Sunday, October 30, 2011

CTFU: Super Mega Edition (Part Eight) – Good and Bad Commentary Tracks

by Chris McGinty (According To Whim .com)

I seem to have taken a week long break from this, but the nice thing about that is that I’m seven weeks ahead right now, because I haven’t even posted Part One yet. So let’s get back to the brainstorm file that is producing all the fuel for this. Here is the next entry:

[10. Why Just Review It?

One thing I’ve been thinking about is that some of my better posts come from watching a movie, reading a book, playing a game, listening to an album, etc. But usually those posts aren’t straight out reviews. It’s usually that something clicks into my head, some concept, or some memory. I haven’t specifically reviewed “If Chins Could Kill,” but I’ve got a lot of mileage, both on blog and otherwise, from reading it.]

I also haven’t specifically finished reading “If Chins Could Kill.” I stopped at the chapter about “The Quick and the Dead” so I could watch it, and all my normal go-to places for movies haven’t worked. I might try some gosubs next. I should probably just finish reading the book, but oh well.

I thought of this because Nathan and I seem to default to reviews sometimes when we have no other topics to discuss. This has been a real issue this year. I took on a lot of work hours, and so we aren’t doing a whole lot of project stuff. When we’re doing project stuff, we tend to have topics to write about. I’m not sure if we would have accomplished a whole lot if I wasn’t working. We had goals and such, but we always have goals. It doesn’t mean we follow them zealously.

I’ve noticed that when I have a topic that ties into the review, it makes it easier to write. The unfortunate thing about reviews is that I have an easier time complaining about something that was bad than I do explaining what was good. I could write those blurb reviews you see in magazines. I can’t write a full page review. If I have something to talk about relating to the subject of the review, I’m better off.

If I wrote a straight review about “Inception,” I would probably say something like, “Um, it was good. I was intrigued by it. Well acted. Well directed. Um, it was good.”

If I told you about how I had this sinking feeling in my gut the whole time I was watching it because of certain aspects of the storyline resembling certain aspects of a story I wrote in 2009, then I might have an interesting tale. My story was really nothing like “Inception.” Inception is probably a better story anyway. But then I could write an entire article about times that I’ve experience that moment of, “Oh shit. This is just like that thing I wrote.”

One example of this is from the days when Miguel was a musician. He and I had set out to form a band, and it didn’t really work out to well. Our friend, Brett, was our singer, and we wrote a few songs together. We wrote a song called “Flat,” which if I’m being honest was influenced by two songs. The first was “Aneurism” by Nirvana. I used the same two chords that I thought made up the song, but I played it differently. The second was “I Believe/All I Need to Know” by Duran Duran. The hook of the lyrics of “Flat” was, “All I need to know,” sang four times.

Years later, I was at Brett’s apartment. Miguel had long since dropped out of our music project, and I was just hanging out over there. He had recently bought a copy of Nirvana’s “Bleach” and I had not heard it yet. I put it on. We listened. “About a Girl” came on. It was weird. We were listening to “Flat” with a little better inflection on the guitar. It was the same chords played basically the same way. Sure it had bass and drums. Sure ours had Miguel’s other guitar line. Sure Cobain’s vocals sounded nothing like Brett’s, but my guitar part sounded just like “About a Girl.”

I commented about this to Brett. He said, “Oh, I thought that was where you got it.” I was like, “No, I never heard this before.” Soon after, they released “MTV Unplugged” and “About a Girl” became a radio hit. So much for sneaking it in under the radar.

By the way, there is a movie called “About a Boy.” It’s based on a novel by Nick Hornby. You should read the novel. “Um, it was good. I was intrigued by it. Well written. Well paced. Um, it was good.” The relevant point, I guess, is that the movie ends somewhat differently from the book. The book ends on the day that Kurdt Cobain shot himself. What I find interesting about it, is that it captures a very real thing for me. The first time that a celebrity died that was not only before his time, but was someone who I planned to listen to for years. It’s very weird how celebrity works in that respect. I never knew Kurdt Cobain, but everyone who listened to his work, knew a part of him. We knew that part based on our own interpretation of what we were hearing, but we knew something. The book version captured that very well.

See? I almost get more mileage out of explaining my own experience surrounding other people’s works than I would if I just said whether I liked it or not.

I suppose that there is another way of going about this. I sometimes write blog posts where I deal with a number of different subjects while not getting too deeply into any of them. The problem with that procedure is that I often do it as a means of pounding out a quick blog post when I need one to post. I find myself looking for interesting things to talk about. If I wrote those sort of small thoughts every day, and then later compiled the more interesting of the thoughts into a blog post I’d probably be better off. In that respect, I’d probably be better off writing blurb reviews of movies I watch that have no personal relevance to me, and insert them into those blog posts. Just a thought.

In fact, I watched a movie recently that was Gene Wilder’s first movie as a writer/director/actor. It was called “The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother.” Nathan suggested it to me. The movie was good, but it was scene by scene. Some of the scenes were very funny. Some of the scenes fell flat.

How do I make this personal? Well, I write about something that has bothered me for a while. Some commentary tracks suck, while some commentary tracks are great. The truth is that there is no true formula, but there are a couple guidelines that tend to be mostly true. I was looking forward to the commentary track that Gene Wilder did, but it didn’t really work for me. He didn’t have a lot to say.

Don’t Fly Solo – The commentary for Stephen King’s “Cat’s Eye,” done by the director, Lewis Teague, was pretty interesting, but it is one of the exceptions to the rule. Mostly, when you have one person doing a commentary track, they have trouble making it interesting. One person talking about a movie tends to have very little to say about the movie. In most cases, having three of four will not only give the commentators someone to reply to, but if everyone can talk for a half hour about the movie, the time will be filled. Unless you’re Robert Rodriguez, who does great commentaries, think twice before you do a solo commentary.

Discuss Making the Movie – It doesn’t matter if you tell stories about how the scene was done, or if you tell stories about life while making the movie, discuss the movie. Sometimes it might work to discuss other things, but I think Kevin Smith may be the only one who can get away with that. Even with him and his cohorts, I sometimes wish they would get back on the topic of the movie. This is why Robert Rodriguez can do a solo commentary. He discusses the production of his movies in great detail.

Be In the Same Room with the Other Commentators – Even worse for me than doing a solo commentary is a lot of people doing solo commentaries and then editing them together. Often times you still run into the same problem of solo commentaries which is that when no one discusses a scene, there is silence. In some ways, an addition to this rule would be to be in the same room with people you can have good conversations with. It’s probably hard not to get caught up in a movie, but it really sucks when people start watching because they have nothing to say to each other.

I think that’s probably all I have to say on that subject. I can always come back to it. That is all for this part. I will see you next time.

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