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Jonathan Rosenbaum: Death by a Thousand Director’s Cuts

Jonathan Rosenbaum: Death by a Thousand Director's Cuts

For Slate, esteemed film scholar/journalist Jonathan Rosenbaum asks some very good questions about what the current state of DVD marketing has done to film culture. In other words, and more specifically, how have terms like “restored” and “director’s cut” blurred the truth about a film’s legacy? Just because the packaging makes a definitive statement about the movie inside, doesn’t make that statement historical fact. From his column:

Arguably, one reason why the film industry has encouraged and promoted the concept of director’s cuts, even though this might appear to be counter to its own interests, is that it enables a film’s owner to sell the same product to the same customer twice—or even, in a few special cases, three or four times. Presumably, if you recut somebody’s film, the damage isn’t serious because it can always be “restored” on DVD. The basic mythology appears to be that every film has two versions, a correct one and an incorrect one. But in fact this isn’t quite true. A better paraphrase of the mythology would be, more paradoxically, that every film has at least two versions—a correct one and a more correct one, to be succeeded in turn by further upgrades…

…To take an extreme example, what about the eight separate versions of Blade Runner, at least half of which have been widely shown? These have included, apart from the initial 1982 release, cuts known respectively as the “original director’s version” (though, ironically, disowned by its director, Ridley Scott) in 1990; three subsequent versions, all purporting to be “director’s cuts,” growing out of Scott’s objections to the 1990 release; and, finally, the one that was actually approved and released in 1992. Yet even these five versions—all described in copious detail, along with two more, in Paul M. Sammon’s once-exhaustive 1996 book, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner—have finally been succeeded by a more carefully wrought 25th anniversary edition, hopefully definitive, known simply as Blade Runner: The Final Cut, prepared by Scott and released in 2007.

That’s why, when it comes to a film’s definitive restoration with the highest approval, I say it’s Criterion Collection or bust.

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