Posted on 12/30/12 04:04 PM
Because Just Not Watching the Movies Is Not an Option?
I talk a lot about the Hays Code. It's an important aspect to the history of film in the United States; the Hays Office and its head, Joe Breen, shaped the course of the film industry in the United States for decades. What I have said all along is that its basic premise was a fallacy. The purpose of the Hays Code was to ensure that every single film to be released was appropriate for the entire family, that there were no films which dealt with subjects that weren't fit for children. Not interesting for children, sometimes, but even those had to be handled in such a way so that it was nearly impossible for anyone to take offense. The simple fact is, not every film has to be for everyone. I remember being sent out to play as a child because my mother had rented a movie she very much wanted to see but which she didn't want us to see. Given Mom, she had probably intended to watch it after we went to bed but fallen asleep.
However, there are some people who won't accept the idea that you just shouldn't watch a film if it offends your sensibilities. To that end, Ray Lines founded CleanFlicks, a company which took PG-13 and R-rated movies and edited out the offensive content so that films such as A Clockwork Orange and Silence of the Lambs would at long last be acceptable viewing for the whole--Mormon--family. The Prophet says you can't watch R-rated films? No problem! Simply remove the offensive content, and you can watch Kill Bill to your heart's content. Naturally, two things happened. The first was that swarms of competitors started up. The second was that the Directors Guild of America took note and was extremely upset. Before they decided whether to sue or not, a CleanFlicks distributor decided for himself that he would preemptively sue them to prove that the business was legal. To the surprise of, well, the kind of people who approve of CleanFlicks, it turns out that it isn't.
Those movie examples were not picked at random, mind. They were three of the films either specifically mentioned in the documentary or shown on the shelves of the various rental outlets in which CleanFlicks and its competitors appeared. Now, the people who do the editing for these versions freely admit that there's only so much they can do. No matter how much content you remove from Pretty Woman, it is still, in fact, about a prostitute, and they released no version of that movie. Similarly, Sin City's sex, violence, and swearing are too integral to the story and cannot be removed. However, we are shown both the original and edited versions of a clip from The Big Lebowski, and removing the sexual content removes all the logic, such as it is, from the scene. It is also observed that, for all the complaints about violence, the version of Fargo that just has the sex taken out is extremely popular, and Fargo is not exactly a nonviolent movie. Nor is Saving Private Ryan nor Braveheart.
The people running the edited-movie businesses maintain that there is no argument about artistic integrity possible, because after all, studios release bowdlerized versions for airplanes and television, and directors don't have a problem with that. Which, of course, isn't true, but even if it were, we've already discussed how such edited versions of movie fall flat. There is nothing funnier to a twelve-year-old boy than the way TV edits of movies alter the swearwords to pretend that they were never there. What's more, a customer is interviewed who complains about the "gratuitous" violence of The Godfather. This merely proves that the customer doesn't know what "gratuitous" means, as every moment of violence in that movie serves in some way to move the plot. I do think there's such thing as gratuitous "adult" content, but that doesn't mean that it all is. Another person complains about the rape in Schindler's List, failing to understand that such a movie needs to shock and horrify to make its point.
Around the time this documentary was made, CleanFlicks relaunched its by-mail business, this time with a promise that the only movies they would rent were movies that contained no sex, violence, or swearing. Not because of editing, but because that's how they were made in the first place. And you know, I'm okay with that. One of the things I know about my upcoming parenthood is that I will be called upon to make decisions about what is appropriate for my kid as it gets older, and for the first few years, most of the movies I will show are the ones that fit the CleanFlicks model. (There's actually nudity in My Neighbour Totoro, when the family takes a bath together.) It will be my responsibility as a parent to make sure that my kid doesn't see graphic sex or violence. So I won't be showing the kid A Clockwork Orange any time soon. So much simpler than hoping that the person doing the editing has the same taste in that regard as I. And no pesky meddling with copyright law!