Bleep!

Tuesday night I turned on the Intruder again. When I was up with insomnia the other night, I saw an ad for AMC/ABC’s report Bleep! Censoring Hollywood, which talks about the folks making money selling sanitized versions of Hollywood films. I thought it might be an interesting report, so I actually went out of my way to watch it. It was a first since getting cable, and the first TV program I’ve done that for in ages.

How was it? Short and insubstantial. But at least it was balanced. Plenty of H’wood directors whining about desecration of their visions, and as many more entrepreneurs discussing how, when someone buys a DVD, they can do what they want with it, whether it’s using it for skeet or skipping the naughty bits.

(Aside: I visited the website of one of the companies that sanitizes films, and one of their offerings was Love Actually. I couldn’t help but be amazed by this. What, I thought, was left of the original film to show? Two of the story lines would have to be cut altogether – the naked couple and Colin Frizzle and his trip to America – and is Alan Rickman’s extra-marital affair offensive enough to be deleted or not? What about the friendship between the faded rock star and his manager that some interpreted as a gay relationship? Not to mention the plentitude of salty language. If I had a criticism of these businesses, I would suggest that they take on films that would have something left after being sanitized.)

I must admit that I didn’t have much sympathy for the directors they spoke with. There they were in their editing suites, complaining about someone butchering their work… and I thought, Well, welcome to the club!

See, how many times have you gone to a film adaptation of a book and came out saying that the movie was better than the book? Off the top of my head, I’d give that honor to The Firm and Get Shorty, because both fix what I thought were shortcomings of the books themselves. And that’s it. Out of all the movies I’ve seen turned into books over the years, those are the only two.

Now granted, there are some movies that are great adaptations of books. But as great as the movies were, the books were still better. As Tom Clancy once put it (I’m paraphrasing from memory here), “I can’t understand why Hollywood pays good money to buy a book to turn into a movie, and in the process of doing it, strip out everything that made it a best seller.”

In other words, I think directors protest a bit too much – because how many of them, in their own pursuit of vision, butchered somebody else’s work, be it a screenplay or – you knew this was coming – a novel?

(I have a similar lack of sympathy for those musicians who moan about file sharing. Authors, after all, have for centuries been singled out for exploitation by a government sanctioned file sharing system. It’s called a library, and this whole issue was the point of this parody that nobody got because I made it a little too obscure, I guess. And yes, I have been pirated – on the Internet – so I know of what I speak.)

Granted, I’m not seeing this whole issue as revenge on an elite subset of people who deserve the comeuppance. And I’m not taking any gleeful pleasure in it, either. If I had one thing to say to the directors, I’d say “Get over it. It happens to everyone.” As anyone who has ever worked in advertising or journalism knows, as does anyone who has ever written anything and let someone else read it. We live in a world where the three great motivators of humanity are 1) Food, 2) Sex, and 3), the need to change someone else’s writing. Why these guys should think that they’re beyond or above all of this, I’ll never know.

Wait. Excuse me. I forgot. They live in Hollywood.

They need to understand that nobody is immune from this. During my years acting in community theater productions I’ve had maybe one director who felt such a reverence for the author’s words that they wanted it delivered verbatim. Most try to stay within what the author has put down, but leave some room to flex based on the needs of the production and the local audience. And on the other end of the spectrum is the Russian director I had the pleasure of working with in a production of Marvin’s Room. When the teen male lead was having problems memorizing a long speech about being in a mental ward, the director shortened it to one line. The actor said, “Can we do that?” The director said, “We can. We paid for it. We can do what we want with it.”

What if we all started acting the way that Hollywood directors do over this issue, imagine the results. ABC News doing an interview with an outraged car manufacturer who says, “Our cars were never meant to be driven while drunk or used by wives to run over their cheating husbands. This is in direct violation of our vision for the automobile!” Makers of duct tape would sue people who use bits of it to accessorize their clothing, cover up warts to make them go away, and bind kidnap victims. Purveyors of kitchen cutlery would still be doing interviews decrying Lorena Bobbit.

We live in a society of innovators. During World War II, American troops independently came up with dozens of innovations to mount on tanks to make it easier to fight amongst the bocage and hedgerows of France (instead of waiting for central command to do it). And what about the expression Yankee ingenuity? Our culture is one of innovation, adaptation, and improvisation. We do it by original thinking, and by copying, borrowing, changing, and stealing.

And nowhere is this more evident than in Hollywood, the town that steals from the world and eats its own young. The town that turns out sequels until they get negative returns, the town that thinks that making movies from old TV shows, comic books and board games is a good idea, and where 99% of the population waits for the other 1% to innovate so they can jump on the bandwagon.

So get over it. If someone wants to see your “vision” the way you wanted it to be seen, and not bowdlerized by Network Television, an Airline, or a company trying to make it so more people are willing to see your work, they can always go to a place called “Blockbuster” and do something called “rent” an object called a “DVD” and take it home and watch it for themselves. It’s that easy.

But heaven forbid they should try getting it at a place called “the library.”

NP – iTunes: Eels, Blinking Lights (and other revelations)

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