« Working Title | Main | Stackolee »

February 21, 2007

Better Living Through Commentary Tracks

Continuing the strand of 2006 SXSW films to play at the Pioneer Theater in New York, Michael Tully's Cocaine Angel begins it engagement this evening. The film (which I first wrote about here) is a grimy little downward spiral that I'm looking forward to revisiting on the eminent DVD; but anyone in the Manhattan area, though, would do well to check it out on the big screen (my mom's going to New York in a few days; maybe I can convince her to give it a shot).

* * *

Yesterday I turned on the Duplass Brothers' commentary track on The Puffy Chair (which was released on DVD last week), and while I listened I put together a new bookshelf. This was one of those shelves that you buy at a store ready to be assembled, and I needed it because my books and DVDs were forming a tectonic crust on my floor. Now, I don't have any illusions about being a handyman; I'm okay at making things from scratch, but when it comes to following instructions and putting together prefabricated items, I'm actually pretty retarded. I usually give up halfway through, completely at a loss, convinced that whatever I'm trying to build has been manufactured improperly. My bed, my desk, my desk chair - all disasters! True to form, my new shelf took a turn in that direction, too, at about the point in The Puffy Chair where the fraternal unit plus one tried to swindle their way into a hotel room. As Jay Duplass was explaining how a somewhat revealing shot from this scene nearly landed them a restricted red-band trailer, I gently guided the various pegs into their corresponding chipboard orifices, hoping that of this union a beautiful cherry wood chattel would be born. But no, a complication as cruel and illogical as any MPAA ruling slammed against my hopes head on; the receptacles for the screws seemed to be too shallow, and the perpendicular conjunction of sideboards and slats refused to flush.

I tried my favorite quick fix - battery by mallet - and when that didn't work, I decided it was time to give up. But as was I looking at the malformed piece of furniture on the floor and listening to the charming and jovial and somehow soothing commentary issuing from the speakers (I think it was during the scene where the titular chair is upholstered under extreme duress) something clicked. And then a great many things clicked, one after the other, because I'd realized that the silver sockets on the slats needed to be rotated in a certain direction if they were to accept the full length of the sideboard screws into their steely interiors. Within a matter of minutes, the disjointed parts had become a glorious whole - a rather shaky hole, because I hadn't yet realized that those same sockets needed to be rotated back in the opposite direction to lock the various pieces together, but that was beside the point. As the Duplass Brothers talked about the serendipity with which they arrived at that bittersweet ending to their film, I pushed the shelf upright and looked at it in all its freestanding glory. I'd done it. And I didn't even have to ask my brother for help.

Then it was time to clear out some space for the shelf next to my entertainment center - no small task itself! I decided this would be a good time to listen to the commentary track on Andrew Bujalski's Mutual Appreciation, which also came out on DVD last week. But perhaps that's a story best saved for another day.

Posted by David Lowery at February 21, 2007 10:33 AM


I usually give up halfway through, completely at a loss, convinced that whatever I'm trying to build has been manufactured improperly. My bed, my desk, my desk chair - all disasters!

This is interesting to me because I'm exactly the same way (the phrase "convinced whatever I'm trying to build has been manufactured improperly" describes my first explanation for every failure).

Now I've always assumed that it was for this same reason that I'm far more interested in writing about movies than in making them--that my brain is wired for contemplation rather than construction. I'm questioning this assumption all of a sudden...

Posted by: AndyHorbal at February 21, 2007 12:08 PM

There's something about the relationship between making films and writing about them that I haven't quite reconciled yet; but as it is, I'm drawn more towards making films not because of any degree of technical acumen on my part, but because that's the form my thought processes naturally seems to fit into. In that sense, writing about film is a bit of a chore; an enjoyable chore that, like going jogging or doing areobics, leaves me feeling satisfied and all the better for having done it, but one that's a bit of a strain and takes a bit of working up towards. I envy people that can pour out their ideas into words at such rapid rates!

Posted by: Ghostboy at February 21, 2007 9:15 PM

A great little story, thank you very much. It could've been a short film actually. A fun and somewhat allegorical read...!

Posted by: Karsten at February 22, 2007 5:38 AM

thanks for the plug, David, and the inspiring tale!

you flying in for SATANTANGO on Saturday at 3? my ticket has already been bought. i can't wait!!!

Posted by: tully at February 22, 2007 12:27 PM

Damn, I wish I was. I'm anxious to see it again. BTW, I'm extremely jealous that you got to see Lake Of Fire. I'm glad ThinkFilm just announced they've picked it up...I was afraid it was going to languish in controversial obscurity.

Posted by: Ghostboy at February 22, 2007 12:46 PM

Hey, will listening to commentary tracks get my laundry done?!

Y'know, I've NEVER listened to a commentary track. Now I'm seriously beginning to think that it's the only way to get my act together.

Posted by: Maya at February 23, 2007 12:09 AM

They're hit and miss, and I actually admire directors who don't do them - but at the same time, the good ones can by a joy to listen to, and educational to boot. Richard Linklater's, Steven Soderbergh's and Paul Thomas Anderson's are generally my favorites (although Anderson has stopped doing them as his films have matured). I actually think Soderbergh's Schizopolis is a better film with the commentary track on.

I also like commentaries that aren't from the director. The more academic commentaries on a lot of Criterion discs - from the likes of Peter Cowie, among others - serve as nice primers to a directors' work. And on the Mutual Appreciation DVD I mentioned above, the parents of the cast and crew provide the commentary. It's a blast.

Posted by: Ghostboy at February 23, 2007 1:08 AM

Those are great recommendations. I'll keep them in mind when I'm thinking about putting together a new bookshelf.

Posted by: Maya at February 24, 2007 2:26 AM