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Cut that has become a gimmick

"HOW DID you like the movie?" is what I once used to ask. Now I find myself saying: "How do you like the new version?" And I could be meaning either The Director's Cut, The Original (Studio) Version or The Restored Version. Or the Anniversary Edition or even the Special Edition. The most famous and celebrated case of the director's cut is, of course, "Blade Runner." The director's version usually contains added footage, like Coppola adding a huge chunk of new footage to "Apocalypse Now Redux". But "Blade Runner," strangely, is an instance of existing footage being trimmed. Ridley Scott's version leaves out more than it puts in. Curiously, this is also one case where I - and several other movie buffs I know - prefer the studio version! Why? Simply because that's the version we saw over and over again, till we memorised it.

The dream of the unicorn and what it implies - that Deckard's memories are implants - is far out: but what we still miss in the director's cut is Harrison Ford's Humphrey Bogart voice-over and that bitter-sweet ending with Deckard and Rachael fleeing against a verdant mountain vista backdrop. Turns out that footage that the studio tacked on at the last minute to suggest this more hopeful ending was actually an outtake from Kubrick's "The Shining."

In the end, Scott was right. The version as it stands now is more in tune with the film's beautiful bleakness. The voice-over is too romantic. And the logical twist that the film was leading up to all along was the revelation of Deckard's true identity. It was the success of the director's cut of the ``Blade Runner" that persuaded studios to go back to films and filmmakers from the past that they had interfered with. Namely, Orson Wells.

``Citizen Kane" was the first and last film that Wells got final cut. Using the director's own notes, the studio put together the Touch of Evil Wells had had in mind all along.

Interestingly, the work did not entail restoring lost footage but placing existing shots, sound and music based on the 58 pages of instructions that Wells had drafted on a memo to the studio forty years earlier. The original studio version ran to 93 minutes. Later there was a longer cut, erroneously labelled as the director's cut that ran to 108 minutes.

In both these versions, that spectacular opening tracking crane shot is overlaid by the film's credits. In the true version, put together by editor Walter Murch and his team, there are no credits over this shot, thus leaving the audience to glory in this shot (said to be the greatest ever opening put on screen) without any distractions.

Does the director, then, always know best? Is her version always the best one? Some film editors would disagree. In his book, "When The Shooting Stops... The Cutting Begins: A Film Editor's Story," Ralph Rosenblum, claims that it was he who saved Woody Allen's "Take The Money and Run" and "Annie Hall." Both were a mess, he says, when they reached the editor's table. And coherence and structure of both movies as we know them now was his work.

Producer Robert Evan who always clashed with Coppola, writes in his autobiography that the masterful climax of "The Godfather" - inter cutting between the christening in the Church and the massacre of Michael's enemies, was editor Peter Zinner's idea. Peter Cowie in "The Godfather Book" sets the story straight: Coppola had envisaged this but was not there physically in the cutting room to supervise it because he was in Sicily. Meanwhile, it was left to Zinner to choreograph this from eight or nine 1,000-foot reels of the priest, the baby and the killings.

Finally, Zinner solved it by letting the priest's voice run over the murders and the baptism, thereby giving it the continuity Coppola had been seeking.

And then there is the curious case of the special edition of "The Exorcist," with the subtitle, `The Version You've Never Seen'. This could well be the first instance of The Scriptwriter's Cut! Reagan's eerie spider walk apart, this new version released recently has two other scenes that director William Friedkin left out in the original version because he felt it explained too much. Producer-writer William Peter Blatty, who had always disagreed with the director about this, has now persuaded the studio to include these scenes in `The Version You've Never Seen.'

The closest we have to a director's cut in India are slightly different endings in the DVD versions of "Sholay", "Minsara Kanavu" and the underrated "Mugavari" - to name a few movies.

A true case of the director's cut, however, waits in the wings: Anurag Kashyap's "Paanch" which might get a release but with several cuts from the Censor Board. Some day - if it goes on to become a cult film - Kashyap could release his full version, "Paanch" : The Director's Cut. But lately, The Director's Cut has become a gimmick, an excuse for all these young, upstart American film-makers, post Tarantino, to release a second version of their films (not theatrically but direct to DVD) based on a few minutes of added footage.

There has not been a genuine case of a true director's cut for years now because it looks like there are no filmmakers out there to make something so daring and so new that a studio would object to or interfere with.

When Scott completed ``Blade Runner" and had to consider a different ending from the one he had of the elevator closing on Deckard and Rachael with Graf's voice-over saying: "Too bad she won't live. But then who does?" Scott asked himself with some alarm; "My God, have I gone too far?" When will we next here a director asking that of himself?

PRADEEP SEBASTIAN
(pradeepsebastian@hotmail.com)

Visuals by Netra Shyam

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