Sunday, October 16, 2005

Director's Cruel Cut

Saw the last half of "Napoleon Dynamite" again, this time on cable. People either adore or detest this movie, and I fall firmly into the former camp. It's always a treat to see low budget work by college film makers who don't take themselves seriously. Plus I enjoy the whole outside and insider aspect to the movie and have this theory that this theme has to do with the whole Idaho Mormon nature of the characters and plot. Finally, I feel that "Napoleon Dynamite" conveys high school in an authentic manner with a sense of emotional perspective that corrects both the multi-layered richness in John Hughes' depiction of teen angst ("Sixteen Candles," "Ferris Bueller," etc) and the over-amplified allure of teen lust found in "American Pie"-like movies.

In the cable version of "Napoleon Dynamite," after the end credits, there is a coda that shows Kip and LaFawnda's wedding. It's a sweet reprise of the characters, even including Tina the llama, but one I don't remember seeing in the DVD I rented. Was this scene in the theatrical and DVD release? Was this something I had to search out in the DVD clips? Was the cable version a director's cut?

This brings me to an observation about movies in general: what we see isn't canon. During my avid years of movie viewing, many movies I saw had been cut and approved by government censor boards; in my early youth one had been set up by a democratic government, and in my adolescent years the movies I saw had been screened by a police state. In southern California, televised movies were interrupted every every six or seven minutes to permit Cal Worthington and his dog to sell their cars, and it often seemed that the movie still played on while Cal waved his cowboy hat. As a consequence I'm still surprised when I see an oldie and there are dialogs and scenes that don't mesh with my memory. In addition, I saw many movies on 16mm that had to make their way through a series of remote military sites, and the resultant breakages and jams causing some unintentional though regrettable deletions in key plot and character development. Then there were the nights when we got the order of the reels wrong.

In addition, different versions of movies are made with an eye for in-flight or televised presentation to a family audience. For example, airline passengers would not have seen Kathy Bates in "About Schmidt" come out of the hot tub nude, which is just as well, as it would have no doubt triggered a panicked in-flight exodus. Before an official release, a studio also keeps different endings on hand and runs them by focus groups. And let us not forget the hallowed director's cut, often a more bloated and incoherent version with a baffling scene rythm.

Exceeding the boundaries of a director's cut, George Lucas went back and altered his Star War movies, adding digital detail in one case, and allowing Harrison Ford a self defense argument in the orginal Star Wars bar scene. My question then is can we expect different versions of the same movie to accommodate changes in modern sensibility and audience taste? For example a "Gone with the Wind" where Rhett Butler is caring and sensitive? Citizen Kane dies surrounded by his grieving wife, children, and grandchildren? The Godfather goes up on a 25 to life RICO rap? Marlon Brando wears a helmet in the "Wild Ones"? Perhaps some of our young film makers, having the advantage knowing critical film theory, previously unavailable to past directors, can re-cut and alter classic film works so as to provide a more coherent self-referential narrative.


Eiranai said...

Hey - about Napoleon Dynamite, I liked parts of it and agree with some of what you say about it. However, I really don`t feel that the movie has much depth. It`s just supposed to be a fluff piece and in that way, it`s funny. I DO think it better represents teens AND American life far better than any other "teen flick" I`ve ever seen.

About director`s cuts - I`ve seen few that I actually liked. Usually the director just makes the movie longer and more boring.

Mitch Kief said...

James Cameron's cut of "Aliens" adds nearly ten minutes and actually diminishes the suspense in one key scene. Sergio Leone's cut of "Once Upon a Time in America" increases the muddle and confusion of the first American release.

Steve said...

I haven't seen Napoleion Dynamite and can't comment on its take of high school.
I can say on directors cuts that I agree and most don't improve the movie. For example: Scott's cut of Blade Runner. The film noir voice over done by Harrison Ford--while hated by Scott and Ford--is just the right touch for this sci-fi dectective story.
Also, isn't it interesting to see Sean Young before her descent into narcism and mood swings. So young, so beautiful. I wanted to fly off in a hovercar with her too.

Eiranai said...

so in summation, if I like the movie when I first see it, I will usually prefer the first version I see (9 times out of 10 the theatrical cut) - ex. Apocalypse Now, def. didn`t care for redux. I agree with steve - the dc of Blade Runner was just not as punchy as the tc.

About pc editing...movies are the new way of documenting history. They clearly show the morals/biases (at least the liberal ones) of an era. Leave it be, leave it be! I think that`s what you (Mitch) were shooting at with this journal entry.


Steve said...

I was also (rather poorly) trying to say that a movie is a medium that truly is collaborative in nature. When taking into consideration that writers, producers, cinematographers, directors, second unit directors, actors, all have ideas and opinions they offer and put into a film, it’s really silly to believe that only the director holds the one true and pure vision of what the film should have been.
In fact, I suspect that for every story a director tells of how the suits messed his film up, there is probably ten of how a director was prevented from delivering a bomb.
I expect to begin receiving death threats from directors and film majors if any happen to read this.

Mitch Kief said...

Not to mention die hard fanatics who uphold the auteur theory.