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Sunday, 12 June 2011

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I don't think it has anything to do with ethics. It's pointless. The film is what came out. You (generic you, of course) might be unhappy with it but it's not you who did the film under all sorts of external influences.

In the same vein, should you change the ending you didn't like, it won't be you who created the rest of the film. And everybody will know it.

Mike, the situation you describe kinda looks like those choose-your-own-storyline/ending books. I have no idea, they might be great money-earning products, but they are not proper novels or whatever. They are velvet Elvises.

BTW, there was a similar project in science fiction several years ago. A guy took a couple of old books, "edited" them and they were re-published by a proper publisher. (DD-B and Ctein will probably know what I'm talking about.) I think it's pointless and arrogant which is why I'm using the scare quotes. I mean, the books have been around for decades and now you're telling me they should be different because you think so? Get real.

Dear Mike,

It's well-established that the Hays Office and the censors required scenes and dialogue to be added to movies. It was official policy, for example, that gays and lesbians had to come to a bad end or recant their evil ways, preferably both. Many scripts had emendations made to ensure that this happened.

Following in that vein, moviemaking is almost always a collaborative process involving a large number parties. Very few people get to entirely create their movies without that (and they aren't even necessarily the best ones). Furthermore, under the Hollywood studio system, it was understood and accepted that this is the way it was done and you put on a good face for the public. Just as the studios properties (by which I mean actors and actresses) were expected to present certain images and styles to the world, regardless of what their personal lives were like. A director might very well alter the ending of the movie at the behest of the studio and put a good face on it. An example of such is the very final seconds of Some Like It Hot, which Billy Wilder closed with a kiss (if there's anyone who hasn't seen that movie, this will not constitute a spoiler… if you have you know exactly what I mean, so don't ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen it). Didn't make it to the silver screen.

I don't think what you're talking about is really much beyond or different from what goes on in recovering and restoring old films today. The monumental effort around Metropolis comes to mind. You rely on notes, records, interviews, outtakes, clips, etc. Fortunately, movies, being such a mass effort, usually leave a huge audit trail. And if you can make a plausible case for your restoration/reconstruction, film fans and critics may argue over the success and validity of your reconstruction, but they will not argue that it's an illegitimate undertaking.

In theory, one could put words in the director's mouth or create an outright forgery. In practice, given the huge base of knowledge and interested people around any movie of significance, that would be impossible. You'd have to create an extremely elaborate phony provenance for your fraud, and even then people would be wondering how it was that you happened to discover all this source material when no one else ever had before. Successfully forging a single work of art is relatively easy; a movie would be really hard.


pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
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-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 
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Interesting question, but if it is honestly presented as what it is (a re-edited version attempting to honour the original intention of the director) then I don't see that as wrong at all. It's just an experiment and an interesting one at that.

How often do we get to see the director's cut of a movie after all? The distributor's cut is just as much of an artistic hack, surely?

After all the original is there for all to see. Of course, if you tampered with the original then that would be utterly wrong....

Mike, because of various pressures, Ibsen actually wrote an ending for "The Doll's House" in which Nora comes back. It played when the play was on tour outside the cities. I have never heard of anyone wanted to see it staged just because Ibsen was prevailed upon to create it. If there is good evidence that Lang's actual intended ending was the one you describe, then I'd cut off the "happy" one in a second myself.

Once it is established with "absolute certainty" that the director submitted to government pressure so that his creation and the money of the producer and of course their time,was not for naught, take it out...It's like the fig leaf on statues.

"...moralistic censorship has been reduced to a series of advisory ratings that restrict theater access by minors."

That's not the whole story. Instead of centralized government censorship, now we have self-censoring movie producers. This is mainly brought in by the rating system, and especially the introduction of PG-13 in 1984 after Indiana Jones pushed the envelope of PG rating.

Movies with lower age ratings have a wider potential audience, which results in higher potential financial gain: according to IMDB there is only one R-rated movie in top 50 highest grossing movies of all time (Matrix Reloaded). Therefore _all_ current big-budget AAA productions are PG-13 or lower, and important movies where R-rating is necessary struggle to get funding. Gone are the days of movies like Apocalypse Now, Godfather and Gladiator, ie. movies from big directors with big name cast and great production values.

I'm not saying those types of movies are the only type of movies which are good, but the rating system has taken the choice from the customers. The system forces the hand of the movie industry to dilute the adult fare even when it doesn't make sense - witness Terminator 4 at PG-13.

As for the topic at hand, take a look at how Blade Runner has been treated by the suits and the director over the years. There are 3-5 different versions of the movie, some of them taking very different directions in their message.

Jim,
Exactly.

Mike

If Fritz had been so incensed by it, I think he would have well tried to do something about it in his seventy something years, or at least said as much. In this case, all you have to do is stop the movie yourself at the eye closing scene. Although outraged myself upon initially viewing the "hokey" ending, I now see it as an "informative" historical window into that particular period- and an amusing one at that.

It's a questionable door to open when people start altering work to "restore its original form" if the artists themselves neither left nor officially requested such revisions.

Interesting question, but I think the answer is fairly clear.

If the director's wishes are clearly known, there is no problem with altering the "official" version of the film and presenting a de facto "director's cut" for the intelligensia. Presumably, the official release would continue to be available.

In fact, DVDs would probably contain both - much the way colorized films are usually presented. What's more, the changes forced upon the director in the official version would have value in this instance as a window into the social mores of the era in which the film was made.

Would there be any question about the proper course of action if, through some miracle, all of the original footage shot for Orson Welles's "Magnificent Ambersons" was discovered?

Of course, altering any work when it is reasonably believed that the final product is what its creator intended is something else - which is why I am opposed to colorization. If you don't like the film that much, then put together some funding and simply remake it. Then your vision can be judged on it's own merits.

Well, considering that film noir was very popular with the post-war existentialists, and indeed many of the films were existential by nature, then according to existentialist thinking the reality of the film is pretty much a construct relative to the viewer's experience and interpretation.

As such, all the viewer has to do is look away (or press "STOP") before the "surprise twist ending" and he or she will have achieved the director's preference, and will have done so in a manner consistent with the director's thinking. No computer video wizardry or YouTubing needed. :-)

Generally speaking filmmakers have no problem with folding, spindling, and mutilating other people's work all the time. I think as long as Mr. Lang didn't specifically say "I like it like this, please don't ever change it," then modifying the ending to bring it in line with what the director is believed to have wanted is ethically just fine.

Of course, there's the matter of legality--since the movie in question was made after Mickey Mouse, it will never be out of copyright and anyone actually doing this will incur the wrath of the MPAA and their many lawyers.

You bring back many memories. I used to go regularly to the Cinémathèque Française museum to see old French and German films, as well as the Marx Brothers movies.
I remember very well the Fritz Lang film, "M". The melodie in it from Grieg's, "Hall of the Mountain King", was the only melody that I could whistle or hum in tune. It would often pop into my mind when I photographed small children.

I don't know much about the movie business either, so here goes nothing.

It seems to me that a movie has a dual existence -- as a work of art and as a commissioned commercial product. As art, if we deem the director to be the creative artist responsible for the work, then the integrity of the final form to which he put his name should be inviolable, for better or for worse. As you've noted, there are many influences other than pure artistic vision that mold the release edition of a movie, and picking one to undo is a slippery slope. The work is what it is, warts and all.

On the other hand, the director created the movie at the behest of the studio executives and producers for the primary purpose of making money. Typically, the studio retains the rights to the movie, and can alter it as they see fit for business purposes. As such, the studio would be free to cut a scene that would be unacceptable by viewers in a particular culture so that the movie could be distributed in additional countries. Similarly, an advertising photo displayed in Readers Digest might be a cropped version of the ad run in Playboy. From that perspective, any re-cut of the movie to suit a new audience, era or aesthetic would be perfectly legitimate, within the bounds of copyright law.

So, is it Art or is it Commerce? For most movies, the answer would have to be "yes".

This is far too broad a subject for my poor brain on a Monday morning, but here are a few thoughts.

This kind of thing has been done before within the studio system. In 1998 Universal released a version of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil re-cut by Walter Murch based on notes that Orson Welles made after the studio re-shot and re-cut his original version. I love that it is now so easy to do a similar kind of thing at home. Some directors even encourage it. John August ran a competition to recut the trailer for The Nines and wanted to release all of the original footage to allow you to create your own version of the movie.

If you are re-editing to bring a movie back to what was originally intended then you must be vigilant that you don't cross the fine line between restoring the original artist's vision and imposing you own artistic sensibilities. Or if your intent is one of re-appropriation, how far across the line do you have to go before you have created a new artwork? I guess the answer at the moment is further than Richard Prince and Shepard Fairey. Or you could take the view posited by Kirby Ferguson, that Everything is a Remix and anything is permissible.

"...so you could also argue that tampering with an artist's finished work violates it..."

I really wish George Lucas followed this principle for his own movies, but I guess there will always be artists that can't leave their old works alone. Digital duplication is trivial and storage space cheap so we can easily keep our favourite versions in our collections. If those versions are shared then they are also less likely to be lost for future generations.

Technology also makes it easier for fans to respond to artists, such as in this insightful 70 minute video review of The Phantom Menace.

Hmmm, I still haven't answered your question but I do believe that the world would be a better, more interesting place if the bootleg "director's cut" was made (if it hasn't been already).

If the movies are still in copyright, then you are breaking the law if you modify them and distribute them (creating a derivative work). Religious oriented groups have tried this with services that remove 'objectionable' material for their customers. They have all been shut down by the studios.

If you want to do it to your own copy, no one can stop you, it's when you pass it along to others that you get into trouble.

It's really no different than modifying someone else's still picture and distributing it.

OK..Off topic is one thing, but now there's a graduation posting dated Sunday and further up in these comments Jed Soane says it's Monday morning. Is this one of those Space Time continuum things or have I been drinking too much again.

David,
No shenanigans...Jed (here are some of his photos:

http://thebeerproject.com/index.html )

...is in New Zealand.

Mike

It wouldn't be unethical as long as there is a disclaimer saying the movie is different like you would see on television that it was reformatted for television.

No movie is shown as is, as the studio intended, its cut differently for different international markets, cut differently for broadcast television, with commercials, cut differently for internet consumption etc...

What is unethical is the people that released the King's Speech in the US, re-cut the movie to get a PG-13 rating while relying on the R rated Oscar nominated cut to sell tickets in a wider re-release of the movie.

I've tried for years to get my hands on a copy of Capra's original, swiftly withdrawn version of It's A Wonderful Life in which George Bailey's aquaphobic.

Is it OK to change a movie if the original was in a foreign language? I absolutely detest the way Hollywood sometimes takes a perfectly good foreign language film and remakes it in English, presumably because Americans either won’t or can’t read subtitles. It is almost always a pale shadow of the original. A good example is the 1988 Franco-Dutch co-production ‘The Vanishing’. The original has a very macabre and disturbing ending. The American remake in 1993 changes it to a happy ending with the couple selling their story to a publishing company! The dramatic impact is thereby diminished. The copyright holders must have approved the changes, but as far as I am concerned there should be law against it!

I'm reminded of a possibly apocryphal story about the chequered production of Vincent Ward's "Map of the Human Heart" (Paul may confirm).

At the end of the film the hero, a Europeanised Inuit walks off into the snow to die in Vince's version. The producers wanted a "Hollywood" happy ending, so Vince shot a sequence where the character hesitates, strokes his metaphorical beard and says to himself "bugger that for an idea" turns and walks back to civilisation and a warm bar.

The ludicrousness won out, Vince got his intended ending.

I'm not sure if this may have happened at the time the completion guarantors had stepped in and taken control of production.

However I do wonder whether that ending is still sitting in some vault somewhere.

The questions of remixing, mashup, and appropriation, are a complex multi-faceted issue. It's always gone on, at least so far as we know -- the famous ancient Greek works by "Homer" are nearly certainly the results of creative work by many people, before they were ever written down, and more since, for example; and Shakespeare famously re-worked well-known characters and stories. The artistic conversation pretty much demands reference to previous works to be meaningful.

The idea of a scheme to make it easier for creative artists to make a living (which is what copyright exists for; on the grounds that this is valuable to society) is one I generally support (I should note that my wife makes her contribution to our income writing fiction, and many of my friends are writers, musicians, even some photographers, many of whom depend on the ability to enforce copyright to make a living). But the precise copyright scheme that currently exists in the US seems, to me, to work more to the benefits of big corporations and less to the benefit of individual artists, due to the excessive term of protection (we got some of that, the "life +" term, from the rest of the world initially, and then convinced them to extend the time even more).

The precise degree of detail allowed in references back and forth is what's at issue, and this seems to be held back by both copyright and trademark laws right now.

I don't think there's any particularly clear-cut "right" here, by the way. The principle that creative artists should benefit in proportion to the popularity of their work, and the principle that creative artists should be free to refer to anything in the clearest possible terms, are solidly in conflict.

More directly relevant to the topic Mike kicked off here, minimally-transformative derivatives like re-editing a movie back to a previous form it once had are among the least-protected forms of artistic expression, and rightly so.

What Erlik may be referring to is the Baen Books editions of the James Schmitz stories, as edited by Eric Flint (the Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee stories; names spelled from memory). Eric discussed this extensively on Usenet back shortly after it was being done; the argument for making changes was to make them more readable to new SF fans today (for example, the amount of smoking was drastically reduced). And a significant part of that was a condition of the publisher for doing these new collections. The argument against is, presumably, obvious to all of us. Eric felt that, in the end, he was doing net good in bringing these stories he loved back into print in mass-market paperback (i.e. cheap), to fascinate (he hoped) a new generation of readers.

It was a fascinating and productive discussion. I do see the point. As stories age, they become in many ways less and less accessible to new readers, especially new younger readers. These particular stories are "Golden Age" type SF stories -- meaning 12 is about the golden age for them. Think of a 12-year-old raised in a modern liberal urban household reading Heinlein's The Star Beast today; I think many of them would bounce hard off the assumed sex roles; the only way to really "get" that book today is as a historical artifact, and not so many 12-year-olds are ready to do that (explicitly historical works like C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower stories are much easier to deal with than aged future fiction).

Apparently Diane Duane also sees the point (I don't recall that she was involved in the actual discussion on Usenet), because she mentioned recently on her blog that she's doing updated editions of her Young Wizards books to make them more accessible to today's audience of people the right age for them. (I don't think anybody would challenge the original author's right to revise their own work; many would prefer that the original version remain available, and Diane has said she'll be making sure an ebook version of the original does remain available, so apparently she's sympathetic to that view.)

Illegal re-editing or re-directing as Scorsese likes to say, was done on the third installment of the Star Wars sagas, 'Phantom Menace'. As internet rumors go, the re-edit was done by a German hacker, which some say improved the film. Of course the re-distribute went out over the torrent streams, though I don't know if this version is still kicking around. I hated the official release though I haven't seen the hacked version either. My guess it probably was an improvement since the original was marginal at best.

Please note: Someone correct me if I have my facts in error, but I think the gist of the story is accurate.

I am curious about David's post above. If this is true, why is it that Richard Prince (for example) was OK making those so-called "derivative" works of Sam Abel's Marlborough photos? Maybe a bad example, because he has been tripped up on a more recent similar exercise, but my doubt still persists.

"minimally-transformative derivatives like re-editing a movie back to a previous form it once had are among the least-protected forms of artistic expression"

David,
Just to be clear--I know you are conscientious about detail--the movie never had the form I'm proposing. It was merely the ending the director wanted, but didn't get--the ending that exists is the form it's always had, since release.

If you watch the movie you'll understand exactly what I mean. The director wanted to end it when the main character is nodding off, with the phone ringing off the hook. The "happy" ending starts when the club attendant shakes him by the shoulder for the second time and informs him it's 10:30. If you see the movie you'll know what I mean.

Mike

Has there ever been a directors cut of a movie that was shorter than the version that was released?

Dear Folks,

Just observing that Mike didn't ask what's legal or not legal under copyright law. That just ducks the hard question. He's asking what is, ethically and/or artistically, right, legitimate and/or justifiable.

Six potential combinations of questions, none of them about copyright, all demanding some thought.

Easy to just quote law, hard to deal with these questions.

jest sayin'...

pax / Ctein

"Just observing that Mike didn't ask what's legal or not legal under copyright law. That just ducks the hard question. He's asking what is, ethically and/or artistically, right, legitimate and/or justifiable."

Ctein,
That's right. Really, I'm asking (or shall we say, I'm wondering) about it from a purely artistic perspective. The work of art has an independent life compared to the movie as a commercial product or a legal property. To me, the modified work would be much more effective artistically.

Maybe what's really called for is a remake, because, in the movie, we're asked to believe that the professor's encounter with the femme fatale is completely chaste and innocent. That's most probably part of the coded presentation of the times--we're expected to know that what in fact happened was that he had a sexual dalliance with the object of his desire, which complicates the ensuing crimes and increases his guilt--an important precursor to the modified ending. A better modern movie would feature the "real" ending (as I perceive it) and would also be frank about the professor's fall from monogamous connubial bliss.

Of course, any remake starts by keeping the story but throwing out the rest of the bathwater, baby and all--you wouldn't have the delicious 1940s sets and cars, the now-stilted 1940s speech, the B&W film stock, or Edward G. Robinson. Apart from an improved script, you'd have to start from zero. And you might not get right some of the things that WERE right in the 1944 version.

Mike

This reminds me of the cases of many operas, for example Don Carlos, Tannhäuser, Simone Boccanegra, and, most notoriously, The Tales of Hoffmann, where the research goes on and on, and yet we will never know which version is the "right one"; two of the most famous pieces in The Tales of Hoffmann, the aria: "Scintille, diamond", and the septuor in the Venice act, are not even by Offenbach himself.

I think for the sake of art anything is justifiable, anything short of physical violence on a person.

Agree or not graffiti artist's methods they trespass, vandalize, steal, etc... to practice their "art" Is it any less artistic because they defaced a building that an architect at one time considered art.

I think the same applies here, if a person would reedit a movie, it has the same principle of defacing another person's art, but if done for the sake of art, then it is art.

Reediting for the sake of removing curse words is not art because it is not done for the sake of the art.

Regarding Fritz Lang's "The Woman in the Window", the movie's famous ending is actually two twist endings. If Lang had ended it at the first tragic twist then this would be one of the all-time classic film noirs. Instead he chose to end it on a different emotional tenor using what he himself termed "a corny old trick" and I agree with him on that last point. However, the transition to it is executed in a single sustained shot so deft that you may not even consciously notice the magic technique that occurs.

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