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Prudes Trample Rights of Hollywood Directors and Editors

Go ahead! Edit the editors. Everybody's doing it. It's good, "Clean Flicks" fun By Charlie White
Here come the goody-goodies again, and this time, they have technology on their side. What technology would that be? Digital video editing, that's what. They're using the latest tools to cut out the "dirty" parts of major motion pictures, and then selling these hacked-up remnants to scared parents who think they can put a blindfold on their children lest they catch a glimpse of the real world. Meanwhile the Director's Guild of America (DGA) objects to this lame-brained adulteration of their works of art. I'm siding with the directors.

The goofy company responsible for this is Clean Flicks, a Colorado-based chain of video stores that thinks it's perfectly okay to play censor, cutting anything out of these films that embarrasses them and then re-selling the movies. Showing further cojones (and perhaps revealing they expect some trouble with this scheme), Clean Flicks has filed a federal lawsuit against 16 Hollywood directors, asserting that Clean Flicks has the right to remove profanity, sex, violence, and whatever else it wants from films and then sell the edited content in its stores.

The DGA has filed a counter-suit saying, "Oh no, you don't." In their defense, attorneys for the DGA cite the Lanham act, which covers trademark protection, prohibiting trademark infringement and false advertising. In other words, if the directors' work is going to altered, then using the same title for the film is violating their trademark rights. I can't blame these directors for not wanting any association with altered versions of their work.

The laughable justification cited by the lawyers for the Clean Flicks crowd is the First Amendment of the US Constitution, that one about freedom of speech. But hey, if we were guaranteed that kind of freedom of speech, I could just steal lines from Shakespeare and put them in this column, calling them my own. To that, I say, "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war." Bet you didn't realize that it was I who actually wrote that line. Yeah, that was my line, yeah.

If these holy-rolling hacks don't want anybody seeing any violence, sexuality, or hearing any profanity, they should open an all-G-rated video store, and leave their ham-handed editorial sensibilities in the nether reaches of their vacant heads, where they belong. But no. They're using their prudish editorial judgment to mangle the movies, and then selling them to like-minded wussies who think they know better than Hollywood's finest directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Robert Redford, and 13 others named in their lawsuit. Clearly, if these revered filmmakers' names -- or any other names, for that matter -- are on the credits of a film, one whose name is not on those credits should not be allowed to tamper with the content and then sell it.



Also wearing thin is the way these people do all this in the name of the children. Seems like whenever somebody gets embarrassed by content they're exposed to, they suddenly get the urge to trample on the rights of others. And then, out trots that tired old phrase, "protect the children." I have a young child, and I know, as any parent does, that most little kids are not at all interested in the content of films like Chinatown, Taxi Driver, The Godfather or Debbie Does Dallas. Until my daughter was about seven, she didn't even want to watch anything unless it was animated. Even if they do catch a glimpse of these "dirty" movies, if you've been communicating well with your children, and explaining sex and violence to them all along, there won't be anything from which they'll need to be protected. I have a suggestion for you, protectionist parents: If you're so hell-bent on protecting the children from something, don't let them watch any more television commercials.

Beyond that, if these individuals want to hide the sex 'n' violence from the tender ears and eyes of their offspring, why not wait until the precious darlings are tucked snugly in their beds, or send 'em to Grandma's for the evening? It's nonsensical to edit films, intended for adults, down to a nub just so they can be watched by the whole family. It's absurd. Mr. Family Values, if the movies are too rough for you to watch with your inseparable family, watch something else, or hey, maybe just sit down and talk with your kids sometime rather than gluing yourself to the boob tube every night.

I think Directors Guild President Martha Coolidge had a good point when she said, "It is wrong to cut scenes from a film -- just as it is to rip pages from a book -- simply because we don't like the way something was portrayed or said, then resell it with the original title and creator's name still on it." The comparison with a book is a chilling one and brings up images in my mind of book-burning. That's right -- any content that we don't like, let's just build a big bonfire and burn it. This is America, and there should be only Clean Flicks for us! But I have to laugh when I think of watching movies like Last Tango in Paris or Andy Warhol's Dracula with all the sex and violence expunged. The films wouldn't make a bit of sense.

But what about in your own home? Wouldn't skipping over a few scenes with your remote control be just as bad? Well, no, because you're not hacking out all the parts of a movie that make you uncomfortable and then selling that product with the same title intact, along with the director's and editor's names still affixed to it -- representing it as the product of these artists. If you're going to be editing these films, your name should be on the credits as editor. But wait, you don't have the right to do that, because you didn't happen to be picked to do that job. The film was finished, and it already had an editor. That's not your footage on the screen.

If they want to be filmmakers, I would suggest these would-be gods of the clean cinema go out and create their own sugary-sweet movies, and then edit and sell those. Or, skip the filmmaking altogether and just plop themselves and their children in front of the current garbage that's run on commercial television, of which 33% (20 minutes per hour) is hard-sell commercials. At least there's no profanity, right?

Then, the next thing I hear is that Jesse Jackson has gotten into the self-appointed censor act, deciding that the current box-office hit Barbershop contains some content that he finds offensive. Well, then, let's just see if we can get that edited out, too. What the hell is going on here? If there's something that you don't like on the screen, should you try to just have it destroyed, so nobody else can see it? I say, no, if you don't care for the content of a movie, decide for yourself that you don't like it, but don't pretend to be protecting others by denying them the chance to form their own opinions.

Notice how most people think they would be perfect censors, but they're usually determined to perform this censorship on the behalf of somebody else, not for them. Others will submit to censorship, because they're too spineless to discuss sexual topics with their sons and daughters, and would rather act like it doesn't exist than be exposed to it in the presence of their children. Or they have been somehow sucked in by that weak propaganda that preaches that watching violence on TV causes people to commit violence. These people are delusional, thinking that they can shield their children from reality. It's like building a sand castle at water's edge during low tide -- it will be ultimately unsuccessful every single time. These fogies can try to protect their children all they want, but if it's at the expense of filmmakers whose art will be destroyed, I think it's just plain wrong.


Charlie White, your humble storytellerCharlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past eight years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director with 28 years broadcast experience. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at [email protected].

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Related Keywords:Editorial, Charlie White, commentary, Digital video editing, latest tools, major motion pictures, real world, Directors Guild of America, DGA, lame-brained hacking, protect the children

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