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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Film: Gopnik Commentates on Commentary

Joel Schumacher -- "Did someone say batnipples?"

What you won't find online at the New Yorker magazine's website but you will find between the dead treeskin pages of this weeks provocative issue on the arts is a terrific Adam Gopnik essay entitled "The Corrections." Gopnik looks at the world of abridged books, what's lost and gained in the process of cutting the fat and getting to the meat of a classic like Melville's Moby Dick. One of the funniest parts of the piece explores the opposite -- a form in which more is added rather than subtracted -- director's commentaries on movie DVDs. In particular his description of hoity-toity director Michael Apted's commentary for the James Bond film he did -- The World is Not Enough -- bought cackles of laughter from behind my bathroom door (I'm not ashamed to say that I multitask whilst on the toilet). It put me in mind of the time I had to review the DVD of Batman & Robin for the newspaper I worked for. This, the fourth in the Batman series is by any measure an execrable piece of filmmaking to the point that it's a frequent punchline for star George Clooney when talking about his career missteps. Yet the commentary by Joel Schumacher, who as a director was a great set designer, was quite funny and insightful. For the most part the story he tells is of studio intent on milking as much toy revenue as possible out of the film and trying to wedge as many of the potential toys as possible into each scene. As Gopnik points out in the case of Apted -- a respected documentarian (he did the Up series -- 28 Up etc.) -- a bland or even lousy film is given resonance and meaning when we see it through the eyes of the director's struggle to make something meaningful or resignation to the sweet ministrations of commerce.

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