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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:41 am 

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I have recently listened to Wim Wender's commentary on The Scarlet Letter. Ok, the film is pretty bad, but its commentary track is really entertaining: Wenders clearly admits that was the wrong picture to shoot, and then chronicle all the (incredible) production disasters they had. For example, they were supposed to shoot in America, but a few weeks before starting production they had to replace US with a spaghetti-western setting in Spain...


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:51 am 
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feihong wrote:
Jimagine Bey with Donnie. But it was not to be.

Although on the US disc of "Kill Zone" (aka "S.P.L.") has commentary by Logan and Yen together on disc 2 on the featurettes.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:09 am 
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That's cool. Is the commentary good? I imagine Donnie has mellowed out in recent years, though I also get the impression that he is working really hard to appear calm, cool and collected.

There are very few director commentaries I really like. Clarence Fok on the HKL disc of Naked Killer is fun, mostly because he realizes while he's watching that the print appears to be uncut--even more uncut that the version he currently owns. His uninhibited joy at watching his own movie reminds me of friends I have had who hail from Hong Kong. My other favorite is Paul Annett's commentary on the Dark Sky disc of The Beast Must Die. Early on in the commentary Annett admits that he still remains mystified as to what star Calvin Lockhart thought he was doing playing the role the way he did. I also like Larry Cohen's commentaries on Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem--both give you a really vivid idea of what it was like to work for AIP in those days. Jack Hill has a modest commentary on The Big Bird Cage that does the trick--by which I mean you come out of it feeling like Jack Hill is a pretty nice guy. The commentary didn't leave me too edified.

I have been listening a lot to the commentary on the Criterion disc of M, and Christian Braad Thomsen's commentary on Lola is extremely comprehensive. Late in the film Thomsen starts rifling at lightning speed through a synopsis of Fassbinder's achievements with many of his other films. If Lola is somehow your first Fassbinder film, Thomsen will prep you for the full course and tell you what you should watch next. It's a fascinating commentary that tells you a great deal about how Fassbinder worked, and how the films work.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:26 pm 
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feihong wrote:
Jasper Sharp's commentaries on "Wild Life" and "An Obsession" are just packed with information on a whole era of Japanese filmmaking and everyone in it. It made me wish and hope an edition of "Eureka" might come out one day with a Jasper Sharp commentary. A blu-ray. One day. At least, it's my dream (actually, "Wild Life" and "An Obsession" also desperately need some kind of upgrade).

This isn't a commentary but Jasper Sharp is currently doing a sterling job providing liner notes for the Synapse/Impulse Films series of 50 Roman Porno films, something which makes a great companion to Sharp's Behind The Pink Curtain book (By the way, anyone who enjoyed the Eclipse set of Koreyoshi Kurahawa films may want to compare those films with what his brother Koretsugu Kurahawa was doing in Eros School: Feels So Good!)

And Sharp's latest book The Historical Dictionary of Japanese Cinema, has also just come out.

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One of the great disasters in audio commentary has to be HKL's commentary for Once Upon a Time in China. Bey Logan tries pretty hard to keep things positive, but he's saddled with one of the caucasian bit players from the picture, who not only hates the film, but actually hates narrative film in general (he has become a documentarian in the intervening years). The jackass has no memories of making the film that he can be cajoled into sharing, and he despises Hong Kong narrative film with a special flat negativity that seems vaguely racist in its bent. He seems to equate what he views as the "cheapness" of Hong Kong film productions with something he feels he has gleaned from Hong Kong culture in general. The guy comes across at the least ethnocentric, a ridiculous downer, and he even seems to have been a somewhat unwilling participant in the film--at least in his memories. The free-wheeling, high-spirited movie on display (actually one of the least "cheap-looking" Hong Kong productions ever) seems to have nothing but a negative impact on this guy. Bey tries to be cool, but the jerk hogs the mike and never lets Bey properly defend the movie. The saddest bit is at the end, when Bey announces that he'll be doing commentary on Once Upon a Time in China II with his pal Donnie Yen. I put in the sequel right away, only to discover that Bey was talking all by his lonesome the entire time. Oh, what could have been! Bey and Edison Chen were hilarious together; Bey with Cheng Pei-Pei--twice--was fascinating; imagine Bey with Donnie. But it was not to be.


The Once Upon A Time In China commentary is absolutely awful for such a great film. Logan piles on the usual fascinating information but Mark King really destroys it with his utter lack of interest and unconcealed disdain for the film. Logan valiantly tries to keep asking King about his experiences and including him in the conversation throughout but he is on a hiding to nothing there! Luckily the commentaries for the next two films, where Logan goes solo, are far better.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 3:45 pm 
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feihong wrote:
There are very few director commentaries I really like.

David Fincher consistently delivers good commentaries, and the 'making ofs' for his films are also head and shoulders above those of most other people. They're primarily technical, but he's so obsessive in that regard that the information is uncommonly detailed and informative. In some cases, the extras are better than the films themselves.

I also really enjoyed Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave commentary - much more than the film, actually - since he basically turns it into an "okay kids, here's how you can make a decent-looking film for under a million" workshop. Again, it's a director's commentary that's effective because it's focussed on the nuts and bolts of production.

I also remember being very impressed with Roy Andersson's commentary on A Swedish Love Story, but at this remove I can't remember whether that was for the content or for the fact that they'd bothered to provide it with English subtitles!


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:07 pm 
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Fincher, Gilliam, Soderberg, Scorsese, Michael Mann, Cronenberg, Coppola and del Toro as I mentioned all come to mind as directors whose commentaries are always worth a listen. Also I think I like Robert Rodriguez's commentaries and extras and so forth more than I actually like his movies.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:26 pm 
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Peter Greenaway's commentaries on the BFI discs of The Draughtsman's Contract and A Zed & Two Noughts are both superb - chockful of detail, covering all the angles and barely pausing for breath. Not sure if he's recorded any others.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:19 pm 
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I enjoyed Tim Lucas's commentary for Black Sunday, mainly because the movie itself provides him several opportunities to unpack Bava's ingenious set designs and shot compositions, usually put together with dioramic sleight of hand as the result of a low budget. Lucas can occasionally indulge in too many mini-biographies along the way: "The carriage driver we see here for several seconds is Italian character actor _____, born in ___, who was also in the films _______, ________, and ________." But he was so immersed in Bava's life on his way to producing the massive tome All the Colors of the Dark, he can't help but provide a rich background for this film.

ADDITION: I should say that Lucas's instinct to provide biographies comes from a really, really, really good place: the man is intent on honoring artists who would otherwise be forgotten, even on IMDB. He has always been intent on preserving legacies.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:27 pm 
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gcgiles1dollarbin wrote:
I enjoyed Tim Lucas's commentary for Black Sunday, mainly because the movie itself provides him several opportunities to unpack Bava's ingenious set designs and shot compositions, usually put together with dioramic sleight of hand as the result of a low budget. Lucas can occasionally indulge in too many mini-biographies along the way: "The carriage driver we see here for several seconds is Italian character actor _____, born in ___, who was also in the films _______, ________, and ________." But he was so immersed in Bava's life on his way to producing the massive tome All the Colors of the Dark, he can't help but provide a rich background for this film.

Never having had the chance to look at Lucas' book, I loved hearing his commentaries, especially on Black Sunday and Lisa and the Devil--and just for the reasons you describe. Lucas' unpacking of how the carriage ride was captured in kind of mind-boggling, but his observing little details of story and character are interesting, too. I regret not being able to hear his commentary on Kill, Baby, Kill--a movie just as worthy of elucidation as the other two. I do wish that Lucas was willing to go further with his analysis of Bava--but Lucas does not come across as having very deep intellectual concerns on any of the commentaries. It is fascinating to hear about the ways in which many of the scenes and images from Lisa and the Devil seem to come from Bava's own background and life, but what does that mean for the film itself? Lucas actually refuses to draw any possible conclusions, and so in ways I find his commentaries a little frustrating. But I do think the wealth of biographical information Lucas brings to the table makes up for those limitations.

colinr0380 wrote:
The Once Upon A Time In China commentary is absolutely awful for such a great film. Logan piles on the usual fascinating information but Mark King really destroys it with his utter lack of interest and unconcealed disdain for the film. Logan valiantly tries to keep asking King about his experiences and including him in the conversation throughout but he is on a hiding to nothing there! Luckily the commentaries for the next two films, where Logan goes solo, are far better.

This. This is just so right. Every time I re-watch the film now, and I see King come on the screen, I find myself gritting my teeth until he is off-screen again. I can no longer separate the character from the guy who plays him, who, thanks to that audio commentary, I now know to be a grade-A *sshole.

I am not a fan of Fincher commentaries so much, which is not to say that they aren't quite illuminating. But I think what they reveal is the shallowness of Fincher's thinking. He's earnest, and he comes across as very superficially quick-witted...but the films and the commentaries both show the level at which Fincher draws the line, and stops analyzing his own creative material. My feeling is that Fincher aspires to make movies the way Alan Pakula did in the 70s, but that he finds the oppressive paranoia and neuroses in those movies glamorous and desirable, and he looks to portray scenes of menace and encroaching darkness because it looks fabulous, rather than because those qualities reflect his own mindset. On his commentaries Fincher comes across as grand in his ambitions, but also as a relatively uncomplicated person: one who wants to appear smart because it's attractive, and wants to be dark because it's cool. Whereas I don't think Pakula enjoyed being a paranoid neurotic. Nor could Pakula fail to have a genuine take on the travails of his place and his era. Fincher is substantially different than this in that, though he also wants to deal with modern issues of substance, his films never reveal a take, a driving direction and motivation, any ideas about people or interest in what happens to them. Both Pakula's films and Fincher's are precisely controlled, but only Pakula manages to modulate his various elements without disrupting that sense of control and direction. Fincher on the other hand often derails his films because a) he's not as interested in story and structure as he is in the look and the various sensational scenes and elements of his films, b) he applies his signature style unremittingly to material that doesn't necessarily merit that approach. The Social Network, for instance, is nearly as dark and sinuous-looking a movie as The Game--should it be? What is the darkness encroaching on all sides of the frame meant to represent in the story of an autistic savant who develops a very popular social-media website?

Fincher never mentions things like this in his commentaries, and I think it reveals that he doesn't notice the need to treat different events with a different level of depth or sensitivity. In fact, his commentaries to me reveal a guy anxious for public praise and success, but also a person who is satisfied, or satiated, once that public acknowledgement is his. The world loves the films of David Fincher, and that is fine with him. It is enough. But it leaves him nowhere near as good a filmmaker as his idol, Pakula--and I don't think Fincher sees this. That's the kind of thing that rubs me wrong about listening to Fincher for 2 1/2 hours at a stretch.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:44 pm 
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Scorsese's ancient Taxi Driver LD commentary, finally available again on the new Blu-ray, is still one of the best. For my money, Walter Murch's commentary on The Conversation is better than Coppola's. Murch was around for and privy to more than just post production picture and sound editing. He recalls details about locations, costumes and other aspects of the scripting and shooting, etc., that Coppola doesn't. Somebody above mentioned Garrett Brown on The Shining, which is another solid one by a technical collaborator and he has a few Kubrick stories I've never heard anywhere else. And what about Werner Herzog, whose commentaries can be as madly engaging as his films, even when they're for some of his lesser works.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:26 pm 
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feihong wrote:
The Social Network, for instance, is nearly as dark and sinuous-looking a movie as The Game--should it be? What is the darkness encroaching on all sides of the frame meant to represent in the story of an autistic savant who develops a very popular social-media website?

Well, yes, in that they're both fundamentally about the alienating effects of class and capital. I think most of Fincher's movies have a similar drive because he's a filmmaker who tends to focus on a consistent set of themes and types of people- bourgeois/capitalist alienation (Fight Club, The Game, The Social Network), noirish discontent-with-the-rotten-world (Dragon Tattoo, Seven, Fight Club again) and paranoia and obsession (Zodiac, Panic Room, The Game again.) His palate changes from movie to movie- Fight Club, for all its darkness, comes close to being an outright comedy, Zodiac is almost as much a city-symphony film as anything else, Panic Room is a totally stripped down genre exercise- but it makes sense that his aesthetics have a lot in common throughout.

What his commentaries clarify for me, as much as Michael Mann's do, is the immense amount of thought and preparation that go into the most minute details of his work- and I think one of the reasons I like his cinema so much is that his worlds always feel immaculately designed and calibrated. I don't really get the feeling that he's especially concerned about praise and success- he always does his commentaries before the films come out, as far as I know, so their reception doesn't enter into them- and I feel as though he is as much influenced by and interested in someone like Roman Polanski (who similarly almost always has a feeling of darkness about to burst forth in his work, regardless of subject) as he is by Pakula.


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:34 pm 
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Tony Rayns' Mouchette commentary. Don't remember why. I listened to Cowie's Country Priest commentary one day, then Rayns' the next, and I remember being impressed for some reason.

I was worried that Zulawski's commentaries would be boring behind-the-scenes stories, but they're interesting and entertaining. So far. Only heard two.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:06 am 
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I love the critics commentaries over the Matrix films - they're sometimes a bit harsh and off the mark (they praise the scene in the restaurant in Reloaded where the gorgeous taste of a cake unsubtly causes a female patron to have an explosive orgasm!) but they feel very engaged with talking about what they feel works and doesn't about the series. After talking about the Once Upon A Time In China commentary featuring someone who hates the film and proceeds to ruin the commentary track, the commentaries here are great examples of commentators having real problems with some of the material that they are discussing (the rave scene in Reloaded and endless attack on Zion in Revolutions in particular!) but making their discussion of what they feel to be the flaws interesting, entertaining and amusing!

I like the philosopher commentaries too, especially when they start talking about some of the ideas underpinning the series in detail (which is where the critics sometimes snicker because they are approaching more from the perspective of how those ideas aren't really integrating well into the structure of the film), but they do have the tendency to get all "Hell, yeah! This is the coolest thing I've ever seen!" about the action scenes. That's endearing and understandable but I think I could have had that response on my own!

Both of those tracks complement each other to a great extent though, and it is fascinating to see different perspectives and knowledge brought to bear on what are essentially exactly the same series of films. I'd really like the Wachowskis to do that again some time.

While we are talking about David Fincher films, the commentary on Panic Room between screenwriter David Koepp and 'special guest' William Goldman is fantastic. They talk about writing a script, shopping it around the studios ("two studios said that they were interested, and one wasn't really interested but said they were", "that's all you need!"); the original idea that the camera would never leave the house for the entire film (with the establishing New York location shot being revealed to be a framed picture on one of the walls) with the limitations that would cause; the original casting of Nicole Kidman before she had an accident that meant she couldn't run up stairs (she still appears, as a voice only, as the new mistress on the other end of the telephone) and the quick replacement casting of Jodie Foster while she was pregnant; whether it is a good idea for the writer to be present on the set or not; the experience Koepp had as a writer and then wanting to move to directing (he'd just done Stir of Echoes around the time of the commentary and they contrast moving from writing a blockbuster such as Spider-Man to directing a much smaller scaled film); and the technical mechanics of getting the characters into their correct locations in such a technical film.

It also climaxes with Goldman having an unfocused mini-rant about Gigli before trailing off into despairing silence. Which is probably the best response to any conversation about Gigli!


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 11:00 am 
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colinr0380 wrote:
After talking about the Once Upon A Time In China commentary featuring someone who hates the film and proceeds to ruin the commentary track, the commentaries here are great examples of commentators having real problems with some of the material that they are discussing (the rave scene in Reloaded and endless attack on Zion in Revolutions in particular!) but making their discussion of what they feel to be the flaws interesting, entertaining and amusing!

Herschell Gordon Lewis's commentaries are huge fun for the same reason - he's so acutely aware of his films' artistic shortcomings that he even refers to one of them (The Gore Gore Girls) being "excreted" rather than released, but better that than him unconvincingly claiming that they're misunderstood masterpieces.

John Waters' commentaries are often more entertaining than the underlying films, which isn't too surprising - I've always regarded Waters as a first-rate raconteur and a second-rate filmmaker, and completely agree with Kim Newman when he said that Waters and Russ Meyer should have collaborated, as their strengths and weaknesses are almost perfectly opposed.


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PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2012 8:24 pm 
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I don't know about that - Russ Meyer never seemed to do anything of the calibre of (the original) Hairspray or Cry Baby, let alone Female Trouble or Polyester. And in terms of 'second rate' films, I'd much rather see the lunatic opening of Desperate Living than the entirety of something like The Help - it also seems more insightful about people who employ servants in its own hysterical way!


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 2:27 am 
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I have to agree with Colin. Waters certainly plays with trash and as trash, but that doesn't take away from his majesty and use of the grotesque for political gags. If anything I think he is closest to someone like Paul Morrissey or John Milius even if his politics are very different from those two.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2012 4:25 pm 
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colinr0380 wrote:
I don't know about that - Russ Meyer never seemed to do anything of the calibre of (the original) Hairspray or Cry Baby, let alone Female Trouble or Polyester.

Newman's point was that Waters has great ideas but is a terrible director (even when he has a halfway decent budget, his work still somehow feels like a school panto), while Meyer is one of the most consistently inventive and resourceful filmmakers ever to work in low-budget exploitation, but essentially kept repeating himself to the point of self-parody.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 4:16 am 
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matrixschmatrix wrote:
Fincher, Gilliam, Soderberg, Scorsese, Michael Mann, Cronenberg, Coppola and del Toro as I mentioned all come to mind as directors whose commentaries are always worth a listen. Also I think I like Robert Rodriguez's commentaries and extras and so forth more than I actually like his movies.


Good list of directors who give good commentaries.

Tougher list to come up with: actor commentaries. I really only have one that comes to mind: Giamatti and Haden Church on Sideways. I've actually gone back and listened to that one more than once. Hilarious.

Ok ok, there's the Spinal Tap commentary as well (on the non-Criterion, as I haven't heard the Criterion one if it differs).


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 4:20 am 

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Tim Lucas is doing a new KILL BABY KILL commentary for a forthcoming UK (or European) Blu-Ray of the movie. I think he mentioned FIVE DOLLS will also get its turn.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 4:27 am 
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skuhn8 wrote:
Ok ok, there's the Spinal Tap commentary as well (on the non-Criterion, as I haven't heard the Criterion one if it differs).

It does. The Criterion one is OK as a standard commentary (actually, there are two tracks if I remember rightly), but the non-Criterion one is the one to go for - it's like watching the film again for the first time.


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2012 8:17 am 

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I'm not a huge fan of Steven Soderbergh but his commentaries are usually interesting,especially the one for The Limey where screenwriter Lem Dobbs basically tells him
"you fucked up my script".


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2012 10:13 am 
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Re: Actor commentary

"Panic Room" commentary #2, with Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and Dwight Yoakam.
All 3 also have directing experiences themselves, so they are insightful not just only on their performances, but also directorial choices by Fincher, as well as humorous tidbits throughout.

"Dracula Prince Of Darkness" commentary with Christopher Lee, Suzan Farmer, Francis Matthews, Barbara Shelley.
They talk about the movie pretty minimally, they talk about Hammer Studios and horror in general, "Rasputin" being shot at the same time, Lee talks about Bram Stoker and his other portrayals of Dracula, and lots of random tidbits. Like old friends getting together and having a drink.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2012 11:42 am 
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John McTiernan has a few good ones, the Die Hard films he directed in particular. I wish Sony had let him do one for Last Action Hero. I really ought to dig back into my Simpsons DVDs and see if those hold up any at all. One story in particular from the first season I still remember is Matt Groening trying to explain what the word "shit" means to one of their foreign animators, in relation to some of the early production problems with the show.


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2012 12:09 pm 
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Speaking of Simpsons, the early (pre-cancellation) Futurama commentaries are all awesome. Many of them are just as funny as the show itself. I've only heard a few of the recent seasons' commentaries, and while they were still decent they were nowhere near the level of hilarity contained on many of the earlier ones.


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PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2012 6:11 am 
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Shawn Ryan has been doing a commentary on Michael Bay's commentary of Bad Boys on Twitter. Funny stuff.


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