Monday, July 10, 2006

The following film has been ruined.

I despise all forms of censorship, which leaks into the greyer area of movies getting butchered. Usually this is seen when a television network wants to show a movie, but doesn't want to show anything that might upset anybody. Well, that and they have to stop it every few minutes to let the advertisers scream at you. Anyway, there are other places this happens. "Family-friendly" video rental shops and other small businesses will sell or exchange for censored versions of movies. It's just been ruled that such businesses are infringing copyright:

...I'm not sure how I feel about that. Sure, a little part of me dies when I see television butcher a movie by cutting off the sides of the picture, dubbing horribly cheesy dialogue over four-letter words, and skipping over intense scenes altogether. I think it does the filmmaker a disservice. But I'll bet that that same filmmaker either agreed to or signed off permission to a studio for the contract that let that movie be shown in a butchered format. Plus, it's generally understood that if I want to see the real deal, I can go buy a DVD or order pay-per-view or something. Now, these "family-friendly" rental outfits and other small businesses wear it on their sleeves that they are peddling modified movies. I personally would never set foot in such a place. But the guy who has a van full of kids to keep entertained on a long trip, or a practicing Mormon who never watches R-rated movies, might see these places much more positively. Butchered Matrix is better than no Matrix at all. ...Was that even R-rated...? Well you get my point.

Part of the problem is that society is full of prudes. This wouldn't even be an issue if there wasn't a sizeable part of the population who decides to get offended by certain words and images, who thinks anything sexual or violent is inappropriate, who picks at the details but misses the bigger picture of context and the notion that some stories simply deal with heavy subject matter. Another part is that many Hollywood studios toss in language and gore where really it isn't accomplishing anything. And then there's the problem that big media corporations want to have total control over how we see anything that comes out of their studios. Hence DVD encryption, unskippable previews, and the whole ridiculous ongoing fiasco around high-definition formats. If I honestly want to watch a butchered movie, I think I should be able to do so. Especially if I've paid just as much as I would for the real thing.

This particular ruling is sort of the worst of both worlds. If we bring the idea to its logical conclusion, there will be no more pan-and-scan and/or butchered-for-tv versions of movies, which would be fine by me, but we'll also be in a world where parody and other fair-use stuff is completely thrown out the window, which is absolutely not fine.

Preserving an artist's vision, hooray to that. But a giant boo to the idea of big film studios working with the government to restrict what we do with our own stuff. Here's hoping this judgement gets overruled, because it's totally wrong, even if it was made for the right reasons.


svoid said...

I have mixed feelings about this. Living in Utah as a non-Mormon, I can identify with the plight of the minority that has different moral standards than the majority. It bothers me that just because I live in a state that is predominantly Mormon that I can't buy beer on Sunday, or order a rum and coke with my dinner, or get into a bar without paying a membership fee. I imagine that patrons of places like CleanFlicks are similarly frustrated that just because they live in a world that is predominantly unphased by sex, violence and profanity in movies that they have to put up with movies like the Matrix carrying a gratuitous 'R' rating.

However, the thing that makes this tricky is that these are creative works. It was someones vision to put the movie together just the way that it was. I'm not sure that people have the inherent right to edited copies of movies. Imagine an art gallery that is showing an exhibit that contains nude photographs. As a patron of the art gallery, do I have the right to demand that they cover up the offensive portions of the photos so that I can enjoy the exhibit without being offended. I don't think so.

If I find a particular exhibit offensive, I should choose not to go and see it. If the art gallery continues to show exhibits that I find distasteful than I should discontinue my patronage of that art gallery. If there are enough people like me that find the material objectionable than presumably another art gallery would sprout up to service the needs of people like me.

The thing that bothers me about CleanFlicks are they are basically saying that they want to have their cake and eat it too. If they really are disturbed by the slackening moral standards in the movies then they should vote with their money by not seeing them in any form. If enough people were to do this, eventually a market would spring up for less violent, less sexual, less profane movies.

Penduin said...

Some movies are more "artistic works" than others. You can't tell me "Little Man" is a work of art the same way "Lord of the Rings" is. But, for the most part I agree. I hate to see movies get butchered, whether I'd call them "art" or not.

But beyond that, I can buy my own copy of a movie, which there's no good analog for at an art museum. These CleanFlicks type places aren't museums, they're not the only place someone can see XYZ work of art... They're not even theatres. They're services that cater to uptight people. Someone buys a movie and swaps it for a butchered version, or just rents a butchered version in the first place. I find that truly sad, but not wrong or harmful. I'm not sure it's in our best interests to make criminals of censors when it's presented as an alternative. If this practice got out of hand and it became as difficult to find an uncensored movie as it is to get a stiff drink in Utah Valley, I'd have to re-evaluate my position. :^)

More bothersome to me than this particular ruling is the precident it sets. When a Hollywood studio tells me what I can and can't do with a copy of a movie that I bought, I get pretty pissed off. Telling businesses what they can and can't do with their copies is a little different, but I still think it's an abuse of copyright law. (I have plenty of issues with US copyright law in its current form, most of which revolve around its ease-of-abuse.)

...If I remember correctly, Svoid, didn't you edit down an R-rated movie or two for a Mormon friend? ;^)