After Saudi crown princes and French literary critics, Hollywood producers and directors are the most arrogant creatures on the planet. For years, they have ducked behind the First Amendment to ignore the outrage of millions of Americans over excessive sex, violence, and bad language in movies.
But now, a new wave of mom-and-pop video entrepreneurs — fed up with being written-off as blue-state yahoos — are turning the tables, using Hollywood’s own technology. These family-values companies are digitally re-editing Hollywood movies to create unauthorized, G-rated versions of current releases.
These “clean movies” are much slicker than the chainsaw-edited versions of films that appear on airlines and network TV. In the clean version of Titanic, for example, Kate Winslet’s nude scenes are toned down with the addition of digitally rendered clothing. Ironically, the same generation of digital-imaging software that produces the special effects in mind-numbing flops such as The Hulk, T-3, and Charlie’s Angels II are driving this counterrevolution.
Hollywood studios have attacked the clean-movie movement on intellectual-property grounds and collectively launched a long, drawn-out court battle that will not settle until 2004 at the earliest. And yes, digital technologies allow works of art to be altered in ways the creators never intended, or even imagined, a Pandora’s box for the copyright holder.
The possibilities are endless. Excessively gory images in Goodfellas and Saving Private Ryan can be visually sanitized-blood spatters wiped clean, bullet holes smudged out, severed limps neatly mended, like Barbie dolls. The famous torture scene in Reservoir Dogs could become a tickle scene. Captain Quint could pop out of the shark’s mouth at the end of Jaws and say, “Whew — that was close!”
What about intellectual property and the original intent of the creators? If the severed head that Marlon Brando tosses into Martin Sheen’s lap in Apocalypse Now is digitally changed to, say, a soccer ball, doesn’t that destroy years of labor belonging to the director, Francis Ford Coppola? Artistic creations are often fallible and misguided. Why shouldn’t movies be subject to populist revision?
For example, I found the ending of Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece Brazil so dark, sad and disturbing that I quit college and lived with whales for two years. I would pay anything to see Brazil re-released with a sweet, peppy, happy ending. This would not explain the disturbing gaps in my work resume, but it might help reduce my therapy bills.
The freedom to manipulate art can be a powerful force for good. I can’t be the only movie fan who would enjoys seeing the last 12 or 13 Woody Allen films digitally revised so that Woody acts his age and stops kissing his leading ladies?
I’m still waiting for the Rocky sequel in which Rocky Balboa mercilessly pummels my sadistic high-school gym teacher, Mr. Kordicke. If I could watch a digitally edited version of an Atom Egoyan film where I understood anything that was happening on the screen at all, that would be great.
Movie studios are panicking over the possibility G-rated cuts of current films will cannibalize revenues for the PG-13 or R-rated originals. Well, what about the other way around? I might actually rent Star Wars: The Phantom Menace if Jar-Jar Binks were replaced by a digitally resurrected Sam Kinison and Queen Amidala was played by Pamela Anderson. George Lucas could digitally paint Nike or Diet Coke logos onto the lightsabers to pay for all the extra creative work.
Digital manipulation will also migrate to and change other media. I might be able to cancel my Paxil prescription after seeing the NYPD Blue rerun in which the long-suffering Detective Andy Sipowicz discovers his dead wife and son alive on a Pacific island, loses 45 pounds and wins the Lotto. I want to see “The Iron Chef” face down Jason Vorhees, the killer from Friday 13th, over calves liver. In Sex in the City, the women should spend an entire episode fighting over a man who looks exactly like me.
When I turn on Fox News, I want to see Israelis and Palestinians gamboling together at West Bank picnics, Laci Peterson and Chandra Levy returning home safely, and doctors from Harvard Medical School announcing that donuts and French fries may actually eliminate cholesterol.
The impact on documentary films will be startling. I look forward to seeing how John Belushi has adapted to marriage, working at home, and three noisy kids in an Upper Michigan suburb. I want to see Lou Gehrig playing in his 4,447th consecutive ballgame. I want the Deluxe DVD of John F. Kennedy marrying Julia Roberts, with Bobby Kennedy as best man and Martin Luther King officiating. (Naturally, CNN celebrity anchor Jackie O. will be covering the nuptials.)
I’d like to see a Death of a Salesman in which Willy Loman is appointed senior V.P. of sales at G.M, saves the U.S. economy, and invents a water-burning car. I want to see the Mona Lisa with the face of Lizzie McGuire. I want to buy Pachelbel’s “Canon” hummed by Neil Young.
I want to hear James Joyce’s Ulysses recorded as an audio book in short, easy-listening sentences. I want reclusive 1970s novelist Thomas Pynchon to visit my house and explain Gravity’s Rainbow to me, and if he brings an extra-cheese pizza and grape soda, thanks. And, most of all, I’m still waiting for a version of Microsoft Word that actually wirks.
— Bruce Stockler is a media-relations consultant and humorist. His memoir, I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.