A CURSE UPON all so-called "special edition" DVDs that don't include the commentaries of directors or actors. Woody Allen is apparently too good to lend his thoughts; Spielberg and Lucas were apparently too busy to step up to the mike for the forthcoming Indiana Jones box set (Nov. 4). But what is it with Joel and Ethan Coen on Fargo (Sept. 30)? Would it have been so hard to shed a little light on the gestation and production of the 1996 picture for which they won their screenwriting Oscar? Coen fans would've been satisfied even to hear from Joel's wife, Frances McDormand (also an Oscar winner for her intrepid, pregnant Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson). When she and the brothers appear on a Charlie Rose Show segment, included here, her eyebrows alone communicate more intelligence than their blathering, sycophantic host. It's one of the few paltry extras on this single-disc release.
On the accompanying making-of doc, Joel says of the Scandinavian-populated upper Midwest, "Polite cultures are usually the most repressed and therefore the most violent." Swedish actor Peter Stormarethe near-silent blond killer partnered with motor-mouth Steve Buscemispeaks of road trips from the set where he met second- and third-generation immigrants who spoke obsolete Swedish dialectscausing both host and guest to burst into tears.
The Coens imparted "a gentle touch on a vicious story," says William H. Macy, still grateful for the career- making "role I was born to play." (Indeed, Fargo remains the best picture in the Coens' mannered canon.) Macy's dim but persistent Jerry Lundegaard is still a marvel of comic-malevolent invention, a perfect rival for McDormand's cheery moral steel.
Oh, there is a commentary by the great British cinematographer Roger Deakins, five times nominated for an Oscar (including Fargo and The Man Who Wasn't There), a nice bloke, but renowned for his eye, not his voice.
THE MOST NOTABLE release for Sept. 30 is Scarface, but no one at Universal could be bothered to send us a copy. Also out, Nowhere in Africa and Bend It Like Beckham are worthwhile family pleasers; the tepid documentary A Decade Under the Influence (shown at SIFF) continues to valorize '70s cinema; and Better Luck Tomorrow really isn't so shocking in its depiction of Asian kids gone bad. And kudos to Criterion for Polanski's beefed-up Knife in the Water and Fassbinder's The Marriage of Maria Braun. Brian Miller