Sunday, August 17, 2003

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The real power of DVDs

The New York Times has not one, not two, but three articles in its Sunday edition on the allure of DVDs. David Kirkpatrick has a front-page page story on who's purchasing DVDs (mostly men) and what they're buying (mostly action movies).

In the Sunday Arts section, Elvis Mitchell discusses DVD's effect on watching films; Emily Nussbaum on its effect on television.

Both the Sunday Arts articles are worth reading, but they focus more on the pleasure of seeing quality works of art with commentary tracks and behind-the-scenes interviews. Far more interesting is the effect of DVD technology on really bad pieces of pop culture ephemera.

Every new film released on DVD now seems to require additional commentaries and interviews. It's fascinating to watch actors, actresses and directors providing high-minded reasons for why they decided to participate in some piece of schlock. In some cases, these efforts are far better acting jobs than what actually appears on the screen.

For an example, rent the DVD to Kiss of the Dragon, a forgettable Jet Li martial arts flick. The DVD includes a priceless conversation in which Bridget Fonda -- a good actress who appeared in some fine films in the 1990s -- explaining with deep conviction why she was artistically attracted to the role of the junkie whore with a heart of gold. Now that was an Oscar-caliber performance.

posted by Dan on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM


This only confirms my opinion of Mitchell as the worst sort of movie snob.

His conclusions about the use of chapters are particularly odd. I rarely use that feature, unless I either had to stop watching, the DVD has a glitch and gets stuck, or unless there's a curiosity I have about a particular scene. (As it happens my rental copy of David Lynch's Mulholland Falls - which lacks chapters - did get stuck and I had to fast forward about 3 times through the first half of the movie trying to skip the glitch) The idea that someone will sift through the chapter headings to skip "unfamiliar" scenes seems very unlikely.

I concede the point that some commentaries are bad, actors comments especially. But it varies. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton's commentary on Fight Club is very interesting and thoughtful.

And then there's the title - "Everyone's a Film Geek Now." Given the meat of the article, one can only conclude that he thinks this is a bad thing.

posted by: Chris Kerstiens on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM [permalink]

The Onion has occasionally reviewed the commentary tracks of DVDs of terrible movies as The Commentary Tracks of the Damned and The Curse of the CTotD.

posted by: ben wolfson on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM [permalink]

I've all but stopped buying DVDs since the advent of Netflix. The extras are nice, but after the superior video and audio quality, the next best thing about DVDs, by my lights, is that they are small, light and sturdy enough to send throught the mail at nominal cost.

posted by: Todd Bass on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM [permalink]

Funny. I thought that was Jet Li's second best film.

posted by: Cobb on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM [permalink]

Three things I dislike about DVDs:

a. alternative endings/sections. I thought you hired a director to bring to life a vision of the work, not play it safe by throwing a bunch of stuff on the wall for the viewer to pick from. Quantity != Qaulity.

b. 'bonus bits' If the work needs more bits to explain or illuminate stuff than it was incomplete on it's initial release. And yet, I was expected to pay for this flawed work first time around and now I'm expected to be eternally grateful (and willing to cough up some more) for this new truckload of stuff that didn't make it into the first cut.

c. explanatories from the notables. If they're needed than the work was flawed and frankly my dear, I don't care what they thought about the role, not enough to have to pay more for their questionable opinions.

Here's an idea, instead of filling disk space with unremarkable filler, how about, oh, I don't know, more movie? (*NOT* alternative this or parallel that) A DVD version isn't necessarily to be limited by the 90 minute movie paradigm (we can put the bloody thing on hold while we go to the bathroom). Another alternative would be to leave the unused space blank.

posted by: JSAllison on 08.17.03 at 10:47 AM [permalink]

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