Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on June 3, 2012
I’m a late bloomer when it comes to the many films out there that have been edited by fans. Twelve years ago professional editor Mike J. Nichols, originally billed as “the Phantom Editor,” decided to cut his own version of George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace which, among other things, eliminated about 20 minutes of Jar Jar Binks. I first heard about The Phantom Edit back in the summer of 2001 on N.P.R., and still haven’t seen it. As the internet exploded with new file-sharing technologies, fans became equipped with ever more sophisticated tools with which to take a beloved film and tweak it further to their own liking. As I finally catch up to this trend and make up for lost time, I’ve decided to seek out fan edits from three categories. These I feel can be summed up by the characteristics you’d find in the following people: the purist, the pruner, and the disc jockey.
When you work for a library archive you need to have and respect attention to detail, but you’ll also feel a higher calling to something else: preservation of the past. Such people appreciate micro-fiche even if nobody else is using it because it’ll have information on there that you’ll never find on an internet search engine unless it’s translated into a digital format. Similarly, in the world of fan edits, you have passionate cinephiles out there who are hanging on to their favorite films in various formats, be it VHS, laser disc, out-of-print DVD pressings, and so on, and they’re doing this because of disparate elements that don’t always get transferred up to the next latest-and-greatest viewing format, or – even worse – they get hastily edited, cut, cropped, and otherwise rejiggered from what was originally released.
Harnessing the global interactivity and hive power of the internet can empower a cinephile from overseas to share their personal treasures with kindred spirits here in the U.S., and together they can bypass the shoddy merchandise that is dumped into the market for a quick buck and, instead, these fans can put together something that would be worthy of a Criterion release.
I know one person who was so enthralled with Man, Woman and Beast (L’uomo la donna e la bestia), an obscure Italian film from the seventies directed by Alberto Cavallone, that he culled his own version, fixing-up subtitles that were only somewhat-accurate so as to improve upon the slop-job given to previous pressings. He found a better quality image from a bit torrent site via a contact in Europe, then he married these to a custom-made DVD with some interactive menus. The version of this film that is currently available via Amazon pales by comparison. This is a clear case of a fan edit trumping the commercial release on all levels relating to the overall quality of the film transfer.
Of course, not all fan edits are collaborative ventures and, in fact, most are undertaken by very driven individuals who simply want to preserve their favorite film in what they deem to be its purest form. A young 23-year-old student from the Czech Republic that goes by Harmy won huge accolades last year when he released a Star Wars “Despecialized Edition.” Harmy spent an unbelievable amount of time on this project, which allows Star Wars fans to see the film without any computer generated insertions, in H.D., and using only the best color corrections from various disparate sources. This was then followed by Despecialized Editions of Return of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
On a side note, it should be mentioned that purists can be a fickle bunch, and they don’t necessarily give the director the last word. There are plenty of fan edits for whom the word “pure” might mean a more accurate alignment with the original source material (ie: The Lord of the Rings), or even the perceived spirit of how the original film could have been better if not for studio (or even the director’s) mismanagement (ie: Dune or even Pearl Harbor). This brings us to…
Supposedly Michelangelo said that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” That’s probably how infamous perfectionist James Cameron feels when he’s finished a film and whittled down a mountain of footage down to what he would consider to be the finished art piece. But even aficionados of Cameron might be reluctant to compare him to Michelangelo, and some of them go one step further by daring to say that some of the sculptures created by this titan of industry could stand to lose a lot of weight.
For this reason, we can now watch Titanic – The Jack Edit, which is summed up on Fanedit.org as “the courageous attempt to create a version of Titanic, which is bearable for men.” Speaking of titans of industry known for hyperbolic spectacle, Michael Bay similarly gets the fan edit treatment in Transformers (UA Edit). The pruner here tries “the old game of ‘Minimize Bay-Ness’ for this one.” This particular fan makes it clear that he doesn’t “want the film to be any less fun, just less stupid.” Even skeptics of fan edits should take a moment to absorb the Herculean tasks some of these people have assigned themselves and, unlike Michael Bay who cheerily admits to laughing all the way to the bank, fan edits cannot make any money lest they risk being attacked by a fleet of lawyers.
Bloated C.G.I. pablum might seem an easy target, but it’s important to note that these are earnest attempts at improving the material at hand, and no single film, no matter how good you think it is, will be immune from the loving attention of a fan who thinks they can improve on it in some way. Fight Club, The Matrix, Jaws, they all have fan edited versions.
More is not always better, and I have to admit to being in full agreement with the direction taken by the fan edit for The Walking Dead television series. When I started watching The Walking Dead I had high hopes that I was in for some epic no-bullshit zombie insanity shot in Atlanta. Instead, I felt like I was watching episodes of Dallas. I’m guessing this fan edit seeks to resolve that problem with some serious trimming, as the synopsis reads that “this edit takes the first season of The Walking Dead and converts it into a movie, chronicling the survival story of Rick Grimes as he finds himself in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse.” It’s a trim job that might provide the silver-bullet needed to remove all that brain-dead infatuation the original creators had for love-triangles, babysitting issues, and dysfunctional family tropes common to soap operas.
Okay, so you’ve got the purists, the pruners, and then you have the folks who are introducing different elements to create an altogether new animal. Much like deejays who combine and overlap various different tracks from different times to create something new, visual deejays do the same. I like the term “disc jockey” because it’s been around since 1935, and it also fits with the idea of DVD discs or even the recordable discs now purchased by the spindle-load to house as much data as possible.
It might seem like Mashups are suddenly everywhere, especially with so many popular bands unleashing their inner deejay groove (like Girl Talk or Danger Mouse) and a variety of books having fun with genre-mixing (think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), but really it’s been going on since the 1950′s. Check out Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman’s song The Flying Saucer, from 1956, or William Burrough’s book Naked Lunch from 1959. Granted, it was more of a novelty back then, and there’s no denying that with all the digital data we swim in now, the permutations are truly endless.
For an interesting cut-up experiment that Burroughs himself might have approved of, you could check out The Things, by Wraith: “A Pulp Fiction style interweaving of the 1982 and 2011 versions of The Thing into a single cohesive story which switches the action back and forth between the two movies without ruining either the tension of build up. Careful trims to the 2011 (T11) version remove a few overly C.G.I. shots and keep the reveals less explicit until the 1982 version (T82) does its Thing.” Will John Travolta get gunned down in the bathroom for this particular edit? Who knows? Anything is possible.
One of my favorites, although I say this only having seen excerpts on YouTube, is the Star Wars 30′s Silent Edition – Dusty Version. It’s put out by “The Man Behind the Mask,” and this is his synopsis: “This is an old looking, dusty version of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy saga. No voices, dialogue cards, no sound effects, only John Williams music.” Technically, since this takes an original runtime of “more or less 7 hours” and distills it down to 132 minutes, it’s a fan edit that might reasonably be filed under the work of a pruner. But since the finished work is so clearly a mashup of the silent cinema with something more modern, it really does stand out as a unique work of art.
On a final note, My Man, Woman and Beast friend suggested I add the subsection of fan edits devoted to remaking films with a grindhouse-feel to the pruners category. In his words, “There is a rather large sensation of fan-editors who have dedicated themselves to creating ‘Grindhouse’ prints of classic Hollywood films. This happened with Jaws, A New Hope, Little Shop of Horrors, and others… The grindhouse versions have the ‘broken or deteriorating film’ effects, ‘scene missing’ title cards, added CGI blood-splatters, outtakes of actors flubbing their lines, and cheesy deleted scenes replaced where they were originally going to be.” It’s an interesting challenge to the categories I’ve made, but despite the fact that these grindhouse edits revel in trimming things down, because they are adding so many effects I feel comfortable lumping them with the disk jockeys. Or perhaps a disk jockey subsection we can call “the disk jokeys”? I mean no disrespect, after all, they can be very funny jokes. My only hope is that these people making grindhouse editions are still actually supporting the “reel” thing if there’s still a theater alive in their neighborhood showing battered up old 35mm prints. It’s certainly not a new hope, it’s an old hope, but one that I’d like to think might stay alive for as long as possible.
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