DVD Rating: ***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Read Jennie Kermode's film review of Secretary

DVD audio commentaries can be an excuse for actors to have a laugh, or directors to pontificate. When they work well, they are full of insights into how movies are made. This is one of those.

The director Steven Shainberg is ridiculously young, which means he looks more like a post grad student in a Josh Hartnett teen flick than one of those craggy Sam Peckinpah types. Writer Erin Wilson is not glimpsed in Behind The Scenes, although there is one moment when Shainberg says, "There's Erin in the back behind those things on the right." By the time you have taken this in and started searching behind the things, the camera has moved on.

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The commentary is stacked. Shainberg does most of the talking, with Wilson chipping in with shy asides.

"Isn't there something erotic about boredom?" she wonders.

"We would have to talk for 45 minutes to discover what," Shainberg says.

When filmmakers are honest, the haphazard nature of what is called, in esoteric circles, "the creative process," becomes apparent. James Spader will question the kind of tie he is being asked to wear. Local authorities say that they can't shoot in one of the city parks and Maggie Gyllhenaal says, "Come on, let's do it," and so, for one take, she is photographed, walking between the trees, and they get away with it.

The first scene of Lee leaving the mental hospital was shot on the last day, when the actors were exhausted. Shainberg talks of the difficult decisions that have to be made because of low budget. Wilson praises Spader. "He's so specific in everything he does." In fact, he comes out of this, especially through the interviews, as a most unusual actor. His creative input, Shainberg says, was invaluable.

The director defends the prurient nature of the subject matterm, namely S & M, extremely well. It is obvious that there is nothing gratuitous about how this film was conceived, Shainberg is eloquent and intelligent throughout and you feel that a great deal of thought went into every detail.

"It was a difficult problem to decide how many people we should see in the office apart from Mr Grey." They debated for days about Lee's position there. "Is she in the Garden of Eden? Is she the first woman and he the first man?"

The interviews are far superior to the PR hacktrap that tends to be churned out on these occasions. Spader and Gyllenhaal are interviewed on the set and later by a different journalist and then Shainberg is interviewed once.

Spader comes across as a sympathetic, intelligent and thoughtful man who admits, "I don't know anything about how the business works," watches very few movies and thinks "acting's pretty easy stuff, which is really a matter of temperament."

Twenty four year old Gyllenhaal raves about his skills. "He hooked into me immediately. I would come at him with all this energy and he would match it always. James is a very powerful person; he puts a lot out there. We were very delicate with each other. All I had to do was be in a room with him and he was overwhelming."

Shainberg calls him "incredibly clear about how he sees something. From a director's point of view, it's like having 90% of the issues resolved. If there was a problem, it was always for the movie. What more would you ask? He's totally showing up. And passionate."

Shainberg remembers how hard it was to get the film off the ground. "No one would touch it because Lee doesn't get over her problem," he says. "There isn't a problem." He calls it "a very black comedic coming-of-age movie." People were scared because they thought, "I was going to make something sick and creepy." He turns their fears upside down. "It's about discovering something true in a world that often feels false."

The Behind The Scenes documentary uses quotes from the interviews, intercut with film clips, with the occasional inconsequential on-set moment, which doesn't add anything to what has been a terrific Extras package.

The Curriculum Vitae offers miniscule biog details of the main people and is almost totally worthless. The Trailer Reel covers five other Tartan Video titles.

Reviewed on: 01 Jan 2004
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Secretary packshot
An unhappy young woman discovers purpose and passion when her boss dishes out spanking sessions.
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Product Code: TVD3448

Region: 2

Ratio: 1.77 Anamorphic Wide

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Extras: Director and writer audio commentary; Making Of documentary; Interviews with James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Steven Shainberg; Trailer reel; Curriculum Vitae; TV spots

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