TMI or Not TMI: The Art of Commentary

Guess what I'm thinking.   No, really...go ahead and guess.

Guess what I’m thinking.
No, really…go ahead and guess.

S and I have just gotten around to watching Season 4 of Game of Thrones.  I suppose we could have gotten HBO and watched it when it came out.  Or we could have watched it without paying (if ahem you know what I mean), as so many people do.  But we are fuddy and middle-aged and cheap, so we waited until we could get the DVDs from the library.

It’s great, obviously, and we’ve enjoyed watching it.  But half the fun is always watching the bonus features and (especially) the commentaries.  It’s all very interesting, but of course the best commentary every season is the one by “the kids”—Maisie Williams (Arya) and Sophie Turner (Sansa).  They are so clearly having ridiculous amounts of fun doing it.  You can’t help but be carried along and start laughing with them.

It raises the question, however, of how much background information about a story a viewer/reader needs or wants.  If you know too much beforehand, of course, you can spoil yourself.  I think, for example, of when members of our writers’ group read their works in progress.  Some people like to give a long explanation of what leads up to the scene, and who the characters are, and where the story is going, and so on.  And it’s not like we tell anyone to stop; if they want to do it that way, they can do it that way.  But if anyone asks whether they ought to give background, I think the consensus in the group is that people should just read the passage and let it stand on its own merits.  If further explanation is required, then the other group members can always ask for it.

DVD commentaries are somewhat different, though, since you generally watch them after you’ve already seen the episode or movie in question at least once.  As a fan, it’s always fun to hear stories of how things were filmed, and hear the actors tell stories about difficulties on the set.  When I was a kid, my brother and I had the Art of Star Wars books, and it was fascinating to see how the stories and characters developed. (We only had the ones for the original three movies, of course, because, as mentioned, we are fuddy and middle-aged, but looking back now, that was probably okay.)

But I think the same rule applies—the story still has to stand on its own merits.  If something requires a bit of authorial explanation in order to make sense, then the author did something wrong.  If a scene doesn’t work, it can’t be fixed by the author or showrunner saying, “Well, you see, it all makes sense because of [something that wasn’t actually in the story].”

Even so, commentaries, even if they aren’t particularly well done, are at least something pleasant to have playing in the background while you write a blog.  At their best, they can be genuine works of art in their own right.  So I’ll leave you with the greatest commentary ever.


Addition: Something that struck me while listening to these commentaries is another TMI issue that goes along with the telling you something that wasn’t in the story problem. Of all the amazing characters in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, the one I’ve probably spent more time thinking about than any other is Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger. One of the reasons he remains so fascinating after five books and four seasons is that he is still a cypher. With the seemingly million POVs in the books, the reader has been in nearly every important characters’ head except Littlefinger. No other character has such mysterious motivations, so when the actor who plays him so delightfully, Aidan Gillen, began talking about how Littlefinger feels, I was tempted to stick my fingers in my ears and start repeating “La, la, la. Can’t hear you.” I want to keep working on who this character is and what he wants, and I don’t even want the actor who plays him to tell me his interpretation.



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