Saturday, September 6, 2014

"Directors' Cuts": Short Story Long

When did you ever hear of a "director's cut" of a movie in which anything was actually cut? Instead, the director's cut is always longer than the popular release--usually much longer. The assumption seems to be that the true artist creates a full, rich work of art, and crass commercial pressures then lead to a shortened, artistically inferior product.

The truth is surely the exact opposite almost every time. How often do we come out of a film thinking "It would be so much better if it were quite a lot longer"? Surely it is far more common for all of us to think "If only they had made it shorter!"

I'm not just thinking here of films such as Take Shelter—a case where an otherwise remarkably interesting and well-made film is essentially ruined by a misconceived last couple of minutes. I'm thinking primarily of that far larger category—films in which a natural ending point is reached after 90 minutes, and then another after 110 minutes, and then another after 130 minutes, and still the film staggers on. Take Spielberg's 141 minute Catch Me If You Can. For the first hour or more, the film is arguably one of the most entertaining dramatic comedies ever made. Indeed, it would not be difficult to come up with an "audience cut" that would result in placing the entire film among the best dramatic comedies ever made. I would suggest ending the film at the moment Carl lies and Frank is arrested overseas, and then summarizing the rest of the story (Frank working for Carl at the FBI and so on, as well as the material already summarized in the existing film) in writing on the screen before the credits roll—but no doubt a good case could be made for other moments. It's not that the last half hour or more of the film is bad. It's just so much less interesting than what has gone before. It meanders; it tells us little of substance about the characters that we didn't already sense; it ends up detracting from the overall effect rather than adding to it.

Here's an example in the other direction, which my partner and I also saw recently: the 1944 Murder, My Sweet. Starring Dick Powell and filmed in a wonderfully economical fashion by Edward Dmytryk. With one wonderful comic/romantic twist at the end. One, not three or four. The whole film? 95 minutes. A plea to Steven Spielberg; release a 95 minute "audience cut" of Catch Me if You Can. It will be one of the best things you've ever done—and one of the best movies ever made.

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