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THE MORNING BUZZ: Directors' Commentaries Can Be Interesting in the Right Hands

29 Jul, 2002 By: Stephanie Prange

Directors' commentaries have come under fire – often from directors themselves -- for their often rambling, pointless, self-serving nature. But this weekend I had a lazy afternoon to peruse Cameron Crowe's commentary for the Vanilla Sky disc and was reminded of the DVD feature's possibilities.

The Crowe commentary (with wife and music composer Nancy Wilson) is indeed casual (his kids come into the room during the recording and he calls cast members, including Tom Cruise, on the phone), but it manages to be interesting as well. It helps that Crowe is a writer, articulate and adept at analyzing his subject, and that the film itself is a puzzle (one of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, confessed he didn't fully understand the ending).

Crowe walks viewers through the film, letting them in on clues that show what is real and what is not in his dreamlike movie – yet he doesn't spoil the viewer's own interpretation. And, no doubt in deference to viewers like my esteemed colleague, he explains the varied interpretations of the ending, settling on the one he intended, but not knocking other views. Contrary to the fears of many directors, Crowe's commentary doesn't demystify his subject. Like a college professor, he offers possible interpretations, not pat answers. I don't know if Crowe worked off notes or merely used stream of consciousness, but he kept this jaded movie viewer interested.

My hope is that directors hone their commentaries further, to make them truly valuable to future filmmakers and viewers. One wonders what a commentary by Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks or Orson Welles would have added to their masterpieces. This particular DVD feature may not be for everyone -- many don't have the patience to sit through a film twice – but it will no doubt help directors polish their legacy for future generations.

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