Private Viewing: Hollywood must rediscover a way to bring us the full story
- Credit: Archant
The director’s cut is thriving. Arts editor Andrew Clarke says it will stay as long as cinema ignores the art of storytelling
With the recent re-release onto the big screen of Ridley Scott’s latest re-edit of Bladerunner, one of the great science fiction masterworks, and the arrival on DVD of the full-length version of Lars von Trier’s two-part erotic epic Nymphomaniac, it seems that the cult of the director’s cut is alive and well.
The director’s cut is a relatively recent phenomenon. It started to appear during the latter days of VHS in the mid-90s but really took off with the advent of the DVD in the early 2000s.
I have to say that I am a real fan of director’s cuts because they can turn an unsatisfactory mess into a real work of art.
Cynics may say that it is just a way to sell the same film twice but it really is more than that. The best director’s cut DVDs aren’t about offering viewers more footage necessarily, nine times out of ten, it is about offering more story.
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This is certainly true of the latest releases Bladerunner: The Final Cut and Nymphomaniac: The Director’s Cut – Parts One and Two.
As a snub to the cynics, Ridley Scott delivered a director’s cut of Bladerunner that is shorter than the cinema release but what he has done is make the story clearer.
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With the rise of marketing departments, directors have to deal with a lot of external interference. If you are not Steven Spielberg then you may not have sufficient clout to over-rule the studio bosses who want punchy movies with plenty of bombs, bullets and bigger and bigger explosions. Shove a space battle or a car chase in there with a few quotable wise-cracks and you are in cinema heaven – or so they would have you believe.
Forget the script, forget the story, what they are after is at least two showings every night and plenty of spectacle. The marketing department doesn’t worry if it doesn’t make sense, as long as it looks good up on screen.
It is not unusual for films to be trimmed by studio bosses if the director doesn’t have a final cut clause in his contract. Often this will be for no other reason other than to get the running time down. In a business where major decisions are made about a film’s future based solely on the first weekend’s take at the box office, it is important to make sure you get two showings a night.
The director may be screaming: “But it doesn’t make sense,” but the suits in head office will remain deaf.
When the editor is taking his scissors to the print, he’s not going to take out the special effects or the car chases – it’s always the narrative that goes.
If you look at James Cameron’s superb Aliens: the Director’s Cut, it now makes complete sense while the original theatrical version is a brooding mess. That much hacked-about original release has plenty of atmosphere but it doesn’t tell a coherent story. But, view the director’s cut and all becomes clear.
Lars von Trier’s controversial two-part hardcore examination of female desire lost 90 minutes before it made its way onto the cinema screen. Bizarrely, it wasn’t the sex scenes that were cut but rather the quirky, darkly funny dialogue and the exposition between Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard.
Okay, there is some more graphic sex footage in the new release and an avert your gaze abortion scene but these do inform the story, rather than just providing a cheap shock.
There’s also additional scenes with Christian Slater, which further develops his character and makes his fate and his relationship with Joe (played at different ages by Stacey Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg) even more poignant. It reinforces the point that von Trier has made a serious film with a point rather than just a piece of scandalous confection.
Three of the best director’s cuts are Peter Jackson’s amazing Lord of the Rings movies – they work even at their exhaustive four hour running times because these are the original films that Jackson wanted to screen.
The best director cuts aren’t adding footage they are restoring footage which was excised before we got to see it – not because it wasn’t needed or slowed the story but because it prevented a second evening performance.
It may make sound business sense but it is akin to a publisher ripping out three chapters from a book and still expecting the readers to know what is going on.
The director’s cut will continue to thrive so long as producers continue to hack complex and rewarding films to bits with no regard to the story. It’s difficult to understand why they would place spectacle above story because once you’ve seen one explosion you’ve seen them all and yet it is the story that makes audiences connect with what’s on screen. Call me old fashioned but it seems that the very existance of a director’s cut is a damning indictment on Hollywood’s ability to tell a decent story.