Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More on DVD commentaries, and Polanski's baby dolls

I've written earlier about my love for DVD extras, especially audio commentaries by the people who worked on a film, or video introductions by enthusiasts. I don't get to see as many of these things as I'd like (given general lack of time and the fact that the priority, sadly, is to watch the actual film first, with its own soundtrack!), but when I do I’m reminded that well-put-together extras can be a real education for any movie buff. This is one reason why I prefer to buy DVDs from Palika Bazaar (or from the legit outlets when there's a generous sale on) rather than look for online streams.

Some enjoyable DVD experiences I've had in the last few days:

- watching Jacques Tati's magnificent Play Time with selected scene commentary by movie historian Philip Kemp, as well as a video introduction by Terry Jones, both of whom assure us that the only way to see - really see - Tati's grand 70 mm vision is on a big screen. And even then, Play Time is a movie that needs multiple viewings if you want to appreciate everything that's going on: there’s plenty of detail in nearly every frame, lots of long shots where different sets of characters can be seen doing different things. (I've seen it twice on a 25-inch screen; now I can't escape the feeling that I haven't really seen it at all.)

- A short Introduction by Orson Welles to D W Griffith's Intolerance (one of my prize acquisitions). Welles tells us in his deep, sardonic voice that “much too much literature is written on the subject of movies. And a lot of it has been written about me, as it's written about all sorts of people who don't deserve it, and they give me credit for innovations that I'm not responsible for...but the film you're going to watch now deserves all the credit possible...there's almost nothing in the entire vocabulary of cinema that you won't find in it”. I'm reminded of James Agee gushing that “to watch Griffith's work is like being witness to the beginning of melody, or the first conscious use of the lever or the wheel; the emergence, coordination, and first eloquence of language; the birth of an art.”

- An interview with director Mike Figgis about Godard's Weekend (a film that, incidentally, was made around the same time as Play Time and dealt with a similar theme - alienation in the modern world - though in a very, very different way). Also, audio commentary by critic David Sterritt, who has interesting things to say about the shooting of some of the film's key scenes, such as the lengthy, eye-popping shot of a traffic jam on a country road.

- On my DVD of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, there’s a commentary track featuring Polanski and Catherine Deneuve, who played the neurotic young Carol, plagued by nightmares and hallucinations in a London apartment. This isn't a case of the participants sitting together in a room watching the movie and talking to each other; Polanski's and Deneuve's observations were recorded separately, and they discuss different scenes. When it comes to the scene where Carol sits on a sofa with her nightdress bunched well over her knees while her middle-aged landlord looks down at her leeringly, this is what Deneuve has to say:
I think that's the image Roman had of Carol - like a Baby Doll, being like a little girl but not realising or not wanting to see that she had a body, that she could be sitting in a position that was normal to her but was indecent to men, and attractive to them at the same time. That's very much Roman...an image which mixes innocence with perversion. He has a great desire for showing very young women in love scenes because I think his impression of love is related to purity and virginity in a way. In all his films you find that image of the woman being very pure and romantic and naive, and the object of desire.
No, I’m not turning this into a simple game of Connect the Dots, given the Polanski-Geimer controversy - and besides, a lot has already been written about the nature of sexuality in Polanski’s films and how it connects with his private life. But I thought it was an interesting bit of business nevertheless. Also see this photograph of Polanski directing Deneuve in Repulsion.

[Some other DVD-related posts here, here and here. And earlier posts on two of my favourite Polanski movies: Macbeth and Fearless Vampire Killers]


  1. The comment from Catherine Deneuve reminds me of Carroll Baker in Elia Kazan's 'Baby Doll'. She is balika badhu to the recently deceased Karl Malden, & she spends most of the movie in the provocative poses that Deneuve describes. The reference to Baby Doll & Deneuve's character's name (Carol) makes me wonder if the earlier movie was an inspiration in some way. I am yet to see Repulsion, so can't comment on what the similarities would be (though both seem to have a strong sense of place - the apartment in Repulsion & a crumbling Mississippi house in Baby Doll, & a principal female protagonist with sexual hangups).

  2. Tipu: I saw only bits of Baby Doll, and a very long time ago at that - on Star Movies in the early 90s. Didn't really think of the two films as being similar, but maybe that's because they belong to such different genres. There could be something to that Carroll/Carol idea.

  3. No, the 2 movies are not similar at all, at least in story line. I was referring more to the portrayal (& characterization) of the 2 female principals.

  4. Try getting the Criterion Collection edition of 'The Battle of Algiers'. It has an illuminating set of extras (especially if you're a fan of the movie) and one real gem amongst them - interviews with 5 directors (Oliver Stone, Soderbergh, Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Julian Schnabel) about the film and the impact it has had on them

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  6. I was reading David Thomson's The Whole Equation in which he takes exception to Agee's eulogy of Griffith. He mentions directors - Louis Feuillade, Victor Sjostrom (the old man in Bergman's Wild Strawberries), Pastrone who were making feature length movies around the same time as Griffith.

    But their imdb pages suggest that none of them were as prolific as Griffith.

    I liked The Birth of a Nation, notwithstanding its length. The racist bits were more amusing than offensive. Better value for time than half the films released today.

  7. a fan apart: thanks for the tip - that sounds sumptuous.

    shrikanth: it isn't just a question of making feature-length movies, it's also what he achieved in terms of defining/refining movie grammar. But yes, in general I agree that Griffith (and Chaplin) are sometimes given too much credit relative to the other pioneers.