Never Before Seen in Theaters ...
I'm taking a history of documentary film class this month, and I've had the opportunity thus far to see some truly extraordinary films.
Last night we screened Harlan County, USA a 1974 film about Kentucky coal miners and their struggle for a union contract. (Netflix it. It is a riveting film that drops you into a struggle that is ongoing. As energy consumers, it's an eye-opening education in the human cost of energy production.)
All these documentaries have got me thinking about something a bit unrelated: Director's and Unrated cuts of feature films.
Documentarians record hours upon hours of raw footage. The ratio can be as high as 50 to 1, minutes shot to length of final film. For an hour and a half doc, this equates to 75 hours worth of footage. That's a huge amount of footage. Needless to say, it does not all end up in the final film. Part of the process is selecting what will be shown, and at some point sticking a fork in it (i.e. "it's done.") Just imagine what we miss out on! Watching the bonus features on DVD will sometimes show you. For me, recently watching the omitted scenes from Shakespeare Behind Bars, I appreciate the skill of the documentarians who brought focus to a large and nuanced story.
It also makes me think, just how necessary is a Director's or Unrated cut of a fiction film? How justifiable is it to add in a bunch of stuff that was deemed unnecessary at the time of release?
The way I see it, there's only two conditions under which an alternate cut is justifiable:
1) The director's vision and intent was disregarded by the studio, and an artistically compromised version was released in place of the finished version the director presented for distribution. Take, for example, Terry Gilliam's masterpiece Brazil. The studio crafted a "Hollywood ending" that completely violated the point Gilliam was trying to make.
2) The movie had to be edited down simply because the story was too damn big. I own the extended editions of Lord of the Rings. I love these flicks. I also know that I could not have sat through four-and-a-half hours of Frodo loving awesomeness without a piss break. The extended version only works at home. Period. And there are plot points missing from the theatrical version. Major plot points.
(I suppose there's a third valid reason: when the film is such a piece of crap, it really doesn't matter if you get more swears and boobies. The wife and I do have a number of "unrated" flicks: Van Wilder, Old School, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. To be honest, I'm not sure if the theatrical cut of these movies are available on DVD.)