Unrated vs Clean: It’s Time to Demand Choose-Your-Own-Rating DVD Options

[Cross Posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

A few years ago a film came out that my wife and I had wanted to see, but we didn’t get around to seeing it in the theatre. So when it came out on DVD, I stopped by a local video rental and picked it up. In our family, we don’t watch R-rated films. Since I knew that this particular film had been rated PG-13, I hadn’t bothered looking at the rating on the DVD when I rented it, I just hurriedly found the title and picked it up.

Even though we both wanted to see it, my wife ended up watching the movie without me while I was at work. She called me, shocked, because the film contained a scene full of gratuitous nudity and explicit sexual activity. Embarrassed, I double checked that the film had been PG-13 using an Internet search. A closer look at the DVD container showed that the DVD contained an “Unrated” version of the movie. We had fallen for a bait-and-switch! The theatrical version had been rated PG-13, but it was not available to be rented on DVD. You could only rent the “Unrated” version.

That was our first experience with “Unrated” DVDs. A few years have passed since then, and releasing “Unrated” versions of films to DVD has become increasingly commonplace. We have had to be extra careful when renting films to make sure we are getting what we intended.

When DVDs were first being introduced, one of the advantages they offered was that filmmakers would be able to offer different versions of the film on the same disk, and that the viewer could choose which version they wanted to watch. You could choose to watch in widescreen or standard, dubbed in a variety of languages, or with commentary by those involved in making the film. Later studios were releasing “extended” edits with additional parts that had not been included in the theatrical release, for example “The Lord of the Rings”.

Early on in the push toward DVD technology there had even been some discussion of the possibility of DVDs carrying multiple edits of the film at different ratings, so that the viewer could choose to watch the PG edit, the PG-13 edit, or the R edit.

Why didn’t this choose-your-own-rating option materialize?

During the previous decade we saw the movie industry threaten and sue companies that sold sanitized, “clean” versions of their films and theaters that showed edited versions, like Brigham Young University’s Varsity Theater used to do. In explaining why, filmmakers often cited their artistic integrity to explain why they did not wanted edited, sanitized versions of their films available, even if there was a large potential market for it. The art and the message was more important than the profits. If people weren’t willing to see their art as intended, then too bad.

Of course, the “artistic integrity” argument was always suspect. After all, the studios were already producing sanitized edits for showing on airlines and also for later broadcast on television. Why weren’t these versions made available on DVD? The filmmakers insisted that the airline and TV edits were special exceptions. The DVDs however, had to stay true to the same artistic vision as the original.

But now the cat is out of the bag. The trend toward releasing “Extended” and “Unrated” versions of films exposes the “artistic integrity” lie. All along they have been doing exactly what they claimed their “artistic integrity” didn’t allow them to do. Releasing an “Unrated” version to DVD means that the theatrical version of the film _was_ an edited, sanitized version from which they purposefully cut out “art” to sell it to a larger potential market who wouldn’t see it otherwise.

This was always the case, of course, but as long as the only version available for home viewing was exactly the same as the version shown in theaters they could maintain the illusion that their refusal to allow the distribution of “family-friendly” edits on DVD was derived from a supposed “artistic integrity” that requires the DVD version to be “true to the original.”

Recently, there was another film released to DVD that we wanted to see. We don’t stop by the local video rental anymore, we have DVDs delivered by Netflix, so when I went to Netflix to add the film to our queue, I was dismayed to find that the DVD was “Unrated” even though the theatrical release had been PG-13.

However, as I read through the listing details I discovered something hidden down the page written in the description of the “other features” of the disc: “This disc contains both the theatrical and the unrated versions of the movie”. So, I added it to the queue.

When it arrived, neither the cover sleeve nor anything printed on the DVD itself indicated that it contained anything but the “Unrated” version of the film. But we popped it into the player just to check before sending it back unwatched. We were pleasantly surprised as the DVD menu prompt clearly asked us to choose to watch either the “Theatrical” or the “Unrated” version.

So now that both “Unrated” and theatrical versions of films are not only being distributed individually on DVD and Blueray, but even being distributed on a single disc with the option to watch the “Unrated,” uncut version or the sanitized PG-13 theatrical edit of the film, there is no reason why they shouldn’t also include the option to watch a PG-13 or PG edit of the film as well, especially since these edits are often already being made for airlines or TV anyway.

Admittedly there are some films that cannot be edited in this way without becoming incoherent. But the vast majority of movies could be edited to remove profanity, nudity, and violence without doing any more damage to their coherence than is already done when editing the film for theatrical release.

The “artistic integrity” excuse has been exposed as largely false. Every theatrical version is a sanitized version compared to the unrated version of the film.

Despite resistance from the music industry and “artistic integrity” complaints from musicians, technology and demand eventually forced the music industry to allow listeners to purchase individual songs they liked and make their own playlists instead of being forced to buy a whole album mostly full of songs they didn’t want just to get the one they liked. The industry could no longer force consumers to consume what they didn’t want because it was inextricably bundled with what they did.

Likewise, I expect that technology and demand are combining against the movie industry’s ability to force-feed audiences garbage they don’t want by bundling it with what they do. The movie industry is in financial trouble already. They need the money. And since they can no longer honestly appeal to their fake “artistic integrity” they have no excuse.

It seems like a prime time to flex a little consumer muscle and demand the choose-your-own-rating option for movies.

All it would take is for some large distributor such as Wal-mart to demand that PG-13 edits be made available, either as individual discs, or bundled as a viewing option on a single disc, for every movie that wants to be sold through their stores. This isn’t as far-fetched as some people might want you to think. Wal-mart is already known for frequently refusing to stock music with Parental Advisory notices unless a “clean” version of the album is made available. They wouldn’t have to stop selling R-rated movies, they would just have to demand that R-rated movies also have a sanitized alternative, or at very least that if they are going to release an “Unrated” version that differs from the theatrical version, then they also have to release a version edited to remove profanity, nudity, and graphic violence. And if the movie makers remonstrate, they can simply point out as I have that the movies are already basically doing this with theatrical alternatives to unrated versions.

It wont happen unless consumers demand it, though. So if this is something you support, consider contacting Wal-mart and other major distributors and asking them to pressure movie makers to make clean versions of their films available on DVD and pass the word on to your friends and family to do it too.

Wal-mart Feedback Form

 

31 thoughts on “Unrated vs Clean: It’s Time to Demand Choose-Your-Own-Rating DVD Options

  1. “And since they can no longer honestly appeal to their fake “artistic integrity” they have no excuse.”

    I’m interested in why you think they still do this, if not for artistic integrity.

    I might mention that there are services you can purchase that filter the movies for you. Not ideal (it costs money), but at least you can order something on Netflix and then get the filter and watch it at your ideal rating.

  2. Jmax, good points. The movie-renting and movie-going experience is a constant source of stress, especially because I love movies so much. But the gratuitous sex, violence and profanity in so many movies really ruins things for me sometimes.

  3. Great post, J. Max!

    Several years ago, I wrote an Op-Ed for my college paper about Paul Verhoeven’s then latest film, Showgirls. I shared many of the same points you did in your post, but not as eloquently as you have done in yours.

    I remember receiving a phone call from the owner of an adult bookstore, railing against me and my Op-Ed. Seems that the logic I used was damaging to his business. After I hung up the phone with him, I knew my Op-Ed had delivered the appropriate message.

    Thank you for standing up for decency and morality.

  4. Have you tried ClearPlay? It’s an excellent product with indivualized, timing based filtering that lets you tweak DVD movies to suit your taste.

    http://www.clearplay.com/

    Kevin Christensen
    Bethel Park, PA

  5. It seems so simple. If you don’t like the version that is released, don’t watch it. What we call gratuitous may be part of their artistic vision, only the director really knows. It doesn’t matter their reason for not releasing a clean version, in fact their reason could simply be to thwart a single Mormon blogger and that’s all the reason they need. There are multiple places to find our exactly what is in a movie before you watch it, you should never be surprised unless you want to be.

    As the teenage writer said in the last movie post, maybe you should just stick with movies from past decades.

  6. Jjohnsen, then why do almost all directors and studios have no problem with airplane versions of their movies?

    Face it: Hollywood loves to hide behind artistic discretion when convenient (like when they want to take down Cleanflicks). Then they go off and make an airline version that cuts out even more than Cleanflicks.

    Jmax is exactly right: if they are releasing DIRTIER version of a film, they can release a cleaner version.

    Now, having said that, this is just a moral disapprobation. Legally, artists should have the right to do whatever they want with their art. I just think their decision is hypocritical and stupid, but being hypocritical and stupid is not against the law.

  7. Agreed Geoff, but we’re used to some subset of the population (the libs) practicing huge hypocrisy then, aren’t we?

    I think we should also start a petition to demand that Netflix & Redbox allow you to sort movies by rating and content. I get so tired of sifting through the crap just to find something to watch. Anyone with the willingness to start such a petition?

  8. @ Kevin Christensen, my bishop uses the service and loves it. At some point, I may decide to switch from Netflix to Blockbuster so I can use ClearPlay, too. I hear it works really well and allows a lot more entertainment choices.

  9. @Psychochemiker

    There is a place in your Netflix Account settings where you can set a ratings filter for your users so that Netflix will only display movies at the specified rating or below. You can use this to exclude R rated movies at least to some extent.

    Honestly, Netflix could partner with companies like Clearplay to provide on-demand filtering. I suspect that it will happen sooner or later.

  10. Believe it or not I actually agree with jjohnsen. I have given up watching more than one or two movies a year at most, and that on video. This year has been a rare exception as I’ve watched and enjoyed “Inception”, “Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and “Tron: Legacy,” with the desire to see the two Harry Potter’s when they are both out on video. If a movie has an R rating, no matter how “good” it might be, then I don’t see it period. Not sure if they have “The King’s Speech” released as PG-13 like they did the theaters once it won the Academy Award, but if so I feel like supporting it just for that. This summer and moving to next year looks like a creative and moral disaster.

  11. “Do you demand that all books be released in edited and unedited versions, too?”

    I can always cross out the words with black marker, or even rip out whole pages, chapters, sections, whatever. Basically that is the point of cleanflix. True, you shouldn’t really do that with a library book that is similar to renting a video. However, the Hollyweird crowd doesn’t even give that choice when owning a copy.

  12. “Jjohnsen, then why do almost all directors and studios have no problem with airplane versions of their movies?”

    Airline versions are required under contract right now, they don’t have a choice for these as well as cable versions. And while actors are contractually required to do new voiceovers for these versions, directors are not usually required to do any of the cuts that are made. (though occasionally directors participate like Edgar Wright recently for Scott Pilgrim who directed replacement cuts for everything to hilarious results). Because each contract is different for every dvd, directors can decide how much additional content (including multiple versions) should be allowed with a film. So again it comes down to they just may not feel like providing that clean version because they don’t like what it does to the movie.

    I know that more than a few people in this thread look at directors and writers as artists willing to sell out at the drop of a hat, and they’re just doing this for the heck of it. If you talk to them though there are many of the directors and writers that actually do think it hurts the integrity of the work, and is no different than you suggesting the statue of david should be wearing boxer shorts. And they probably don’t care that you think their crappy film has nothing to do with art OR integrity.

    I have a friend who is a writer (of a movie discussed on this site, Book of Elli), and we’ve had a couple of conversations about this after he found out Iwas LDS. And while you might say he added in an rape attempt and certain violent scenes to that film gratuitously, he has very specific reasons for each one, none of which are gratuitous. I’m guessing he’s not the only artist in Hollywood thinking that way.

    Frankly I find the people here looking down there nose at movies as some kind of pretend art that should be manipulated to please every type of audience a little snobbish. I’ve had a feeling coming out of two R-rated films in the past ten years that are stronger than the spirit I feel some weeks in Sacrament meeting. They are works of art to me and have influenced my relationship with my wife, my fellow men and with God in a positive way. While they may not meet the standard some people in this thread are looking for, I’d hate to see them cropped and trimmed so my ten-year-old can watch them, possibly losing the meaning behind them along the way.

    So I’ll repeat again the simple answer to this problem. Don’t go see the movies that will offend you. Every movie is not for you. There are two sites my wife and I use before we see anything that we think might be wrong for us, Common Sense Media and Kids In Mind. Both go into exactly what a movie contains that may be offensive, and in my opinion are much better than a parent simply going by the G/PG/PG-13/R/NC-17 ratings that are made through a group that has their bias that may not match your own.

  13. And yes, the fact that Jettboy and I agree on something makes me believe I better check the weather app on my iPhone for Hell.

  14. I may agree with you about simply not watching it if they don’t care about changing it for you, but I don’t agree with your mocking tone and snobbish disregard for the feelings of others that writers and directors shouldn’t get the respect as artists that some demand. If they want to turn their noses as those who feel the work is gratuitous than I will keep (and have kept) them from any of my money. On top of that if they put their work out for the public to see then they shouldn’t cry foul when the public has a voice to judge them and their works. You want to be a non-sell out artist? Stop selling it as a product.

  15. You find my tone mocking? I’d love for you to point that out because my comment wasn’t mean to be mocking at all, and re-reading it I’m having a hard time finding anything that could even be mistaken as mocking anyone here.

    You think I’m turning my nose up at the people that are turning their nose up at people? You don’t understand jettboy, I don’t care if you mock or turn up your nose at artists that create films, but you shouldn’t expect them to make changes you request like Geoff and J. Mac are doing. What they seem to be saying is “your art is crap, what you do is a joke, but could you take the breasts out of this scene so I can watch it?”. Who exactly is saying nobody has the right to judge works? Of course the public has the right to judge and critique art, the public (including Geoff and J. Max) also have the right to demand a clean version. The artist has a right to ignore that demand.

  16. “n fact their reason could simply be to thwart a single Mormon blogger and that’s all the reason they need.”

    “As the TEENAGER writer said in the last movie post, maybe you should JUST STICK with movies from past decades.” (emphasis mine)

    “and is no different than you suggesting the statue of david should be wearing boxer shorts. And they probably don’t care that you think their crappy film has nothing to do with art OR integrity.”

    “Frankly I find the people here looking down there nose at movies as some kind of pretend art that should be manipulated to please every type of audience a little snobbish.”

    Maybe you don’t intend to sound mocking, but its hard for me to not find these sentences questioning the sincerity of those who disagree with your viewpoints. The first is implying that is what the critics here are thinking, and you know that sounds ridiculous. The second is a challenge to maturity and viewing habits with some connection between watching older movies and intelligence levels. The third no one said any such thing even if you think they did (and even if I personally think most movies these days are garbage not worthy of the title art no matter if the creators care what I think of their precious movies. In fact that attitude makes me less interested in giving them any of my time or money). That last quote is a pompous statement aimed at calling others pompous when you are so grown up and fair minded that you can attend R movies and be enlightened compared to the rest of us. Heck, you can even talk with those humble movie writers while we stand in Ivory Towers looking down at the artistic masses.

  17. Let me add my voice to those who find it just a little strange that some people demand to be entertained, but only under definite pre-arranged terms and circumstances. If you find a movie to be tasteless, or offensive in such a way that it contains things that you wish it didn’t have so that you could still watch it and feel good about having seen it, then take a stand and don’t watch it. Simple as that. Maybe I should start a petition for clean prOn.

  18. The first is supposed to sound ridiculous Jettboy. Unless you actually think there are directors coming to this blog trying to get help on artistic decisions. It’s hard to respond to that in sincerity when both Geoff and J. Max are mocking their artistic vision anyway. I didn’t see you complaining about that mocking.

    The second was pure fact. The writer was indeed a teenager, and she said that statement almost word for word in her post a few days ago. Show me where i’m wrong. Unless of course you complained to her about that same statement. Wait, I know you didn’t because Geoff didn’t allow any comments that called her out on anything, including that final sentence. I know that maturity has nothing to do with age, and I nowhere in that statement did I imply or say anything about intelligence. Maybe you were projecting?

    The third simply says there is no difference to some filmmakers between what J Max is suggesting and someone covering a statue to make it more decent. Shakespeare was once pop culture as well Jettboy, and as much as you think today’s art is garbage, I’m sure someone in his time was screaming indecency at one point outside the theater. And you saying you don’t care if there are filmmakers thinking like that just reinforces the point, for some people art will always be garbage.

    The last statement again comes directly from what Geoff and J Max have said and implied. That cinema isn’t a real work of art, and these artists should bend their art to fit whatever the audience requests. It has nothing to do with me knowing a writer or standing in an ivory tower (honestly I thought Geoff might appreciate the insight of a writer on a movie that he (partially?) enjoyed). I’m not more enlightened because I watch R rated movies, nowhere do I claim that and I wish you wouldn’t put words in my mouth. I even said we avoid movies after going past the simple ratings that tell us very little and get more information that I think most people do when they go see a movie.

    Talk about nitpicking.

    It all comes back to my simple solution. If you don’t like the art, don’t visit the movie theater.

  19. Let me add my voice to those who find it just a little strange that some people demand to be entertained, but only under definite pre-arranged terms and circumstances.

    +1

  20. Jjohnsen, you are getting upset about nothing, and boy do you appear to be upset. Artists can do whatever they want with their art. That is the beauty of a free society. I have the right to ask them to consider different tastes and to make changes that would be more in line with my tastes. They have the right to ignore me. Personally, I am not in favor of the censorship that we had in movies until the early 1960s. Artists can make as much garbage as they want. But I have the right to call it garbage.

    I have the right to write the following statement: there are literally thousands of movies that could be turned from R to PG-13 or even PG with a few small changes. Some people have mentioned “The King’s Speech.” The only reason that movie had an R rating was about one minute of swearing. Personally, I think a rating system that gives “The King’s Speech” an R rating and “The Ring” a PG-13 rating is seriously messed up, but in any case it would be possible to slightly change a few seconds of the movie and make it PG-13 (changes which, it turns out, did take place due to customer demand).

    Let me give you another example. In 2002, Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates made a movie called “About Schmidt.” R-rated. The movie would have been PG rated except for two scenes totalling less than 30 seconds, one in which we get full front nudity from Kathy Bates and another in which a guy swears like crazy. You alter those two scenes slightly and you have a PG-rated movie (I quite enjoyed the movie, btw).

    So, I will continue to ask directors and movie studios to make airline versions of their movies more available to the general public. My request is basic common sense. Directors and movie studios can ignore me. That’s fine, but I will continue to call that decision stupid and hypocritical, which it is.

    Btw, the fact that you seem so obsessed by this subject that you feel it necessary to have a battle with a teenage girl shows that you are a bit unhinged on this subject. You really need to go take a chill pill. People can express their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. I’m not going to have forums where adult men pick rude fights with teenaged girls, and if you can’t see why, you seriously need to get your priorities straight. There is such a thing as being a gentleman.

  21. Jjohnsen, another sign you are totally unhinged on this subject: where do I mock their artistic vision? See #19. I simply say they should provide an airline version of their movie to the general public. If I were mocking their artistic vision, I would not be interested in seeing it at all.

  22. “a little strange that some people demand to be entertained, but only under definite pre-arranged terms and circumstances. ”

    Let’s dissect this argument. Do people demand to be entertained? Well I suppose you could argue they demand to be entertained in the sense of market economies with supply and demand. But the tone in this statement makes it sound like people are out protesting in the street against injustices. People demand their entertainment to the exact same degree they demand a Happy Meal with a toy inside — it’s a market-based choice they are paying for.

    But that’s not a biggie. Let’s look at the other elements of your sentence you presume to half-mock or at least confused over. Consumers want entertainment under definite pre-arranged terms.
    - When you go to a movie, you’d like it start at the time it’s advertized and end at the time it’s advertized. That’s a definite, pre-arranged term. When you buy a DVD or theater ticket, you’d like the pre-arranged terms to be definite. No one wants to buy a DVD only to pop it in the player and find out that “in order to watch this DVD, please enter your credit card number”. Again, a definite, pre-arranged term.

    In other words, your sentence says, consumers prefer to spend their money on things for which they not only know what they are buying, but they are buying what they like. Yes, I’ll also give that a +1 to that sentence, except for the fact that it is preceded by you finding it a “little strange”. What would be more *strange* is if consumers just spent money on things with no clear terms and benefits and were altogether happy about it.

    Ah, but those aren’t the terms you were thinking of. So there you have it… you find it strange that some people have different tastes with what they spend their money on. I don’t consider it too strange that people like to pay for things that are interesting, fascinating, and entertaining, but at the same time don’t want to bring other filth they disagree with in their homes. I’ll even go one further and say I find it strange that a disciple of Christ would be wasting their time on this stuff, but the fact is none of us are perfect. The other fact is, we certainly won’t be made perfect watching movies either. Unless that movie is in the temple I suppose…

  23. I think the real reasons are two fold. “They” (Movie industry execs) simply didn’t like those who were clamoring for movies that didn’t have irrelevant garbage mixed in with the story – that’s the reason for the artisitic disdain excuses. And two, they weren’t in the position to profit from it. The clean play or other places would have grabbed the lion’s share of the video-sales had they been allowed to mature.

    Now they have better processes and more control over their content, and they are seeking for ways to add value (ie. sell stuff) so they will start doing this more. Take for instance the digital download-DVDs they supply with Blue Ray discs now. They could have put a WMV file on that disc a decade ago. But now they have better control over it through their digital rights management servers.

    The consumer marketplace was held back by 5-10 years by my estimate because the music & movie industry was not ready to remain in control with the change in technology. Now that they have a more established control over the consumer/technological aspect of their product that ensures they will not be displaced (to the degree such a thing is possible that is) we’ll see a lot more consumer-oriented things coming our way.

    The consumer is winning out in the end, but only after the incumbants threw up enough barriers to entry to forestall competition to ensure they are not cut out of the picture (much like politics I suppose).

  24. “Btw, the fact that you seem so obsessed by this subject that you feel it necessary to have a battle with a teenage girl shows that you are a bit unhinged on this subject.”

    Your idea of an attack was me simply asking if she had seen the movie she spent a large amount of her post complaining about. It was fairly clear that ether she hadn’t, or fell asleep for large portions of the movie. My comment to her was very calm and far from what I would call a battle.

    “Artists can do whatever they want with their art. That is the beauty of a free society. I have the right to ask them to consider different tastes and to make changes that would be more in line with my tastes. They have the right to ignore me.”

    Again, restating my whole point, but when I say it I’m accused of mocking. I’m not sure where you come off calling me unhinged but I don’t see any reason to continue discussing the subject if you feel the need to make fun of me like that. That you can blow by someone like Jettboy to go after me for being unhinged really says something about this place.

  25. “During the previous decade we saw the movie industry threaten and sue companies that sold sanitized, “clean” versions of their films and theaters that showed edited versions, like Brigham Young University’s Varsity Theater used to do. In explaining why, filmmakers often cited their artistic integrity to explain why they did not wanted edited, sanitized versions of their films available, even if there was a large potential market for it. The art and the message was more important than the profits. If people weren’t willing to see their art as intended, then too bad.

    Of course, the “artistic integrity” argument was always suspect. After all, the studios were already producing sanitized edits for showing on airlines and also for later broadcast on television. Why weren’t these versions made available on DVD? The filmmakers insisted that the airline and TV edits were special exceptions. The DVDs however, had to stay true to the same artistic vision as the original.

    But now the cat is out of the bag. The trend toward releasing “Extended” and “Unrated” versions of films exposes the “artistic integrity” lie. All along they have been doing exactly what they claimed their “artistic integrity” didn’t allow them to do. Releasing an “Unrated” version to DVD means that the theatrical version of the film _was_ an edited, sanitized version from which they purposefully cut out “art” to sell it to a larger potential market who wouldn’t see it otherwise.”

    There is a difference between a studio releasing an edited, sanitized version of a movie, and some third party producing its own edited, sanitized version of the movie. When a studio puts out an edited airplane or TV version of a movie, that’s something the filmmaker and studio have contractually agreed to–that is, they’ve decided that the artistic value lost from having those edits available is worth it given the compensation they will receive. The fact that airplane and TV versions are mostly just fleetingly available may may be a factor when they evaluate how much is being lost. And if a filmmaker has sufficient negotiating power and/or sufficient concern for the integrity of his or her vision, I’d imagine that he or she can negotiate the contract such that the edits are limited.

    When someone who doesn’t have a contractual relationship with the filmmaker or studio that allows them to mess around with the movie, it is not hypocritical for a filmmaker or studio to object–the filmmaker has not, in that case, agreed to or been compensated for the compromise to his or her artistic vision.

    Now, if people convince the movie studios that they will pay the studios for edited versions available to the general public, then the studios will do it whenever they think it will be profitable. And filmmakers who know that such edits being available on DVD are a possibility will have to decide between accepting it, going to a studio without such a policy, or negotiating a contract that precludes such edits. I don’t see a huge amount wrong with that situation, though I do fear that it could suppress some interesting films. (If a studio knows that a movie won’t be sold at Wal-Mart unless it’s available in an airplane edit, will it be less likely to produce interesting and valuable but impossible-to-airplane-edit films?)

    A relevant quotation from the TV show Community a couple of weeks ago: “Pulp Fiction? Yeah, I saw it on an airplane. It’s cute. It’s a 30-minute film about a group of friends who like cheeseburgers, dancing and the Bible.” –Shirley.

  26. #23: - When you go to a movie, you’d like it start at the time it’s advertized and end at the time it’s advertized. That’s a definite, pre-arranged term.

    But not the one I understood that this discussion was about.

    I admit that maybe my thinking in this matter may be a bit “old school”. With all the new digital editing technologies that exist, it may very well be that movie directors don’t have a problem with creating 4 or 5 different versions of a movie, in order to rack up as many bucks as they possibly can and make their product available to as many as possible. I’m not a filmmaker, so I don’t know if filmmakers these days prefer to sell a single, definitive version/vision of a film or not. For a filmmaker to be willing to go the multiple version route, however, would seem to be a statement that could go two ways: they really do care about their customers and want to reach as many of them as possible, or they’re really just interested in the big bucks and selling as many copies as they can, and that the customer should not expect that there would be any such thing as a definitive version of the film.

    We could really take this to extremes; at the 1974 World’s Fair in Spokane, WA, there was an interactive movie exhibit in which an audience would view a film, and the movie would pause at specific places in the story so as to allow the audience to vote on what a character in the movie should choose to do. Depending on how the audience voted throughout the movie at all the decision points, one audience could end up seeing a very different film from what the previous audience had seen.

    When people would get together to dicuss a film they had seen, the first question would always have to be: which version did you see? Just think of all the new film reviewers and reviews that would come into play, all of them discussing a different version of the film.

    Somehow, I just don’t anticipate filmmakers bringing multiple versions of a film to the Sundance Film Festival, for example. I would think that most filmmakers would want to have a single, definitive vision of a story to tell.

    Audiences are free to ask for films where objectionable material is edited out of the film or altered in some way, and if filmmakers are willing to do that, then I guess the audiences can be made happy in this thing. But I’ll be very surprised if this kind of thing becomes the rule rather than the exception.

  27. @JJohnsen

    You seem to be operating under an oversimplified understanding of art; the kind of superficial, idealistic concept that one often finds among aspiring artists who are so enraptured by “the grotesque” and “the sublime” (and themselves) that they never confront the complexities and paradoxes of art or of art as a commodity. Your “simple answer” to the problem reflects this oversimplified view.

    Art is always a series of negotiations and compromises between the artists, the medium, the financier, and the consumer. Limits and restrictions are far more essential to art than the artistic freedom so often extolled.

    You compare my post to suggesting that the statue of David should be wearing boxer shorts. Let’s talk about the David. Having seen the statue in person, I have to laugh at this kind of overwrought sense of “art”. The statue is indeed amazing, and in ways that are only really detectable by seeing it in person. Yes, placing boxers on the David would be a severe detraction. But the detraction would come mostly from the anachronism and the contrast. If anyone thinks that the statue’s penis is so essential to the piece that had Michelangelo decided to sculpted him wearing a loincloth it would have lost its magnificence, then I can say with great confidence that they suffer from a severe lack of perspective (pun intended).

    A photograph of the David miserably fails to capture the sculpture. Outside of the museum, vendors sell loud-colored aprons with images of only the torso and loins of the piece (leaving off the hands and head which are arguably the most important and interesting parts), in a crass joke that focuses on the penis. These are derivative works that are arguably just like putting boxers on him. And yet, we don’t forbid photographs,or crass aprons, because that is what art consumers want.

    The David is, in fact, a great example of the kind of complex series of negotiations and compromises that creates art. It was commissioned as part of a series of statues of 12 prophets to be placed on the butresses of a cathedral. Furthermore, Donatello had already done the first statue of Joshua, and Agostino had already done a second statue of Hercules for the series, possibly under Donatello’s direction. Agostino himself actually started the David, beginning to shape the legs, the feet, and the torso. When Donatello passed away, work on the piece stopped and it sat out in the elements for 25 years. So when Michelangelo won the bid to complete the piece, he was forced to work within a context imposed by the financiers, as well as those artists who had already worked on the series, and the shapes already imposed on the stone itself by Agostino.

    A good artist, like Michelangelo, embraces contraints and limits as the catalyst for creativity and invention.

    Just because it was meant by the artist to be displayed on a cathedral buttress (perhaps explaining the abnormally sized head and hands–to be viewed looking up at it from the distant ground) doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t view the David in any other context, because it is contrary to the original “vision.”

    The point is that “artistic vision” doesn’t exist in the way the writers and directors you cite present it, and they know it doesn’t. It’s far, far more fluid. The end product emerges from the spaces in between the medium and the people involved, including the audience and the financier. No actor plays the part in exactly the way the writer envisioned. No actor plays the scene exactly the same even from one take to the next. The scene is filmed to what the budget, time frame, and technology allow. Scenes once thought essential are cut in post production to improve the pacing. And the audience interprets and receives the work in ways that the artist never expected or intended.

    Both Christopher Marlow and Goethe write different versions of Faust. Chaucer and Shakespeare both retell Troilus and Criseyde in their own way. A new interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s plays appears on stage or Hollywood. Some of the most popular songs of Elvis are his interpretations of songs already written and recorded and publicized by others. Many people like the Elvis renditions better than the original artist’s vision. Likewise, if audiences find a film edited to remove profanity, nudity, and violence to be superior to the original, then it doesn’t really matter that it contradicts the artist’s idea.

    The art consumer is hardly extraneous to the art. It’s a complex feedback loop. The process is far too fluid for artists to appeal to some rediculously rigid “vision” of which the “integrity” is destroyed by removing a clutch of profane words from a single scene.

    The artist has always had to negotiate with the financier. And every artist wants her work to enter into culture and have an impact. But once culture gets a hold of it, it ceases to fully belong to the artist.

    Derivative works can be superior to original. Christopher Nolan’s film “The Prestige” was superior to the book from which it was derived, in part because it deviates so much from the original. Technology, mashups, sampling, and Internet consumer culture favor an environment conducive to derivative works. Clean edits of films are just another derivation. And if there is enough demand for them, they will eventually be available.

  28. I see two separate questions here, neither of which seems particularly emotionally or morally charged:

    1. Should third parties be able to edit movies to remove objectionable content and rent/sell the edited DVDs?

    2. Should movie studios voluntarily release clean-edit DVD versions of their movies?

    The first question is just a question of copyright law. Under copyright law, the person or entity that owns the copyright (be it an artist or someone to whom the artist has voluntarily sold the rights) gets to decide what other people do with the work. The fact that they may have agreed to let some people make some edits that compromise the artistic integrity of the work does not make it hypocritical or a “lie” to cite artistic integrity when preventing other people from making other edits. (As for the point that once the culture gets a hold of a work, it ceases to fully belong to the artist, that’s true of the ideas in the work, and it’s true to the extent that another work’s use of the work is based on copyright “fair use” principles, but it’s not true to the extent that others are just copying huge chunks of the original work itself.)

    The second question is just an issue of what the studios and filmmakers think is profitable, and what particular artists are willing to accept. If consumers show sufficient demand, some studios will release clean edits of some films (they probably won’t release clean edits of others because the edits would make the film meaningless). And some artists won’t agree to make films under contracts allowing such edits, which seems perfectly legitimate and not at all hypocritical to me.

  29. Anna,

    The first question isn’t as cut and dried as you make it seem. It has been complicated by the emergence of technologies like ClearPlay, which sit between the unmodified DVD content and then modify it on the fly before it reaches the screen or speakers. This is a whole new industry which has already been ruled consistent with copyright, and yet allows a third party to produce a content mask that changes how consumers experience the content in ways that contradict the copyright holder’s original intent.

    I predict that in the near future, an open-source version of this kind of masking technology will emerge, with an open mask-file definition that will allow any script kid who wants to learn the XML flavor to create their own filter of any film they want to, and distribute it, even for a price. Not only will it allow anyone to produce their own filters and distribute them online, but it will eventually allow on-the-fly insertion of different, third-party produced sound tracks or even video clips. An open source film-moding community will explode followed shortly by the heads of movie makers and their lawyers.

    As for the second question, I agree with you for the most part.

  30. I’m aware that ClearPlay is consistent with copyright law (which makes sense to me–copyright law doesn’t ensure that everyone will experience a work exactly as the author originally intended; it prohibits making copies and derivative works, distributing a copyrighted work to the public, or displaying it publicly. The way ClearPlay operates doesn’t fit well within those prohibitions and is more analogous to an individual fast-forwarding through scenes or skipping book chapters).

    I think it becomes a completely different situation when someone uses technology to copy and (especially) distribute a modified version of a work, either by removing portions or by inserting new things into the work. That seems like clear copyright infringement, and I suspect the copyright law will be on the side of the movie makers and their lawyers if that becomes widespread.

    If all of the modification occurs “on-the-fly,” in a temporary manner, in the privacy of a consumer’s own home, in a manner kind of like an open-source ClearPlay, it will be a more interesting question and will probably depend on the specific facts and technologies involved.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>