Over the past year I have been taking time to listen closer to those who craft the drama I enjoy. I have discovered the world of audio commentary. And it has been a revelation. Normally found in the extras or special features section the audio commentary often offers the chance to re-watch a full-length episode with a commentary. In essence we’re invited to listen in on a conversation with some of the passionate and creative people involved in the production.
We’re invited to listen in on a conversation.
This new appreciation has been fueled in part by Mad Men; a US drama series set in the advertising world of 1960’s Manhattan filled with interesting, flawed characters and its slick, complex protagonist Don Draper. Mad Men is a stunning production both thematically and aesthetically. It oozes style. In many ways the brilliance is found in each scene’s subtext. Perhaps that’s what led me to investigate the DVD extras.
I quickly discovered an extensive range of audio commentaries and found it fascinating, for example, to listen to the show’s creator Matthew Weiner explain creative choices and elaborate on key themes. I loved it when something would be pointed out that I completely missed first time around. Sometimes the value came in different ways like when actor Jon Hamm (Don Draper) humbly praises a colleague’s nuanced performance in a difficult scene.
In another episode I found myself listening to a set designer talk passionately about how she regularly visits antique stores to find the perfect items for scenes. She adds, ‘if we’re doing our jobs right you won’t pay a lot of attention to the place that the characters are in because they feel right for the story that is being told’. This charming piece of detail reveals a striving for excellence.
If the drama is worth watching then chances are that so too will the audio commentary.
One thing to note is that re-watching entire episodes with audio commentary requires time. And even concentration too. Sometimes it can feel like a discipline but if the drama is worth watching then chances are that so too will the audio commentary. Mad Men might not be everyone’s cup of tea or stiff drink for that matter but the audio commentary has cultivated a deeper appreciation of the drama and the craft. If that means taking a bit of extra time then I think it’s worth it.