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Yellow Layer Failure, Vinegar Syndrome and Miscellaneous Musings by Robert A. Harris

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

Of REAL Added Value...

While I'm in a bit of transition state, and having not gotten a piece out to The Bits in too long a period, I'll offer a short piece, not much longer than "A few words..."

I've been quite vocal about my dislike for junk added value features on DVDs.

It always makes me wonder precisely what the marketing people are thinking when I pick up a DVD that lists among its special features: Wide-Screen (or family friendly) transfer, Menus and other items which are simply part of the DVD, and without which the DVD simply isn't a product.

Within the other arena of "extras" are documentaries and pseudo-documentaries, both new and old, which sometimes serve to allow the distributors to get away from the "bare bones" concept of publishing... something that is not at all problematic.

There is nothing wrong with a great transfer of a film with absolutely no added extras, as long as it's made available at a price that's fair. Paramount does this with many of their titles, and their products are wonderful. Of course, they also hit the high end of the spectrum with some great special editions.

But all to often, we are gifted some old promotional films, created for television, that give little information about the actual filmmaking process, and serve only to show the actors mugging it up behind the camera, along with a few shots of the director looking omniscient.

I hate talking-head documentaries, and while they are necessary, there are also ways of getting around them either by cutting away to other things, or moving outside of a sealed room.

We have been getting so many of these "cookie-cutter" Bouzereau or Bouzereau-esqe documentaries in the past couple of years, that I've feared that the people putting together these DVDs for us had totally forgotten what quality was.

But we can now see the other side of documentary boredom. Kevin Brownlow's Photoplay Productions has been contracted for several upcoming "event" documentaries, the next to be found as a "boxed set only" extra along with the forthcoming Garbo Collection.

Most recently I've come across not one, but two documentaries on the same disc, which have raised my hopes for quality materials while escaping the horrific spate of "back-slapping" self-aggrandizing pieces, in which everyone loves everyone else to death. "Wow! What a great experience working with (fill in the name)! I've learned so much from them which has enabled me to hone my craft."


So from that other studio... the one kind of out the back gate of Universal... down the road a-piece over by Olive... that one... have come two very nice documentary extras, as part of a recent special edition.

The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing is educational nirvana.

Directed by Wendy Apple, and photographed (get this) by John Bailey, this 98-minute documentary is a college-level course on the history, aesthetics and functionality of motion picture editing.

With interviews of over 40 film editors and directors, The Cutting Edge is the real thing - a well thought out, properly produced documentary with a reason for being, that hits scores of 100 in all aspects.

How often have you wondered why a certain editing decision was made, or why a piece of film was cut as it was? Here's your chance to find out, as many of today's top (ie. Academy Award-winning) ACEs discuss the work ethics and decision-making processes that have brought us some of the best cut sequences in film history.

An integral element of the documentary is a visit with Walter Murch, in the fully-electronic cutting room of Cold Mountain. Returning again and again (intercut with all of the other interviews), you'll have the chance to watch a sequence from the film in its creation.

I've a feeling that until we receive the next Photoplay installment, this is the best extra to be found on any DVD, anywhere.

The other documentary that I enjoyed was from TCM, written and directed by Mimi Freedman (who is credited, wearing a number of hats, along with the Greif Company, for a number of films in the Intimate Portrait series, all produced for television).

The Essence of Cool, made with the full cooperation of the McQueen family, is a 90-minute look at the life and career of Steve McQueen, undeniably one of the most interesting, accomplished and sometimes difficult actors in the 20-year period from 1960 through 1980.

I haven't seen the other work from Greif, but Essence is not a "back-slapping," condescending, "Great working with him" piece.

Coming off as respectful, loving and honest, the film gives us a "warts and all" look at one of the most important and successful actors of the 20th century, who made a career on his own, and ended up on the production (ie. participation/ownership) end of many of his films, 13 of which were produced under the Solar banner.

This is what a quality documentary extra (that purports to tell the story of a films' star) is all about. With its companion piece on film editing, it's about as far as one can get from those other "made for DVD" extras, while still using the same hardware and software in their creation.

These feature-length documentary films come highly recommended.

For those wondering where you can buy them, the answer is that you'll find both on the new Bullitt: Special Edition... from that other studio. The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing will also be released separately on 9/6 (SRP $14.98).

Bullitt: Special EditionThe Essential Steve McQueen CollectionThe Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing

Buy this DVD now at Amazon!Buy this DVD now at Amazon!Buy this DVD now at Amazon!

Robert Harris


* Designates a film worthy of purchase on DVD. RAH Designates a film worth of "blind" purchase on DVD.

CLICK HERE to discuss this interview with Robert and other home theater enthusiasts online right now at The Home Theater Forum.

Robert A. Harris - Main Page

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