The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

On the annoying habit of cutting down movies without telling

with 15 comments


Recently I watched the documentary The Act of Killing, which has been available for few weeks on the website of the Swedish public television. As I’ve already told you, I thought it was excellent – one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while – and I started to spread the word about it, as I do when I see something I really care about.

But on a visit to IMDb I made a puzzling discovery. The entrance about the film claimed that it was available in two versions with different lengths: one 1 hour 55 minutes long and another, extended version at 2 hrs 39 min. However the film I had watched was much shorter than the short version. It was 1 hr 35 min. This means that 20 minutes of the film were missing.

That’s a change too big to be negligible and it raised some questions. Exactly what was missing compared to the original version? Who was in charge of the scissors? Was it the director? Some intern at SVT? And was this film as good as the acclaimed original? I still haven’t seen it discussed anywhere, so I’m afraid I don’t have any answers.

Cutting it to fit?
This is not the first time I’ve seen this happening. Especially documentaries seem to fall victims to this type of sneak attacks. I can’t tell why they’re doing this but I suspect that it has to do with scheduling. There’s probably some time slot that they want to fit this film into and when it doesn’t fit, they don’t hesitate to cut. It’s a bit like the old, uncensored versions of Cinderella where one of the evil stepsisters has her foot cut until it bleeds, just to get the shoe on.

I don’t know if it’s a special habit of the Swedish Television or if this practice is spread to other broadcasting companies over the world. But it annoys me quite a bit. It’s not just that they’re cutting down films with brutal methods; they’re not open with it.

As a movie blogger you think you’ve seen the same film as your colleagues in other parts of the world, and it’s only when you start to make investigations like I did that you realize that you haven’t, that you’ve seen the abbreviated version instead.

The thing is: there are different sorts of people with different wishes and needs. I’m sure there are many who don’t care at all, who happily will see a shortened film or reading an abbreviated novel, still thinking that they got the essentials, saving some time meanwhile. But I’m not one of those.

As I grew up there were plenty of digest versions of classical novels around, especially in the youth department at the library. I always tried to avoid them as much as possible, preferring the “real deal”. In the world of books there’s usually an information text about it at the inside of the cover. If it says something along the lines “processed by”, “retold by” or “edited by”, you know there’s something fishy about it and you should look for a different edition, the original one.

This transparency in the book world means that you get a choice. If the short version doesn’t suit you, you can try to get hold of a different one. In the case of documentary films, at least the ones they show in weden, there’s no transparency whatsoever. The only way to find out that you’ve seen a “best of” version is that you search the web to look up this information.

To wrap it up: I don’t like sneaky cutting of films. If you’re somehow related to the business and know someone who in turn knows somebody else – please try to make them stop doing this. They’re welcome do different lengths of film: the ordinary, a director’s cut and perhaps a third one. They may have their reasons. But you can’t defend the secrecy. So please speak up, be open about it. And leave the decision of which version to watch to the audience.

photo credit: via photopin

Written by Jessica

November 28, 2013 at 12:05 am

15 Responses

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  1. The same thing happened when I watched Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines which was available on PBS Online. The IMDB credit lists the runtime at 79 minutes, but the PBS version is only 60. It felt like a complete product at the time, but I do wonder what was missing out of it and I don’t even think there was the typical “This film has been modified from its original version” disclaimer that often runs in front of movies shown on cable or network TV. Very annoying.


    November 28, 2013 at 3:37 am

    • It’s annoying and sad. The Swedish public television is very ambitious when it comes to documentaries. They show a lot of them and often recent ones that have gotten a lot of attention worldwide. But since they obviously cut them down I don’t know what do to with it. I probably shouldn’t see documentaries on TV but stick to the DVDs I can burrow at my local library. That way I know I get the original film. It’s a bummer though and feels like a waste.


      November 28, 2013 at 7:42 am

  2. Tis pretty disgraceful. I love The Act of Killing. I was lucky enough to see the director’s cut on the big screen. I think if it was cut without the director or at least producer’s involvement, that is really disappointing. Here in Australia, a lot of docos provide feature length versions and then also one hour versions so that they can screen more easily on TV.

    Beer Movie

    November 28, 2013 at 7:49 am

    • I have no idea who cut it and that’s annoying. I guess it might be the director, but who knows? And if he did – was he as happy with this version as with the original? If so, why didn’t he make it shorter in the first place? I feel cheated.


      November 28, 2013 at 8:14 am

      • Hmm. At the screening I was at, they read a statement from Oppenheimer the director. He expressed his preference (unsurprisingly) for the director’s cut. So I am not sure what he would think about this shortened shortened version.

        Beer Movie

        November 28, 2013 at 3:15 pm

  3. I know that this happens quite a lot to documentaries. I have seen it happen on Dutch television, but also have seen it done at the BBC. It really is a shame and it is extremely annoying (I’ve been there many times so I know the feeling you have). It makes me feel like I can’t properly rate a documentary, because part of what the director intended has been lost. It might make the documentary/movie better or worse and that it turn makes it also harder to recommend, because others will get a different experience if they watch the full version.


    November 28, 2013 at 8:26 am

    • I wonder if it has to do with that there isn’t as much prestige connected to documentaries as to feature films. Or at least they don’t make as much money. So they think they can treat it anyway they like, as you do with news. But this attitude is changing. There’s a growing itnerest for documentaries in the audience, so hopefully they’ll rethink about this practice.


      November 28, 2013 at 4:52 pm

  4. So frustrating. I want access to the full version at all times. One of my favourite films – Once Upon a Time in America was subject to this when it was released. It was originally close to 4hrs long and the American version got slashed to just over 2hrs. As a result the film bombed and was harshly criticised. I haven’t seen the cut version but I can’t even imagine how disjointed it must look. The original is hard enough to follow and even that could do with a little expansion.

    Great post, Jessica.

    Mark Walker

    November 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    • Thanks Mark. It’s annoying because as a viewer you’re pretty much left out to the will of the distributor. If they choose a shortened version there’s not much you can do about it (unless you go the illegal way.)
      I suspect we’ll see more of alternative versions for different markets in the future. For instance they’ve started to do special editions for the Asian market, like with Iron Man 3. I would feel so annoyed if I lived there and only were offered that altered version and not the original.


      November 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm

  5. I’m concerned about the upcoming picture Snowpiercer – which the Weinstein company want to cut a full 20 minutes out. This depresses me!

    Paragraph Film Reviews

    November 28, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    • I hadn’t heard about this film before but now I looked it up and it sounds really interesting. So now you have me worried too… I don’t know what version that will land in Sweden – if we get the film at all, that will say. Not all movies will find their way to the remote Scandinavia.


      November 28, 2013 at 4:58 pm

  6. The film series I used to work with would do a monthly showing of a documentary that would later play on our public television station, but the version we played was abridged compared to the TV one. This could seem problematic, but since I think most films are too long, I wonder if I might have been better off.


    November 28, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    • That’s interesting. My impression so far has been that you’re more likely to encounter a shortened version on TV. Well off or not? It’s hard to tell. But I think it’s important to be open about what version you’re showig if there are several different available. Otherwise the audience might end up feelng cheated, like I do.


      November 28, 2013 at 9:58 pm

  7. I agree. Sneaky editing is not cool at all!


    December 3, 2013 at 4:06 am

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