R.I.P. DVD commentaries, 1997 - 2016(ish)

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The Independent Culture

There’s little to miss about the DVD. Not their propensity to make the picture shudder because you scratched the disc by lazily leaving it out of the case on top of the player, not the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ pre-film piracy warnings and certainly not the home screen menu music, that would go round in circles ad delirium when you left it on and passed out.

Streaming is undoubtedly an improvement, in spite of the mania of buffering, but there is one thing I sorely miss now that use of them has all but dried up: the DVD commentary.

I’m not going to pretend I’d listen to every single one, not even the most hardened cinephile could hack that, but for certain films they were absolute magic.

Their appeal was twofold and polar. On one hand, they were incredibly relaxing - the sort of thing you could stick on in the background while trying to fall asleep, the monotone voice of the director, who was probably tired too having finally finished the edit, having a pleasing, soporific effect.

On the other, for the right film, they were completely fascinating. They would divulge anecdotes cast and crew wouldn’t be brave enough to admit in something as public as an interview, offer insights into anxieties over how scenes would play out, explain how and why some scenes were cut and, for aspiring filmmakers, serve up some incredibly useful tips and cinematic considerations.

Running the full 90 minutes+, they had a depth that not even the lengthiest director Q&A interviews could provide, and, walking through the film, the director could make specific observations too awkward to recall outside of a watch-through.

Best of all, they were oddly intimate. You imagined them to be recorded late at night, and they put you there in the editing room with the director, who would casually chat to you about the film long after everyone else had left the building.

The crazy thing is there is no reason they should be a thing of the past. Selecting a commentary could be as simple as selecting subtitles. Can you hear me, Netflix?

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