instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, July 14, 2006

I know what I don't like

Kathy Shaidle passionately defends the rights of moviemakers against the actions of movie bowdlerizers:
Ned Flanders type Christians have to choose. Do they want their own counterculture, with its Veggie Tales and end times video games, or do they want to be able to sample "what normal people are watching" as well? Because they can't have it both ways. Then again, I doubt they are quite clever enough to even be bothered by the contradiction....

Yes, yes, I know: raising children is the most important job in the whole wide world. When you present yourselves to God at the End of Days, you are getting straight into heaven, while I, the childless arrogant artiste, is going straight to hell, shouting out, "'Ode to a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of little old ladies" as I tumble into the sulfur.

On that we are all agreed.

Now: back slowly away from the moviola or I will kill you with my pudgy little hands....

So let's be careful what we cut from movies, people. How do you know it isn't the bit with God in it? Are you really so very wise?
I think her "Which do you want?" argument is much stronger than her "God of the sex scenes" argument, which in turn is much stronger than her "You DO NOT deserve the movies" argument.

Regarding this last, the idea that the "physical integrity" of a commercial movie is inviolable doesn't really hold water. To accept it, we'd have a hard time explaining the existence of directors' cuts, the popularity of added and deleted scenes in DVD releases, the use of advanced screenings, the filming of alternate endings, and most importantly the fact that Hollywood moviemaking is a business. And since the idea would make it wrong for me to skip past the romantic ballads when I rent Horse Feathers, the legal basis for denying third-party editors the right to do what they want can't be grounded in a fundamental moral prohibition against modifying a work of art.

As for the question, "Are you really so very wise?," I'd say the answer is, "Pretty much, yeah." I don't think it takes much wisdom to determine that, for example, changing a line of dialog to "Forget you," is not an assault on a joint endeavor between Mankind and the Holy Spirit.

It can, though, be bad art, which is why I think third-party editing is a silly business (in the literal sense of "business"). My suspicion is that, in most cases, what's left after editing out objectionable elements (whoever determines what's objectionable) isn't much worth watching. If, considered as a work of art, a movie is bad enough that chunks of it can be cut without loss, the badness is likely to pervade the whole movie, even the parts no one finds objectionable.

My position in brief: Filmmakers have the right to control production of their films, not because films mediate God's grace nor because integrity is inviolable, but because -- and therefore only to the extent that -- the films are the property of the filmmakers. Any categorical argument from art is going to fail, since filmmakers aren't categorically better artists than filmwatchers.