Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on May 31, 2015
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder.
What it boils down to is this: sometimes things can get a bit raw in the recording studio when people are brought back together to provide a commentary track to a film they once worked on together. The film can become a kind of crime scene with actors, writers, directors being the unusual suspects subpoenaed by the court of public opinion to discuss who did what and when. Or maybe the commentary track goes off the rails in unexpected ways because the recording studio has a well-stocked bar. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell certainly seemed to hit the booze pretty hard while they were doing the commentary track for The Thing. Similarly, Trey Parker and Matt Stone get so pickled while discussing Cannibal, the Musical, that certain things are said that reveal Parker was still pretty sore about catching his fiance cheating on him with a ballet dancer – even though that was many years in the past.
With the aforementioned in mind, I asked Kirk if there were some commentary tracks that he wished existed for titles coming up on TCM this June. Below are his three picks:
Boulder Weekly film critic Michael Casey looked at the June TCM lineup and put in his picks:
With tongue firmly in cheek, I take my turn:
Greed (1924). Commentary track by director Erich von Stroheim and MGM producer Irving Thalberg. Stroheim invites Thalberg to talk extensively about his decision to cut the director’s eight-hour-long masterpiece down to two-and-a-half-hours. Stroheim seems surprisingly generous in yielding so completely to Thalberg that it’s not a conversation at all. It becomes a monologue. Thalberg fills the entire two-and-a-half available hours with his version of events, or so he thinks. In actuality, the moment Thalberg leaves the recording studio Stroheim cuts down Thalberg’s monologue to 15 minutes of him complaining about communism and Norma Shearer.
Lady in the Lake (1947). Director Robert Montgomery, who also stars as Phillip Marlowe in this unique film noir that adopts the first-person subjective camera viewpoint, invites a dozen cast and crew members to share their experience of working on his ground-breaking film. Sadly, his experiment in the use of a subjective microphone in which only uncredited “party guest” Charles Bradstreet gets to be heard results in giving listeners some lame trivia about Abbott and Costello and leaves all other participants wondering why their microphones didn’t work.
Brainstorm (1983). Director Douglas Trumball revisits his science-fiction drama involving a machine that allows the user the record his experiences in such a full and complete manner that the next person using the device experiences the exact same thing. The hyper-reality experience of the Brainstorm machine was illustrated by sequences shot in Super Panavision 65mm with the picture widening substantially with roaring surround sound, while the majority of “reality” cuts back down to a thinner 35mm picture and no surround. Not surprisingly, Trumball feels it’s only appropriate that his commentary track should be done in full Quadrophonic surround-sound. Christopher Walken gets relegated to mono, and Louise Fletcher can faintly be heard through the subwoofer. The overall swirling auditory experience is confusing, but quite interesting, except during the sad parts whenever Natalie Wood is onscreen and everyone goes silent.
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