Saturday, April 28, 2007

Ridley Scott To Become George Lucas

Director Ridley Scott and I have had our differences in the past (his filmography is more than a little uneven) but he has directed a few truly extraordinary films. My three favorites from his filmography are Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and Thelma & Louise (1991).

Recently I read news of reshoots to Blade Runner (1982) and my whole body went shivery. Not in the good way. The reshoots in question involve changes to a fairly early scene wherein the title character (Harrison Ford) kills a runaway replicant named Zhora (Joanna Cassidy). But if there's one scene being reshot whose to say there aren't more? Apparently these reshoots are for another "director's cut" DVD release of the classic. If you're scratching your head thinking you've stumbled on a post written before The Film Experience even existed, that's understandable. Blade Runner has already received directors cut treatment. That version was much preferrable to the original primarily because it strengthened the ending and removed narration that the studio had forced on the picture in 1982 when they were worried that audiences would find it hard to follow (Yeah, this problem is a classic: it never goes away). Those revisions netted the influential sci-fi film an awesome theatrical rerelease in the 90s. But there is no reason to reshoot and change the film at this point in time. It is now twenty-five years old and it's still more exciting to watch and more impressive looking than many sci-fi blockbusters that are just hitting their opening weekends.

We've already been through this 'can't-let-go' fever once recently with George Lucas. Obsessive tinkering tends to deflate original intent. Han Solo shot first and all that... I'm thrilled for 61 year-old Joanna Cassidy that she can still fit into her amazing and barely existent Zhora costumes but save that admirable triumph of fitness for sci-fi convention appearances, please. Classics are classics. Why can't filmmakers leave their work alone? You don't see painters adding strokes to a masterpiece a quarter of a century after the painting hit the galleries.

9 comments:

Mike said...

I actually prefer the version with the narration. It made it more noirish, and I really thought it strengthened the showdown with Batty. I know Ford read it as badly as he could because he was annoyed at having to do it, but that just made it sound more effectively world-weary. I don't mind the director's cut, but I really wish I could get the theatrical release on DVD.

Damian said...

Blade Runner has already received directors cut treatment.

Actually, as is revealed in Paul M. Sammon's Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (probably the best and most comptrehensive book written about a single film), the so-called "Director's Cut" of Blade Runner is actually a misnomer. It's a long and very complicated story, which I won't go into here, but siffice it to say that's a very common misconception about the film (as is the belief that Scott never wanted a narration when the truth is Scott was not necessarily opposed to the idea).

Although I agree with you that Scott doesn't need to re-shoot any scenes for the film, I am nevertheless exceptionally excited about this new "final cut" of Blade Runner being released. Now, I'll actually be able to see it the way it was meant to be seen... on the big screen. I am also glad they are subsequently releasing it on DVD with every single previous version included (the theatrical cut, the "director's cut" and the final cut).

Why can't filmmakers leave their work alone? You don't see painters adding strokes to a masterpiece a quarter of a century after the painting hit the galleries.

There's an old saying about a work of art "never being finished, merely abandoned." I remember Billy Friedkin told the following story in an exchange with Roger Ebert wherein he defended his 2000 cut of The Exorcist:

"Have you ever heard the story of how the French painter Bonnard, when he was an old man, went into the Louvre with a paintbrush and started touching up his paintings? They threw him out. `But they're my paintings!' he said. He saw them differently now. I feel the same way. Given the chance, I'd go back and redo everything I've done."

Now, I'm not saying that I necessarily agree with Bonnard or Friedkin. Personally, I happen to believe that a work of art reaches a point where it no longer belongs to the artist but to the world. Nevertheless, I do think that a filmmaker ought to be allowed to go back and change whatever they want about their films. What I don't care for is the amended film becoming "canonized" as the "real" version and the original trying to be "erased." That's why I was so upset with Lucas for not only fiddling with his Star Wars films but refusing to make the original ones available any more. At least Spielberg, when he released the special edition of E.T. on DVD, included the 1982 cut on a second disc (more often than not, that's the one I find myself watching). To give Lucas some credit, he did finally release DVD versions that had both the theatrical cuts and the special editions of Star Wars and a lot of people (including myslef) were grateful. Let folks decide for themselves which one they consider "definitive." I've already made up my own mind on the matter.

NATHANIEL R said...

i hear your arguments but i think it a very slippery slope. For me it really dampens my opinion of the filmmaker in question. If an artist can never complete his vision --to me that indicates someone who doesn't have their complete skill set functioning. Part of being an artist in any medium is making final choices: this is the color I choose. this is the resolution. here lies ambiguity. this is the take I'm using. this is the movement i'm going with in this section.

you know... if you can't make those decisions in a final way what kind of an artist are you?

to some extent i'm playing devils advocate here but it does really give me pause. I also worry that it negates the meaning of "final cut" in terms of an artists rights. If enough filmmakers keep tinkering with their work, how can new filmmakers argue for this contractually --can they deliver one?

Damian said...

If an artist can never complete his vision --to me that indicates someone who doesn't have their complete skill set functioning.

Speaking as an artist, I can tell you that no artist ever really completes his/her vision. The best you can do, hopefully, is reach a very close approximation. Ask any artist and they'll tell you that what they see in their head and what ends up on screen/stage/canvas is never the same thing. To me, amending one's own work is not an indicator of poor artistic skills. If anything it might actually be the indicator of good artistic skills. Even Shakespeare, arguably the greatest writer who ever lived, revised his own plays during their theatrical runs.

Part of being an artist in any medium is making final choices: this is the color I choose. this is the resolution. here lies ambiguity. this is the take I'm using. this is the movement i'm going with in this section. you know... if you can't make those decisions in a final way what kind of an artist are you?

Which for me poses the question of when does an artistic decision become "final?" When the film is edited by the director? When the film is screened? When the studio "signs off" on it? When the film is first released to theatres? When the film hits DVD? When the director is dead? What is the "cut-off point" when a film, or any work of art, can no longer be altered? When is a work of art really done? When can no more decisions be made regarding it... ever?

Personally speaking, I haven't answered that question yet, but I'm inclined to feel that it's only done when the artist says it's done. Since film is a collaborative medium I'd say that the primary artist involved would probably be the director (although even that's debatable). When the director is "satisfied," a rather vague term I admit, is when a film is complete.

to some extent i'm playing devils advocate here but it does really give me pause.

Me too. As I said, I don't necessarily agree with Friedkin, Locas, Bonnard or Scott in this regard (although in the case of Scott, what ended up on the screen back in '82 wasn't necessarily what he wanted anyway; again, it's a long and very complicated story) but again, speaking as an artist who has been, shall we say, "less than satisfied" with his work before, I can sympathize.

I also worry that it negates the meaning of "final cut" in terms of an artists rights. If enough filmmakers keep tinkering with their work, how can new filmmakers argue for this contractually --can they deliver one?

I hear you there and I share your concern. In the end, though, I think we have to take them on a case-by-case basis and, given my own inclincations, I'm probably going to side more often than not with the artist in such debates.

Colin said...

If an artist can never complete his vision --to me that indicates someone who doesn't have their complete skill set functioning. Part of being an artist in any medium is making final choices: this is the color I choose. this is the resolution. here lies ambiguity. this is the take I'm using. this is the movement i'm going with in this section.

The studio system is not one that allows artistic choices in a filmmaker's mind to perfectly come to fruition in the final product. Too many "semi-broken telephones" in the middle. That we have a film like The Godfather is a blessing (and it sure had problems during its time).

jess said...

Part of being an artist in any medium is making final choices...if you can't make those decisions in a final way what kind of an artist are you?

hmm, I think I would see that more as about what it means to be a professional than what it means to be an artist. Making final decisions being a necessary evil in the real world of business and all that.

NATHANIEL R said...

well as someone who writes and draws --i know a little about making difficult decisions in one's own work.

i'm surprised to see i'm rather alone in this --i wish i could find the quote but I think it was Altman who had my favorite about leaving the work alone once it's out there ---

but i really do think completion is part of hte artistic process. Otherwise you're just doodling. rough drafts forever. which is Ok for say blogging which doesn't go through dozens of edits usually... but would be pretty problematic if you're writing a novel.

but agreed that the final thing (play, music, film, dance, whatever) is never going to exactly match what's in the artists head. The difference I guess is that I don't see this as something that's wrong or then, by not matching, incomplete. The artistic process would be less fascinating if it had no detours, struggles, or compromise.

colin --i agree with that the studios aren't necessarily helping the artists to achieve that final vision. But this is the system they're working in. Other art forms have their obstacles --particularly collaborative ones -- and it's always going to be about making choices within that world.

If you took away all the changes that come to a directors original vision through the process of filmmaking you'd also lose a LOT of classic stuff too -actorly revelations, below the line inspiration etc... that the director didn't initially see in his work

Piper said...

This makes no sense at all.

I love several of Ridley Scott's movies, but hate his arrogance. Remember him at the Oscars a couple of years ago with Gladiator? Mr. no smiles.

He has recut several movies. And can't seem to accept that Blade Runner is a classic as is. There are so many different versions of this movie floating around.

Leave well enough alone and concentrate on trying to make a movie as timeless as Blade Runner again.

Damian said...

He has recut several movies. And can't seem to accept that Blade Runner is a classic as is.

Agreed, but precisely which particular version of Blade Runner is a classic as is: the domestic cut? The internetaional cut? The "director's cut?"

There are so many different versions of this movie floating around.

No less than five!

Leave well enough alone and concentrate on trying to make a movie as timeless as Blade Runner again.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that everytime he makes a film he says to himself "You know, I don't think I'm gonna work as hard on this one as I did on Blade Runner. I think I'll save up my talent for a great film, but not this one!" ;)

Just so that everyone doesn't think I'm advocating that every director should go back and fiddle with their movies, I want to make it clear that I am not. I'm actually sympathetic to Nathanial's position and I want to reiterate that, like him, I think there's a point where a film no longer belongs to the director but to the world. Sometimes (as that great episode of South Park put it) "Films need to be saved from their directors."

I guess I just think that we should be willing, more often than not, to give artists the benefit of the doubt and not expect their method/process to exactly match our own. If you're an artist (like Mozart or C.S. Lewis) who is able to complete a brilliant work rather quickly and/or easily, good for you. That's very admirable. Not all great artists operate that way though. Some (like Beethoven and Tolkien) are constantly reworking and revising their products to try to get them "perfect" (or as close to perfect as they think they can).

On this subject I think we should approach each artist/work indvidually, especially if someone else has taken the work out of the hands of the artist and made decisions about it that the artist does not agree with (as can often happen with directors and studios). In the case of Blade Runner, it actually turns out that not one of the existing versions represents Scott's original vision for the film and I, for one, am very interested to see what he would really like the film to be and not just what I would like it to be.