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Friday, June 7, 2002

You wouldn't think that after what I said about Joy Ride on Monday I'd still have the DVD hanging around on Friday night. Didn't I say I was going to return it for something better? Yeah, but instead I watched it four times this week. The DVD has three commentary tracks, and I felt compelled to watch all of them.

Now that I've done that, I've discovered a whole new way to appreciate movies. According to this method, you have to watch the movie once through, so you know what it's about and what there is to like and dislike about it from your own point of view. Mostly, you have to watch the movie in order to enjoy the commentary, which is really the point of the method.

Something different comes out of each commentary, and in the process of watching them all I got a little more out of the movie itself each time. It's still not my favorite film, but seeing what went into making it gives me a better appreciation of the experience.

Still, since I've given myself over to my new theory of movie watching, the process has become more important than the product. I'm not sure if that's the case for the filmmakers, but I think it is for a lot of artists. In fact, I believe the product suffers if the process isn't the main point for the creator. If not the whole point.

In the actors' commentary, I learned some of the details about the experience of being in a movie. Steve Zahn relived the shooting with us as he recorded his track, and it was a kick to know how much fun he had. I think it shows in his performance, too.

The director's commentary is full of details about the creative process, and you get inside his head as he sets up scenes, chooses locations and coaches actors. He also comments on the alternate endings and deleted scenes, so you know why they were changed or dropped.

Listening to the writers, J.J. Abrams and Clay Tarver, is a lot like sitting around watching this movie with them, and letting them riff on whatever comes to their minds. The story started with them, of course, so they've lived with it longer than anyone else. Plus, they're funny guys who don't take themselves too seriously. You hear about some of the scenes they wrote that got edited out, or changed, or never shot in the first place. They even point out some of the holes in their own plot.

In a scary movie, the commentary track can make up for not seeing the film in a theater, where the group experience makes the fear factor more intense. That's why I liked the writers' track so much, because they play off each other.

Besides, once I got into the rhythm of having everything I saw on screen parsed and joked about, I joined in the commentary. "That's a cool shot," I'd say to the TV. "Why doesn't someone mention what a cool shot that is?"

From there I moved on to commenting on my own life. After one viewing of the movie I went to the kitchen and washed dishes, and I pointed out to my nonexistent audience the chip on a plate, so that I could explain to them just how it happened. (I think I had to make something up, because I couldn't remember the truth.)

Anyway, four times through Joy Ride is enough for now, although you do develop a certain affection for a movie you see that many times. I'll mail the disc back to Netflix tomorrow and see what they send me next. I've top-loaded my rental queue with DVDs that they've listed as having a "very long wait," so if I time it right I might get one of those. Otherwise, I'll still have something fairly high on the list by this time next week.

The other disc I'm mailing back tomorrow is La Bohème, recorded for Australian television in 1993 by the film director Baz Luhrmann. He's bringing a new version to Broadway next year, and I have tickets to see that version in San Francisco this October.

I've never been an opera buff. In fact, I've never been to an opera at all, so I needed at least a little background before seeing it on stage. But something happened that I didn't expect. I really liked it, and I wanted to see and hear more. I immediately checked the fall class schedule at the junior college to see if they offered something like "opera appreciation." They don't.

I do have a mail order catalog that sells audio and video courses in various subjects, including math and history as well as the arts. One of these courses is "How to Listen to and Understand Opera," and I'm seriously thinking of buying it. Maybe I will.

Liking the music didn't surprise me at all. I have some recordings, not of full operas but of singers doing various selections. The subtitles helped me follow the story of La Bohème, but they were a little distracting at the same time. I found myself trying to match up the English words written on the screen with the Italian being sung.

This is difficult, not to mention foolish, because I don't speak or understand Italian at all. But I think after watching it this way once, I can forget about the words and follow the story. Most of all I can listen to the soaring music, which is really the whole point.

oh deer

The little deer, just outside my bedroom window. (Same rose from Tuesday's entry at upper right.)

I know I'm showing my own cultural naïveté here, but I was never exposed to opera or any other "serious" music as a kid. I took music appreciation in college and learned what I like (Haydn's string quartets) and what I don't like (anything after 1900). But it was just one semester more than thirty years ago, so I know I have a lot to learn. That's what makes it fun, though. I haven't been this excited about anything since I discovered curling.

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All the best wishes to Melissa and Greg, who are getting married tomorrow.

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Recent recommendations can always be found on the links page.

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Two years ago: A Good Soaking
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