Think film critics don’t matter anymore? Think again. When Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” finally came to theaters after six years of production and edits and re-edits and lawsuits and more lawsuits, it was quietly dumped and forgotten by a distributor, Fox Searchlight, that was just looking to cut its loses and move on. Initial reviews were mixed and initial box office was lousy (just $46,000 from about 20 theaters around the country). But a second wave of critical notices were far more positive. Soon ‘Margaret’ devotees began springing up on Twitter, sharing their #teammargaret-tagged love with curious followers around the country and the world. A UK release went surprisingly well; an online petition pleading with Searchlight to make “Margaret” available to critics for year-end list consideration resulted in a couple new bookings and strong showings in the Village Voice and Indiewire critics’ polls (it ranked as the #7 and #9 films of the year, respectively). Lonergan himself began appearing at regular sold-out screenings of the film at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. A few months after being left for dead, a couple passionate critics turned “Margaret” into perhaps the unlikeliest and most high-brow cult film of all time.
Now The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody reports that those passionate critics and the rest of the #teammargaret crowd are being rewarded for their loyalty with a DVD and Blu-ray release on July 10 which includes the holy grail of “Margaret” fandom: a much longer cut of the film by Lonergan. The writer director had been contractually obligated by Searchlight to deliver a shorter version of the film for theatrical release, and it was that stipulation that led to so many alternate cuts of the film over so many years of editing room and courtroom wrangling. Finally, Lonergan will have the opportunity to share his vision of the film with the world. At his blog, The Front Row, Brody writes more about the experience of understanding and appreciating films that are available in multiple cuts:
“Every version has its delights and its significance. The haste that marks the latter part of ‘Margaret’ also conveys a sense of implacability, a feeling of experience accelerating under pressure. (And, though I’d be surprised if there should turn out to be a drastic difference in structure between the released version and the extended one, surprises are exactly what to expect from artists of Lonergan’s calibre. I interviewed him about the film earlier this year; his remarks are full of fascinating surprises.) There’s nothing to match the exhilaration of a first discovery and the affection that attaches to a film as first seen (though the story behind the released version of Jean Vigo’s ‘L’Atalante‘ — which, for its original release, was altered even unto its very title — is cautionary), yet I fully expect to revel in the longer cut of the film and to view, repeatedly, new material with gratitude and with love.”
Director’s cuts aren’t always superior to theatrical cuts. Sometimes, executives are right in their criticism about a film, and many cinematic masterpieces have been improved by collaborations and creative tensions between directors and producers. Maybe the new version of “Margaret” will pale in comparison to the theatrical cut. But the Extended Cut’s quality is ultimately less important than its availability, not just for fans of the film but for the entire profession of film criticism. A whole bunch of critics went to bat for “Margaret,” poking and prodding their readers and a reluctant distributor to come together to support something that they believed was very much worth their time. The surprising success that followed, and now this exciting DVD release, is proof that their efforts weren’t in vain, and that film critics still have a role in the world of hundred million dollar marketing campaigns and social media instareviews.
The new 36-minute longer version of “Margaret” will be available on July 10th, initially as an Amazon exclusive. Buy a copy and keep it handy for the next time someone tells you that film criticism is dead.