completely hear you on making the time to take in the extras. I'm as guilty as they come and rarely watch them. But, I do realize, at times, that there's something really great that I'm probably missing.

    Thanks again, Troy!