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For DVDs, it’s all in the reselling

NOT that Elaine Dutka’s article last week, “Where It’s All in the Retelling,” had anything to do with politics, but it brought to mind that memorable quote by former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, referring to his political rival, Edward Heath: “He reminds me of a shiver looking for a spine to run down.”

While Dutka’s article on the hot-selling new trend in DVDs -- i.e., making movies about the making of movies -- was well-written, timely and quite informative, it was completely devoid of any sense of irony or criticism. It was as if this “DVD revolution,” as she called it, made eminent sense.

Nowhere did the article suggest that all those bells and whistles that clutter up otherwise straightforward movies -- actors’ and directors’ commentaries, deleted scenes, short subjects, trailers and other assorted goodies -- amount to more than a glorified marketing device whose intent is to get us, ultimately, to replace all those “boring” VHS tapes in our collections with their exciting DVD counterparts.

Although advertisers tend to assume that we consumers will purchase anything that comes down the pike, provided it is cleverly marketed (Exhibit A: pet rocks), it’s going to take some doing to persuade people to get rid of a perfectly good VHS tape and buy the identical movie in a DVD format. That’s why all those extraneous odds and ends included on the disc are marketed as “bonus features.”

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In truth, before all this DVD hype entered our consciousness, had anyone ever rented a movie and lamented afterward that the original trailers -- the previews shown in theaters -- hadn’t been included? I take my hat off to Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, two directors who make it a policy not to do voice-over commentaries.

But even ignoring the transparent marketing tactics, there is an inversely proportional correlation at work here, one that the DVD distributors apparently fail to recognize. The more we know about the ingredients in chorizo, the less apt we are to eat it; similarly, the more we know about the behind-the-scenes, inner workings of a particular movie -- the camera angles, lighting, set changes, how this or that effect was achieved -- the less of that wonderful “movie magic” remains in the finished product.

Much the same applies to the personal relationships of the movie stars. Nothing ruins the chemistry of a romantic film so much as finding out that, despite what’s being depicted on the screen, in real life the male and female leads can’t stand each other.

As audiences, we’re supposed to suspend rational judgment while watching a movie -- put our objectivity and predatory logic on a back burner and lose ourselves in that magical, narrative world being served up for our pleasure by the actors, director, cinematographer and writers.

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One could almost argue that it’s rude or selfish to insist on knowing how a particular movie was shot.

Unless you’re a film student or aspiring director, stripping down a movie out of stubborn curiosity is like insisting a person tell you how much money they spent on your birthday gift. I don’t even want to know when a body-double or stunt person is used; it damages the mood.

If DVDs were available in Shakespeare’s day, would “Hamlet” have been a more enjoyable play if it came with “bonus features”? What if Shakespeare admitted in an interview that, in his first draft, Hamlet’s name was “Rodgers,” the original setting was Morocco, not Denmark, and a strong anti-Moor undercurrent running through the second act had been removed at the producer’s request?

A marketing device, plain and simple.

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David Macaray is a playwright and writer living in L.A.


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