Thursday, February 14, 2008

Commentary Commentary: Trainspotting

So it turns out that this week's commentary isn't from a film as old as I'd like (it's a 90s flick, but let's not pretend that's old) but I blame that partly on the recent realization that, in spite of my fondness for many films of the1970s, there aren't too many of them on my DVD shelf at the moment. Perhaps that something I should be adding to my list of things to do in 2008 -- expand the eras covered in my film collection.

The Trainspotting 2-disc "Collector's Series" set features two commentaries, one with director Danny Boyle, and one featuring Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald, and actor Ewan McGregor. In the interest of attempting to ensure there was never a dull moment, we opted to go with the track involving more people.

Which, it turns out, is actually not a commentary track per se.

Most commentary tracks involve people sitting in front of a television, watching the film, and talking about the film as they watch it, so that they are commenting directly about what is currently on the screen. This almost gives the experience that you are sharing the room with these people, as they reminisce about the process of making the film. Trainspotting's commentary (which, apparently, was borrowed from the Criterion Collection Laserdisc of the film) is actually taken from a series of interviews conducted in 1996, and edited together in a way that gives the impression that they are, sort of, talking about what you're seeing on the screen. Even if they aren't.

Because of this format, while the track does provide insight and information on just about any and every phase of the production -- from finding the novel, to adapting the novel, to making the movie, to reactions to the movie -- it sounds, for the most part, like four people who aren't in the same room together. When one person is talking, one person talks until his train of thought is done, and then someone else talks for awhile about something different and not entirely related to what the previous person had been talking about.

Which is fine, I guess, as far as its ability to convey information to listener. The problem is that it's terribly fun.

One of the best parts of group commentaries is listening to the interaction *between* the participants in the commentary. Hearing them laugh together as they reminisce, hearing them occasionally talk over one another as one person starts a story and another finishes it, hearing them ask each other question. The Trainspotting commentary, for all the information it provides, is painfully dry. It could have, and probably should have, been a lot more interesting. I don't place the blame on Criterion, who originally put the commentary together for the laserdisc at a time when commentary tracks were a new thing, a time when they were likely still figuring out exactly what a commentary track should be. And I can't entirely blame those who put together this new DVD collection either, as they simply might have been unable to pull the original participants together for a brand new commentary. In fact, it may very well be that there is no one to blame here at all, but in the spirit of the film, I'll blame heroin.

Because, you know, drugs are bad.

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