Did you know there was a Director's Cut of Big? In this version, after playing "Heart and Soul" on the piano at FAO Schwarz, they play Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto and all 45 minutes of Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick." It was a great scene, but the studio held a gun to Penny Marshall's head and made her cut it. It's always been a sore spot for her to have such a crucial scene untimely ripped from her blockbuster film, but now, thanks to DVD, she can show Big as she intended it to be seen. Now the film clocks in at 198 minutes, and it is her best work since the second season of Laverne and Shirley. Had it been released in its original form in 1988, it would have kicked Rain Man's ass at the Oscars.
The entire concept of a Director's Cut has become a joke. What used to be a filmmaker's redemption in the wake of a studio's uninspired tinkering has now become a parody of itself. We used to get restored, definitive cuts of mangled, misunderstood films. Now we get longer versions of films that were too long to begin with.
Director's Cuts used to be a vital part of film history. Extended cuts of Blade Runner, Brazil, The Wild Bunch, and Heaven's Gate gave the public a chance to see what the filmmaker was trying to do (and what the studio wouldn't let him do). These molested theatrical cuts were legendary, and their release became a mini-event in the cinephile neighborhoods of Dorkistan. Even today, film geeks deliberate over which family member they would auction off for a chance to see Erich von Stroheim's full cut of Greed or Orson Welles' cut of The Magnificent Ambersons. But this fascination becomes harder to understand as Director's Cuts grow more ubiquitous and more disposable.
These things used to provoke debate, and you learned a lot about filmmaking in the process, not the gossipy who-banged-who-on-whose-coke-table kind of stuff (that's why we have Peter Biskind), but real nuts and bolts stuff about filmmaking, like how removing one scene can change the entire feel -- and meaning -- of a film. In other words, you learned about the art of cinematic storytelling in a practical way.
But when you're watching director's cuts of Big or E.T. or Almost Famous, you're not learning anything, except that the filmmakers made all the right decisions the first time. The discs of Almost Famous and E.T. seem to concede the director's cut's frivolity because the discs also include the theatrical cuts of the films. This is great, because these films are too good to be burdened by the slack pacing and directionless scenes of their extended cuts.
And DVDs have a way of diverting this problem. DVDs can offer deleted scenes with a director's commentary track, thereby eliminating the need to insert unnecessary scenes into a film. After all, why interrupt (or destroy) the flow of your film? Is this when DVD sales overtake aesthetics?
Recent restorations of Welles' Mr. Arkadin and Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid are important events in their own right, but you're more likely to read about the second extended edition of 40 Year-Old Virgin than you are about the full cut of Bertolucci's 1900. Come on: twenty minutes of Steve Carrell singing the entire A-side of a 5th Dimension LP or a five-hour Marxist Gone with the Wind -- where's the choice here?
A Director's Cut can hurt a film as much as it can help it, so if there isn't a real point of contention with the film from studio battles, then why take the risk of hamstringing a good film? Do studios really want to keep releasing sub-par versions of their films? Do they really want to make directors look like indulgent pricks?
Oh my God -- what if they do? What if that's what they're doing? It's a conspiracy: if they release enough lame-ass Director's Cuts, then filmgoers will get so fed up with directorial indulgences that they will side with the studio the next time there's a major conflict over a cut. Then, no director will ever get final cut and studio executives will cut the films while they're trolling the Craig's List personal ads for a new model/actress girlfriend. Oh, man, these guys are good.
* This post originally ran three thousand words, but the Huffington Post brass kicked Miley out of the word processing room and had a wordsmith-for-hire re-edit his piece. Here is a taste of the original cut, the way Miley originally intended:
Thesis paragraph (take 1/87 -- don't blow this Miley): The whole entire concept of the idea of Director's Cuts has become a joke, a farce, a sham, a travesty of a mockery of a sham and two travesties. What used to be (and once was) a filmmaker's redemption, his resurrection in the wake (find another water metaphor) of a studio's uninspired, malicious, ($1.25 synonym for bad here) tinkering (fiddling? Too sexual?) has now become a parody of itself. We used to get restored, _______, definitive cuts of mangled, misunderstood (m-adjective) films. Now we get longer versions of films that were too long to begin with (and something else about how we don't care to see any more of Van Wilder or Pearl Harbor -- yeah michael bay sux).