The Matrix, and more – the worst DVD audio commentaries
– by Robin Bougie
Appearing in December 1984 as a reason to invest in the newfangled technology of laserdisc, the first audio commentary graced the Criterion Collection release of the 1933 RKO hit, King Kong and featured film historian Ronald Haver. It was just like having Ronald right there in the room with you, which was a thrilling prospect, I’m sure.
Since then, the ability to watch a movie in real time while listening to the director, cast, crew, or some totally unrelated human being prattle on has gone from a reason to spend hundreds of dollars on a movie (some of those old Criterion laserdiscs went for some mega-cash back in the day!!), to just another needless bonus feature that most people ignore.
When they’re good, goddamn they’re good. Who can resist Arnold Schwarzenegger and director John Milius getting drunk while hamming it up to Conan the Barbarian? Or Larry Cohen‘s amazing behind-the-scenes stories of making the blaxploitation classic Black Caesar? Or any of the knee-slappingly excellent Evil Dead commentaries by Bruce Campbell and co.? Something like Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank noodling along with the exceptional documentary about them (American Movie) is just like getting some more of a good thing, really.
That isn’t to say the technology can’t be abused with quantities of mediocrity, though. In fact, more often than not, DVD commentaries are a total unmitigated waste of your time. Here are my least favourite, in no particular order:
Crime Wave (1954) – What it is: talented use of real Los Angeles exteriors and interiors are but one of many highlights of this above-average noir thriller which starts with a cop getting offed in a botched gas station robbery. The three cons responsible demand refuge at the home of former criminal trying to put his shit back together with the support of his lovely wife. A cold, chilling b-movie that portrays a man with a shady past trying to make good, but finding that his past is surely inescapable.
Why the commentary blows: Talented pulp noir writer James Ellroy and film noir mega-expert Eddie Muller doing a tag-team on an underrated classic noir they both adore – how can this possibly miss? Well, normally I like Ellroy when he acts all wacky on Letterman or whereever, but here his manic and nonsensical howling of “I’M THE DEMON DOG!! AROOOOOO! ARRRROO!!!” got so old, so fast. He must have done it about a dozen times and often interrupted Muller, who really did seem to have a lot of interesting information about the making of movie he wanted to share – and probably would have if Ellroy hadn’t been acting like such a twat.
Zombie (1979; aka Zombie 2) – What it is: A newspaper reporter with silly hair (Ian McCulloch), is assigned to investigate a bizarre homicide taking place on the derelict boat found in the New York harbour – an investigation that leads him and some other poor saps to an island infested with the living dead. If you want to see a zombie fighting a shark, a woman get her eyeball stabbed on a giant splinter in slow motion, and enough maggots and worms to choke a cannibal, this is the Italian zombie movie you’ve waited your whole life for.
Why the commentary blows: Oh Jesus, Ian McCulloch. There is nothing more frustrating than listening to some poor old bastard try in vain to talk for two hours non-stop about a movie he doesn’t recall making, and has never actually seen before. This must be what it is to hang out in a seniors home watching zombie movies – except with company that isn’t nearly as irreverent and heart-warming.
The Matrix (1999) – What it is: Oh, you know damn well what this is.
Why the commentary blows: You know that promotional cheek-kiss babble that celebs do on the red carpet? Well, here is a seeming endless ego-stroke dick-suck in the very same vein. Most of the cast pile into the recording booth and fawn over each other’s unexceptional performance in that trite and hollow Hollywood way. They also have absolutely no valid information about the filmmaking process to share, which is a problem I find with many cast commentaries. Why, it’s almost as if actors were totally self-absorbed and pay little attention to anything other than their own performance while making movies. *slide whistle*
Pit Stop (1969) – What it is: Jack Hill introduced the world to Sid Haig in the cult classic Spider Baby, launched an entire wave of women-in-prison films with The Big Doll House, and turned sexy Pam Grier into an ebony superstar with Coffy and Foxy Brown. Lesser known but no less terrific is Hill’s Pit Stop, which may well be the best movie ever made about car racing. The story, cast, and cinematography are all excellent, but the real reason to peep it is because Pit Stop contains some of the most demented racing footage ever seen – especially the crazy and out-of-control “figure 8 track” sequences that had me biting my knuckles!
Why the commentary blows: Ok, I feel bad even putting this one on here, because I love Jack Hill so damn much. He knows I love him. Simply put, though – the amount of times he redundantly repeats the cliché “That’s the magic of the movies” as a vapid comment on whatever was currently appearing on the screen made me want to stop biting my aforementioned knuckles, and use them to smash my ear drums into paste. Watch this sans commentary.
Taboo (1980) – What it is: Incest-themed classic porn that ranks only behind Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door in box-office earnings. The plot is simple: A horny, frustrated suburban mom played by Kay Parker tries broadening her horizons by going to a swingin’ ’70s orgy. The experience ends up being a total bust, but upon arriving home her pent-up sexual tension causes her to nervously molest her sleeping teenage son. To her confused bewilderment, he awakes and is very reciprocal – thus beginning a very raunchy relationship and several sticky sequels.
Why the commentary blows: Oh. Now this is awkward. It almost seems like classic porn milf Parker has no idea how an audio commentary even works. Not only does she not have anything interesting to say, but I’m pretty sure some of the gaps where she wasn’t talking and was just silently watching the movie with us made it up to the eight-to-10 minute mark. Surely one of the worst commentaries ever released on DVD.
Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS (1975) – What it is: Hailed by some reviewers as “one of the greatest exploitation films of all time”, Ilsa packs a firm punch of un-PC prison-camp power. I mean, filming ultra-violent torture gore sexploitation on the set of Hogan’s Heroes, and then having the gall to dedicate it to holocaust survivors takes some brass nutsack, no?
Why the commentary blows: Moderated by British “comedian” Martin Lewis, whose obvious ignorance of not only the Ilsa films but the history of exploitation becomes apparent as he interrupts director Don Edmonds, star Dyanne Thorne and producer David Friedman with increasingly unfunny jokes. Much of the track is taken up with this fucktwit listing off “wacky” titles of other films the participants were involved in, and sarcastically quipping about how “bad” the film is – as if anyone were going to confuse it with Citizen Kane. At one point Lewis even stoops to reading keywords from the IMDB, and seems to think that is really entertaining. It all brings to mind Al Pacino‘s rant in Glengarry Glen Ross: “What you are hired to do, is to help us. Does that seem clear to you? To HELP us. Not to FUCK US UP!! To help men who are going out there to earn a living, you fairy. You company man. You never open your mouth until you know what the shot is. You fucking child.”