On the annoying habit of cutting down movies without telling
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