The 6 Best Movies for Catharsis

My cousin Rob recently answered, via post, a question I had posited in one of my own posts. He has an interesting solution to the question, in the same way that James Tiberius Kirk, renegade threat and terrorist to the Klingon Empire, solved the Kobayashi Maru test. Give it a read.

Anyway, instead of creating my own Top 5 List for movies I’m going to take the lead here and post The 6 Best Movies for Catharsis. Why 6? Because it’s my blog and I wanted to do it that way.

What is Catharsis?

It’s the purification and purgation of emotions, originally put forth by Aristotle. It is a sort of restoration process when done right. That Aristotle was a pretty smart cat. Hopefully his statues will remain standing.

Theater types love the idea of catharsis, because it’s a goal of theater to lead the audience to that state. Since film is an evolution of theater, there are plenty of filmmakers who see catharsis as a goal. It can also be a goal just to entertain, like a lesser Michael Bay movie or a Three Stooges short.

A great comedy could elevate your spirit and maybe soften your heart toward the world. Since movies are essentially an evolution of theater, a comedy like Planes, Trains and Automobiles would do exactly that.

A great drama could prove cathartic by putting you in touch with a pain and working through it. I may never be the head of a crime family as prestigious and influential as the Corleone’s, but I can still achieve catharsis through its exploration of complex family dynamics.

So, here are my 6 Best movies for catharsis, in no particular order. You’ll notice the term “crying” appears more than once. That typically goes hand-in-hand with the purgation of emotion, but it’s not a requirement.

The 6 Best Movies for Catharsis

Rocky
The quintessential film about just wanting a chance. The outcome isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you went out there and gave it everything you had. History may record the winners, but it’s built by the people who gave it everything no matter the odds.

If you don’t cry at the end of Rocky, I don’t know if there’s anything I can do for you.

Braveheart
Recently I responded to someone on Twitter about a favorite memory tied to this film. As I watched it on cable after its theatrical run, with a friend in the room, it got very quiet during the ending. We laughed at each other as we both looked over and saw that we’d been ugly crying.

The Game
As someone who’s struggled with my sense of self worth at various points, and the illusion of control in life, The Game is a quiet work from David Fincher that a lot of people overlook. It’s not as flashy as Fight Club, nor is it as easily accessible as Gone Girl. But for me, it’s a keystone cathartic film.

You can hear my complete thoughts on it on House of Fincher, including another story in this film which I think is surprisingly similar to it.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
The aforementioned comedy masterpiece that I watch once a year. I still laugh at the jokes, and I still cry at the end. I still remember watching this with my parents, especially my dad, whose hysterical laughter was one of the greatest sounds the world has ever known. This film is classic John Hughes, and I’d argue it’s his greatest work.

Scrooge (1970)
Really, any adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is supremely cathartic. It’s a redemption tale that reminds us be open to showing compassion, and the film adaptations often take great pain to show the good people who never give up on Scrooge despite his misanthropy.

This version in particular, a musical starring Albert Finney, was also a favorite of my father’s. When Scrooge awakens at the end of his soul’s long journey through the night, he performs a magnificent song, “Begin Again,” with an undeniable energy that should melt even the iciest heart.

It’s a Wonderful Life
It can be “hip” to dislike this film. It got you credit for some time to turn up your nose at it. But like Rocky, it shows that every little moment has a lifetime leading to it. Has the ending been spoiled for you? Possibly. But the ending is a culmination of emotion that the audience has earned.

A Quick Note

I didn’t put Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, nor its brilliant companion arc from The Clone Wars series called The Siege of Mandalore because they are very specific and I’m not sure how accessible they are to non-Star Wars fans.

But if I want a purgation of emotions then those two, Episodes I & II, the original trilogy, and Solo: A Star Wars Story are basically my immediate therapy session.

In Conclusion

I said that these were the 6 Best Movies for Catharsis, but they’re far from the only ones.

What are yours?

“What Does Multi-Format Mean?”

Short answer: It means waste.

Agent Bun, whilst shopping around for something that may or may not have been a gift for me (it was, I’m sure), sauntered into the room and asked, “What does Multi-Format Mean?”

I found this charming, because I consider it basic knowledge to the point that I forget it isn’t basic knowledge for everyone. It’s incredibly easy to lose perspective on those things, be it so-called “easter eggs” in movies or a section of the U.S. Constitution.

The qualifier here is she was making sure specifically because she knew I wouldn’t accept a format older than BluRay. She had asked about movies earlier in the day while fishing for ideas. While we haven’t upgraded to 4K yet, it’s mainly because we don’t see a need to replace a TV until it stops working.

(However, I had told her that if she got me a DVD, it may as well be a VHS tape. I know we’re just supposed to be grateful for things, but we can also have standards.)

But it spurred the discussion about Multi-Format in the first place. Why not just a BluRay disc?

I’ve heard any number of stories, up to and including a lawsuit someone filed because of the inherent requirement to upgrade your player for the new format, but I’ve yet to find specific confirmation of it. Also, if you want to go play Barnaby Jones and get me the link, that’d be great.

Barnaby Jones takes a phone call | kesseljunkie
Barnaby Jones would figure this out in 60 minutes, with commercial breaks included.

Multi-Format gets under my skin when it means more than one disc just because I hate hate that they’re giving me an extra copy I don’t want and don’t plan to use. It’s not good for the environment to keep making plastic discs that will go into a landfill sometime between now and I’m a rotting corpse, so why not make as few of them as we can?

It’s like I’ve bought a book and someone packages the large-print edition with it for slightly more. I’m only going to use one of these. Save yourself – and me – the extra cost and materials.

To avoid the typical complaining that one of my oldest friends offers on occasion, I’m not advocating the abolishment of physical media. I may have in the past, but that was before I figured out that owning a digital-only copy may not be the great bet I once thought it was.

Setting aside the unsettling topics of de facto shadow censorship by corporations, I know that there’s streaming. I also know some things are special enough to get on disc, and are the only way to preserve specific iterations of films you love, including Blade Runner or Apocalypse Now.

And there are other movies that you want to own as well, without being dependent on streaming overlords. Not everything is on a service to which you subscribe. Sometimes you want to watch it without an additional rental fee, especially if it’s something you’ll watch with any regularity.

Of course, it’s not true across the board. But it’s been true often enough. If I want a copy of a movie in a format, just let me have that copy in that format. If I want it in both formats for some odd reason, then I’ll get it in both. Heck, I know a guy who still buys 3D discs because…well, that’s his thing not mine.

Just give me the option to get a disc in a single format, and go on my way.

Although, if we live in a simulation, my environmental concerns…don’t matter at all.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

Movies That Mold Us

A new episode of House of Fincher dropped today, and it was a discussion about Fight Club. As I listened back, I was struck again by how much of an impact the film had on my tastes and how much it resonated with me when I saw it.

To be clear, I wasn’t one of those guys who “joined a Fight Club” once I saw it. I knew a guy who did that, and it struck me as supremely…dumb. I’ll leave it to you to discern why I might have thought that.

But Fight Club certainly made an impact. Something in it spoke to people, especially people who were coming to terms with some of the absurdities of modern living. There was a comforting rebelliousness against a natural order that seemed terribly unnatural.

But this blog isn’t about that.

It’s more about how you can never know when or how you’ll encounter a film that will change the way you think, or affirm a feeling you’ve had. And these movies wind up molding you.

Sometimes movies mold you in small ways. Sometimes they mold you in large ways.

Rosemary’s Craigula is one of the greatest horror pictures of all time.

Sometimes, as you grow, you look back on something like JFK and think, “I became a conspiracy theorist because of that nonsense?” Sometimes you look back on The Doors and think, “Why would you lionize behavior like that?” (And I don’t mean just Morrison.)

Sometimes you realize Oliver Stone made both of those, and became a de facto historian for an age. Was that a good thing?

But they had an impact and they molded my tastes and my opinions, at least for a time. Some of that is a function of age, and some of it is just a function of taste, which is especially odd considering movies can also mold your tastes along the way.

Does a movie resonate because it reveals to you something about yourself? Can it show you who you want(ed) to be? Why do some of them salve a pain deep somewhere in your soul?

It’s humbling to realize how much a piece of entertainment can have an impact, and at times disturbing to realize the things you let sway you based on a strong emotional presentation.

There are so many moments tied to movies in my life that they’re inextricably a part of who I am. It’s both terrifying and enlightening to think of it that way.

It’s bizarre to think that movies don’t have that same sort of impact on others. It’s always an odd moment when I realize they exist in a completely different context for other people, even though we share the same cultural lexicon thanks to the ones that gained the most notice.

One of my favorite icebreaker questions with people is, “What are your five favorite movies?” It reveals a lot about them. Same with albums and books, of course, but movies have an even greater pull on the collective unconsciousness than those media, which are more likely to dip into very niche choices very quickly.

It will just always fascinate me.

A stock photo representing Inception. Only the best for you.
Photo by Ash @ModernAfflatus on Pexels.com

1984 or Brazil?

Not a long post today, more a question I cannot resolve. People are saying we are living in a time akin to George Orwell’s imagined totalitarian nightmare, 1984. There are a lot of compelling arguments to that.

I won’t bother listing them all out. Either you’ve read 1984 (or even seen a film adaptation) or you haven’t. Most likely, even if you haven’t, you understand the reference and why people might feel that way.

The more horrifying possibility that I entertain, and that I have for a number of years, is that instead we’re living in a world akin to Terry Gilliam’s brilliant Brazil.

Sure, it’s got the potential to be a malevolent totalitarian nightmare, but…it’s both better and worse because the bureaucratic machines are just so incompetent. Every regulation breaks a rule, and every rule is a regulation. People are monitored constantly, but it’s not by some well-organized central system.

It’s run as, and by, a confederacy of incompetence. If the wrong (right?) person were to coordinate things, it would be a horrifying nightmare.

As it is, it’s still a horrifying nightmare.

We’re not being pursued through a labyrinth by a vengeful minotaur. We’re being stalked in a ramshackle field by an ill-tempered bull.

I don’t know if that should make anyone feel better, or worse.

But if you haven’t, watch Brazil and read 1984, and let me know what you decide. If you have done both, let me know which one you think better represents our times.

Bonus points if you throw THX-1138 into the mix and see if that works even better.


Oh well.

“Saturday Night Fever,” But It’s Not Really About That

Saturday Night Fever had been on my “movie watchlist” for ages. A thoughtful neighbor loaned it to me, after realizing I’d never seen it. That was the perfect motivation finally to view it.

The Review

I reviewed the movie on Letterboxd. In a nutshell, it’s good!

It’s surprisingly tense and uncomfortable, and paints an unflattering portrait of New York. That’s not entirely surprising, as movies set in New York in the 1970s painted a very dark portrait of the city. This wasn’t without cause, either. For all of the bluster about New York being a cultural center of American culture, the place has been typified by horrible crime, mafia corruption, and tribal attitudes.

It seems to be sliding back into the same madness, so I’m thrilled about the promise of more movies like Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver and French Connection. People can romanticize New York’s past all they want, but its hellish realities were projected onscreen in some of the best films ever to be created.

I’m not putting Saturday Night Fever in the same category as the all-time greats. It is, however, good and engaging.

It captures the despair of the working-class young in a big city. It also captures the hollow promises of nightclub living, and the spiteful ignorance of those who think only of their pleasure in the moment. Honestly, it reads in a lot of the same ways that Fight Club does.

But this isn’t really about that.

John Travolta Tony Manero Saturday Night Fever | kesseljunkie
It’s also not about dancing, sadly.

What It’s Really About

When you’re a movie fan, there are sometimes odd gaps in your movie viewing history. It’s not even intentional. A movie goes onto your list of things you want to watch. That list keeps growing, and it’s prioritized by recency and esteem.

A movie like Saturday Night Fever gets buried in a list like that. Sometimes watching it takes some sort of great gesture like a person putting a copy in your hand and saying, “Here, watch it, you have no excuse now.”

I wonder why that is, in this modern era. It kind of makes no sense.

At the touch of button I can access entire libraries of films that serve as cultural touchstones – like Saturday Night Fever – but they remain buried on that list despite my personal challenges that include watching 31 Movies in 31 Days. They remain buried despite my habit of watching Star Trek V: The Final Frontier so many times I have it memorized.

Colour Out of Space | kesseljunkie
My odd viewing habits did help me find “Color Out of Space,” though.

They remain buried despite my tendency to waste time watching bad movies to decompress.

Again, it makes no sense. With all the technological capability at my disposal, why would it seemingly be so difficult to get to classics and “important” films?

I’m legitimately puzzled by it. I make no oath to change my habits nor amend my selections so that I skip another viewing of Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and catch one of those buried titles.

I should make that oath and amend my choices. I’m just honest enough to know that I won’t.

I just know I’m not alone in this. Someone must have the answer as to the why, though.

If you run across that person and happen to discuss it, let me know what they say.

“House of Fincher”: A Limited Run Podcast About David Fincher

Every so often, an artist comes along who gets a reasonable amount of fame without the fawning devotions typical of someone like a Lady Gaga or Christopher Nolan. (Complete transparency: I make fawning declarations about Christopher Nolan.)

David Fincher is one of those artists. Though he’s made some truly genre-defining films like Fight Club, profiles of him don’t trigger exclamations of “artiste” that register on the Richter Scale.

He has prolifically produced motion pictures during the same time frame as Quentin Tarantino, with the same sort of dedication to craft and impact, without the bombastic marketing campaigns of every film.

He’s produced and directed more than films, as well. He’s kept a hand in music video direction and pioneered the very idea of “binge watching” with House of Cards. He’s brought a clinical level of insight to crime procedurals with Mindhunter. He’s been a responsible implementer of digital effects.

So, my friend B-Shea got together with me and the infamous Tristan Riddell, publisher of The Nerd Party network, to put together a limited-run show looking at the works of David Fincher. After much debate, we named it House of Fincher.

During the journey of helping to create House of Fincher to look at his body of work, I’ve come to see him as a far more influential artist than I’d ever realized. If you’ve seen a few of his works, or you’ve seen all of them, I’m proud of the show and I think it’d be worth your while to tune in for an hour a week as we ramp up (hopefully) to the impending release of his film via Netflix, Mank.

House of Fincher on The Nerd Party | kesseljunkie

Bring Back Intermission

This weekend, I finally cracked open my copy of How the West Was Won, a massive epic produced by MGM and Cinerama. Released in 1962, it had three (!) directors and, of course, used the Cinerama technology that you can look up elsewhere because it’s really cool but not the point of this post.

The point of this post is about something that was included in the film that we don’t see in new releases anymore. This 2-hour-and-44-minute sweeping epic had an intermission. Blessedly, in this release, it included the Intermission cue and the Entr’acte cue as well. (It also had the overture, but the odds of that ever coming back as a film feature are very slim.)

Avengers: Endgame was a whopping 3 hours and 1 minute. That’s a full 17 minutes longer than a film that utilized FOUR directors of photography, a technology that shooting with three 35mm cameras sharing a single shutter, multiple locations, and – again – THREE directors.

How the West Was Won also starred just about every name that could be cast in Hollywood. In one scene alone, in the segment directed by the legendary John Ford, George Peppard kills Russ Tamblyn to prevent him from assassinating Harry Morgan (as Ulysses Grant), who’s talking with John Wayne (as General William Tecumseh Sherman). That’s just one scene, and of those four actors it’s George Peppard that has the only role that goes beyond that segment of the film.

I don’t want to digress into further specifics. The point is simply that these two films are of a similar type.

They were both giant, spectacular blockbusters with large and popular casts placed into epic stories to get people to pay money. One, however, will be remembered as The Greatest Movie of All Time until the next Marvel™®© movie comes out.

kenneth branagh hamlet | kesseljunkie
Branagh also had the decency to put an intermission in his sublime adaptation of Hamlet.

The Intermission is the Difference

How the West Was Won had an intermission, whereas Avengers: Endgame was constructed with the modern philosophy of the Film as Endurance Test. My biggest question is, “Why?”

I’m not saying every film needs to be a three-or-four-hour epic. I’m saying that intermissions make sense for longer films. Aside from giving the audience a break to get to the bathroom, digest the film up to that point, and even carry on a fine tradition from live theater, it gives the audience permission to discuss.

Instead of asking talkative people – especially in the social media age – to go three hours without telling the world what they thought of the last fifteen minutes of their lives, an intermission gives them time to go out and indulge the gift of endless gab. Social media addicts will be more likely to attend a long film if you bake in a promise that they aren’t expected to be quiet for the entire run time. It’s a polite agreement to prevent a war.

(To be honest, an overture is still a good idea to give people time to settle down. I know I said earlier it was even less likely to come back, but I think if you had a built-in time to allow everyone to get the “shushing” out of their system when the dialogue wasn’t happening, it would be better.)

It also gives you the opportunity to leave if the film isn’t working for you, without causing a ruckus. Imagine the relief to know that you’ll be given a chance to politely exit if you think something sucks. As an added bonus to the aforementioned social media addicts, you can get a jump on the hashtags on opening night!

Tarantino had the decency to put an intermission into The Hateful Eight. Sure, it was part of his whole throwback philosophy. But it worked.

If theater chains balk, remind them that people at intermission are also more inclined to buy more concessions. That’s a great thing for them.

So let’s bring back the intermission!

how the west was won intermission screen | kesseljunkie
This image is hosted elsewhere. Internet magic!

The Best Movie Logo of All Time?

Looking over my movie collection, I’m frequently struck by the collection of eclectic logos on display. I’m not saying that as if that’s a product of my collection in specific. I’m sure that everyone’s movie collection, if they have one, has a wide range of logos on display.

They’re typically designed to be eye-catching. Logos try to communicate something about the work to which they’re attached. A glance should catch your eye, and keep it.

I come from the school that color should be secondary. I should be able to glance at a simple line drawing version of a logo and still “get the point,” as it were. I can look at the logo for Planet of the Apes in any color arrangement and it’s still indelibly right.

Planet of the Apes Logo | kesseljunkie

With Planet of the Apes, the elongated treatments of the vertical lines on the “L” and “P,” along with the all-caps and tight kerning, convey tension and something recognizable-yet-abnormal. The “E” joined to the “T” and “S” further convey something that I can recognize but isn’t what I expect.

The beloved Star Wars logo carries on this same sense of scale, but keeps its letters regimented and precise. It conveys energy and scale, too large to ignore and with horizontal lines that pull your focus out. This is a story on a grand scale, though it obviously owes a bit to the Apes logo.

Star Wars Logo | kesseljunkie

The logo for Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight has letters set with imperfect alignments. The worn edges and splatters, hinting at the snowstorm and bloodshed at the center of the plot, capture danger and the rough, displeasing characters. It’s evocative of the Old West type that we’ve been inculcated to recognize over time, which subconsciously communicates when it’s set.

Of course, it proves that color can make a big difference, because if that “8” were also black it wouldn’t be as impactful. An exception that proves the rule, as it were.

The Hateful Eight | kesseljunkie

But these are only a barest handful logos of the many, many that are out there. I’m not trying to position myself as any sort of expert, just going on about some logos that I love at this point.

The Question at Hand

Obviously this is all subjective. That’s how it works. If you love a movie, you’re likely to respond to its logo on an emotional scale and assessing it dispassionately is difficult.

Favorites come into play, along with personal preferences. I’m not going to attempt to answer the question on my own, because obviously it’s too big a topic for one person to tackle.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to give an honest read. You may even hate the logo for a movie that you love! Here’s looking at you, Manhunter.


I mean…ugh.

So what are your favorite movie logos? Which ones work the best?

If you’re reading this, I’m legitimately interested what movie logos you think are great.

If you’re not reading this, I’m legitimately scared because…how are you in my thoughts?

Which Viewing Order Should I Choose?

OK, it’s been heavy around here lately, so here’s one that hopefully spurs some conversation that isn’t centered around anything but one of my favorite film series.

The question always comes up about the best “viewing order” for any franchise series, whether it’s the tiresome Machete Order which inexplicably ignores the criminally-underrated Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, or some other mix that is as tiring to debate as anything else.

Darth Funk has a cool costume | kesseljunkie
But does he get good Bluetooth reception in there?

Not What You Think

Oh, but I’m not talking about the Star Wars films. I’m talking about the movie franchise that out-Marvel®™©s Marvel©®™, the Fast & Furious franchise. Sure, the ride at Universal Orlando® is…not great…but I enjoy the movies. I enjoy some of them more than others, and love it as a whole. It’s a vibrant testament to entertainment at all costs.

As I was looking over the collection, though, I realized I’m not sure of the best viewing order! This is an important question with the ninth installment in the saga coming out in 2021. (It was supposed to be 2020, but ugh.)

Fast & Furious, which soft-reboots the series in a way that Lucasfilm should have studied for the sequel trilogy, is a prequel. Though the fourth movie, it takes place before the third.

Fast Five and Furious 6 (since retitled, but forget that noise) are prequels to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift as well. This creates a small bit of a quandary with some technology questions, but honestly no one cares. It’s about the art!

Of course, when you have prequels, the question of story order and emotional impact gets difficult. I’m going to set aside the Star Wars films again in favor of another example.

You can argue that the emotional weight of any prequel is at least partly informed by the original film(s). I’m speaking in generalities, of course. I’m sure there are people ready to jump all over a statement like that to try to disprove it.

But I think it’s a fair point. While it’s fun and interesting to screw around with story order, would you love Indiana Jones as much in Temple of Doom if you hadn’t gotten to know him first when he was a more-likable and better person in Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Hobbs and Dom in Fast Five screenshot | kesseljunkie
How I greet all my friends now. We hate sleeves in warm climates.

Back to the Question

So I’m left with the essential question of what I should do. If I were to rearrange the order, and put the fourth, fifth, and sixth before the third, what happens to the first two?

The trick is that Fast & Furious does such a good job of soft-rebooting the franchise that the setup of the original film isn’t quite so necessary. So I’d have to find somewhere to place it as a flashback/prequel treatment in viewing order on its own.

Or perhaps the optimal viewing order is 1-4-5-6-3-7-8? In the spirit of the aforementioned Machete Order for Star Wars, I dropped 2 since apparently you’re allowed to do that for some reason.

This doesn’t even bring Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw, either. It can drop in after 8 for viewing, but that’s in hopes that something divulged in it ties in to F9.

Curious what others might say, especially after I make it clear right now that I think this series is, indeed, more entertaining and satisfying than the Marvel©®™ movies.

I said good day!

…One More Thing

Of course, none of this addresses the fact that Better Luck Tomorrow is technically part of this series and could be watched instead of 2 Fast 2 Furious without missing a beat. I could also watch BLT first overall. That would be interesting.

What’s Worth Saving?

This is not what you think it’s about. This is about movies, and is born out of a conversation with a chap I’ve known for decades.

He’s a really good guy, and occasionally we hit spots where we find ourselves accidentally exploring an issue that winds up going off on a bizarrely serious tangent.

In this case, we were talking about movies. As we both love to joke, the cult movie Phantasm has a remaster available for purchase thanks to JJ Abrams’ fandom of it. The movie is, to say the least, not wildly popular for a reason. There are some who even might say it kind of sucks.

I’m not the one on trial here!

What we got around to debating and wondering, yet again, was why Phantasm has a remaster but some of the truly classic long-lost gems don’t even have a decent modern release.

Take, for instance, the film 29th Street. This 1991 charmer stars Danny Aiello and Anthony Lapaglia in a dramatization of the real-life story of Frank Pesce, the first winner of the New York State Lottery. It’s set at Christmastime, and a used DVD copy of it goes for $72.24 on Amazon. It’s got a terrific supporting cast, it’s set at Christmas, and has a genuinely lovely story arc.

Why is there an affordable remaster of Phantasm, but not of that?

29th Street Movie 1991 Anthony LaPaglia Danny Aiello | kesseljunkie
It’s 100% better than Phantasm. I promise you that.

Before someone thinks they’ve got the answer to end all answers, I’m aware that if JJ Abrams, a powerful producer in Hollywood, is the fan of a movie then it’s going to get remastered.

I’m aware of the argument that there’s a financial side to things. They’re not going to bother with the restoration of a film that isn’t going to get money back for them.

I’m also aware that it highlights the arbitrary nature of film preservation.

Arbitrary

Any given film is special to someone. Trust me on this one.

Unlike previous generations we seem to care deeply about preserving past entertainment. Classic television shows have resurged on streaming platforms. It’s sparked debates about whether the show’s continued availability, if it’s available to modern audiences, forgives that times have changed since its airing.

Before I go off on a different tangent and this becomes a different argument, what I’m really fascinated by is why it bothers “us” so much when things we loved in the past aren’t redeemed in modern formats. Part of growing up is accepting that you’ll lose some things that were special to you.

Things that burned into our minds are literally a piece of us.
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on Pexels.com

Emotional Attachment

Sometimes all that remains of your fondest moments are fading memories. For some, that’s just hard to accept.

Maybe that’s part of what’s at the core with certain films being pulled from different services. It’s actively invalidating a fond memory, and a time in your life that is sacred. It’s not so much the movie or the show itself that you’re trying to defend, but the sacrosanct remembrance of our collective youth.

For me, it’s just hard to accept that just because I didn’t remake Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in the most unbearably ham-handed way possible, or preside over the whimpering expiration of the Skywalker Saga, I don’t get to purchase a remaster of a film that I truly loved.

Maybe there’s some jealousy or hurt in there. To keep it personal, something I don’t like is treated with a reverence I feel undeserved, whether it’s Phantasm or the execrable Showgirls, while things that I do are actively cast by the wayside. Something about it seems unfair.

But then, life has always been unfair. Maybe some things just have to be accepted as destined for the dustbin.

Dust to Dust to Digital

Films – almost any entertainment, really – weren’t created with the idea that they would endure in perpetuity. They were created with the idea of entertaining and fulfilling an audience of its time. Some things falling by the wayside is inevitable.

Now, I’m not at all arguing for the erasure of films because times change. I’m staunchly for preserving them as they’re a part of a collective cultural record in the same way that the ruins at Pompeii are. We know a lot about how Roman society evolved in every aspect from politics to slavery thanks to what was preserved, often just as a function of accidental geology.

For that reason, yes, I think we should save all the films we can. I’m just making peace with the idea that the record won’t necessarily be as complete as it should.

Maybe as we transition to digital and streaming, it’ll get better. There are fewer physical considerations, even though technology continues to change rapidly even on that front.

Ha ha, your movie is really just 1100110
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Questions of Ownership

This is a weird one. But it’s a legitimate quandary, and I’m not sure I can resolve it my own, hence why I’m tapping it out on a public platform. It won’t be as controversial as renaming CHAZ to C.H.U.D., but it’s a question rooted in a changing world.

As online retailers — or any retailers — have the right to do when people raise enough ruckus to signal their virtue, online platforms have the right to decide what they want to stream. After all, it’s on their servers and their service, they should have the right to decide what to sell.

I’m presuming there’s some level of agreement with that statement. After all, a Catholic bookstore shouldn’t be obligated to carry a copy of the Communist Manifesto or The DaVinci Code. At least, I think that’s common sense.

There are also occasional pushes for retailers to stop carrying items that have fallen out of favor. Amazon stopped selling the Confederate battle flag, as did other retailers, and everyone agreed that was okay for them to do. I don’t own one, and I never planned on purchasing one.

Sure, Amazon still sells the Bonnie Blue flag, but people would have to know history to know much about that one. Probably a safe bet no one will raise a stink until they do.

But plastic discs are so bad for the environment!
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Digital Copies

By way of my convoluted thinking, I thought about people who have purchased digital copies of movies. I know I own a fair amount.

When you find a deal for $4.99, you tend to jump to it. Since I’m not a huge fan of owning too many physical copies of anything despite a current taste for expanding my collection again, digital copies are a wonderment.

I can watch a movie I like whenever I want, without having to take up space on a shelf. I also get to watch it without generating more Future Garbage for the dump when I die.

(Speaking from my own experiences, almost all of your stuff is going to get thrown out when you die. You’re just kicking the can down the road to someone else who will decide to throw it away. The most cherished items will be retained, but largely you’re just holding onto literal Future Garbage right now.)

I’m not trying to be a downer. I’m just trying to have a practical talk with you.

The Mechanics of It

So here we get to where I’m going with this.

A person who’s purchased a digital copy from a company merely has paid a fee for lifetime access to their copy. They can watch it whenever they like. But they don’t own a physical thing, What they’ve paid for is a digital license.

Since online retailers and streaming services are, as most agree, free to decide what to host on their services, where do they stand when people stand have a digital license to a film later found to be odious by a loud plurality of people. (Note: I’m still going to use the term “own(s) a digital copy” just because it’s the commonly accepted term.)

If the company decides they no longer wish to carry something deemed offensive, they have the right to stop offering it for sale. Again, no retailer is required to carry something.

In the case of digital copies, I’m wondering if that extends to their right to rescind access for the purchaser.

I’ll also say that vinyl albums are incapable of transmitting your usage data to a faceless conglomerate leveraging your personal data for financial gain.
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An Example

Let’s start with a movie that garnered some attention in 2015.

Short Circuit has not aged particularly well, given one of its character portrayals is a white actor in brownface. Short Circuit 2, costarring Michael McKean, hasn’t aged well for the exact same reason.

It’s entirely conceivable that at some point in the future, a retailer would decide to stop selling it. It’s conceivable that the production company would stop producing copies of it altogether.

We would all agree the retailer has the right to do that. We would all agree that the production company has the right to do that. No matter what someone’s emotional attachment is to a work, no one is obliged to sell it.

What if, though, someone has a copy of Short Circuit or Short Circuit 2 in their digital collection? If the film is now judged too controversial to sell, I think it’s conceivable that there would be pressure for it not to be streamed, or even sold in the digital format at all. After all, if a retailer isn’t obligated to sell it, they’re also not obligated to host it on their servers.

While it’s hard to envision anyone being too upset about Short Circuit evaporating into the digital mists, where does that leave Orson Welles’ Othello? What if someone owns a digital copy of Triumph of the Will, the monumental propaganda piece directed by Leni Riefenstahl for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party party?

It is unquestionably odious. It’s literally lauding men who are some of the greatest monsters of the 20th Century.

But it is important. The construction of Triumph of the Will influenced students who studied it in film school. It’s influenced documentaries and fictional film with its innovative use of camera and shot selections. It was directed by a woman at a time when female directors weren’t common.

This is getting heavy, so here’s a pic of who they should cast in Star Wars: Episode X as the Drunken Jedi Master.

Reasons

It’s conceivable someone would own a copy just for the sake of being an amateur film historian. They may want to show it to people to show the dangers of popular movements and fiery ideologies.

It might be something they own because they understand its place in film history is as important as The Birth of a Nation, an equally-consequential work that is equally reprehensible in its content. Forrest Gump even uses a digitally-altered clip of it in acknowledgement.

No Conclusion

And so I’m left curious.

Obviously, if Amazon Prime’s leadership decides it no longer wishes to stream Breakfast at Tiffany’s, they can stop. My question is simply where the line is.

After all, if the point is to halt the advancement of things/portrayals/ideas that are distasteful in the extreme, it’s arguably imperative to remove access to all copies. Someone could easily argue that so long as no one is barging into someone’s house and taking someone’s physical copy, they’re simply rescinding a digital access license as is their right; or again, in some cases, their “duty.”

Further, it extends to all sorts of digital “ownership,” including the “right” to rescind or edit books without the user’s express consent. For that matter, there’s some music that was purposely made to be controversial; as the taste for tolerating controversy has lessened, so too might digital copies of that music be altered with the same reasoning.

To be clear, I’m not taking a position. I’m merely framing the argument I could see.

They could issue a refund as a goodwill gesture. They could give the customer a credit to replace it with a different movie or two.

This one got heavy and I’m not sure how it resolves now or in the future. Fortunately, I have one all set for tomorrow that isn’t such a bummer.

What Now, RoboCop?

This one is a bit more serious than usual, but it’s also rooted in a sincere curiosity about something that has become a topic in recent days.

Recently I wrote about movie birthdays and the challenge of defining such a thing. In that piece I said in an off-hand way that it wouldn’t be “as serious” as trying to get Paw Patrol cancelled. Of course, the New York Times discussing the “problems” of Paw Patrol was essentially a blog riffing on a tweet, but I’m going to treat you to better quality than that.

The joke I made was also a reference to the current wave of “cancelling” cop shows because they commit the cardinal sin of portraying police in a good light. I’m not debating whether that’s a good or a bad thing; I wasn’t even aware, for instance, that Cops was still on the air.

But I can’t help but wonder what the opinion or consensus would be of some of my favorite films. Several of them aren’t just favorites. They’re literally responsible for teaching me about film and what I liked in it.

A Note About Manhunter

Michael Mann’s Manhunter molded my film tastes in significant ways. It’s an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, and it’s terrific. (As a side note, its title was changed because of the fear that the failure of Year of the Dragon, released by the same company, would impact audiences by reminding them of that title.) It’s also the unspoken sibling of Mann’s Miami Vice TV series.

It’s an amazing film in every way. The pacing, the photography, and the performances are terrific. The oft-overlooked character actor Stephen Lang turns in a memorable Freddie Lounds. Brian Cox is a stunning sociopath.

There’s an immortal moment when Will Graham looks at his reflection in a rainy window, freed from other concerns, and addresses the killer Francis Dollarhyde in spirit as he spits out, “It’s just you and me now, sport.”

The climax of the film isn’t just a magnificently choreographed explosion of violence. It’s one of my favorite examples of diegetic music to this day. Thanks to this film, I heard In a Gadda Da Vida for the first time in my life, which remains one of my favorite songs. Likely at least part of my love for it comes from that first viewing of Manhunter.

William Peterson inhabits the role of a retired FBI profiler asked to come back and find the killer behind horrific slayings. While the book is a bit different, it’s still the obvious source. The film is essentially a police procedural.

Fun note: Manhunter also features the first screen appearance of Hannibal Lecter, though in this version it was spelled “Leckter.” Brian Cox was offered the chance to reprise the role in Silence of the Lambs since it’s the second story in the series, but he turned it down.

So What Do We Do?

So if we’re shunning any work that portrays police in a positive light, what do we do with Manhunter? What do we do with Silence of the Lambs, or any of a number of other films like Heat and Die Hard that extoll the virtues of hard-working detectives dedicated to the defeat of the criminal?

What do we do with David Fincher’s exquisite series Mindhunter, which portrays not just police but the FBI as fundamentally good organizations working to subvert the will of the worst in society? I guess I shouldn’t hold out hope that a miracle happens and it gets finished instead of being left undone thanks to Fincher’s packed schedule. (Trust me, that one hurts worse than the decades spent whining about a single season of Firefly.)

Where do we find ourselves with the Lethal Weapon series? The second film in that series specifically paints (LAPD!) cops as working to defeat racists. The third film has a major plot point around the idea of “cop killer” bullets that were significant headline generators at the time; it’s undeniable that the police are seen as working against the odds to defeat well-armed criminals. The fourth one, for my money, doesn’t actually exist, so we can all just agree to ignore that one.

Am I to disavow the Lethal Weapon films, despite their amazing craftsmanship and true dedication to highlighting problematic social issues? Richard Donner was loudly and proudly anti-Apartheid and used these films to highlight that. He focused on real social issues in the sequels. The series highlighted PTSD and mental illness in a sincere way with the character of Riggs when most films wouldn’t really discuss it.

Some scenes were taken as “comedy” by some, but there was a manic energy that authentically spoke to inner pain and turmoil.

Even Dystopias Have Complex Cops

RoboCop is constructed around the themes of corporatization and corruption, but there’s no mistake that the Detroit Police are portrayed as the “good guys.” Would this invalidate its other messages examining humanity and technology, and the excesses of corporate greed, when viewed with that in mind? There were also questions of humanity and virtue laced throughout.

If anything, films like RoboCop, and even Predator 2, project out the idea of the police as beleaguered by well-organized and armed criminals. They fully embrace the vision of a criminal apocalypse that many films in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s projected. It was a certain thing to films of that era that the future was full of unchecked criminals who bordered on supervillainy.

For goodness’ sake, Soylent Green deals with a police officer trying to uncover a horrific scandal at the root of society. This scandal, like RoboCop after it, revolves around corporate greed and government favoritism.

But make no mistake — they always portray these cops as similar to the Jim Gordon of Batman: Year One or Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. They’re trapped in a flawed system and trying to accomplish good despite the systemic issues they encounter. In a sense, these cops are the good guys not because all cops are “good guys” in their world, but because these are virtuous people trying to use their position to do good. In a sense, their jobs are secondary to their true nature.

I’ll also point out they were trying to replace cops with a robot, initially. It…did not go well.

My Wish

What I wish, before people decide they want to wipe out a film or a genre, they considered a few things. Bear with me.

I wish that people would understand that the people consuming these entertainments aren’t children. Functional adults can see any number of things and contextualize them for what they are. Only people dereft of reason, or the pridefully condescending, think that those who watch something ascribe everything about it as reality.

In other words, it says a lot about someone who thinks that a person who watches Cops doesn’t understand that bad cops need to be punished. It says that not only do they think they’re a smart person, they think “everyone else” is dumb.

That type of person is a tool. That’s always been true, and always will be.

In Conclusion

That might be the most troubling thing about this desire to purge these sorts of entertainment: It’s rooted in a fundamental arrogance. There are plenty of people, myself included, who know that the real world is a complex and tricky place and don’t need to watch or read things that only conform to our world views to find them valid or well-crafted.

That’s not entertainment programming. It’s programming in the sense of agitprop.

The beauty of the forum of ideas is that it’s free and open, and any ideas can be heard and debated. The beauty of defending that forum is that it protects everyone.

And in terms of the types of things that someone watches, sometimes…a cigar is just a cigar. It’s not ascribing to “police propaganda” to love Heat. It’s just loving a good film that’s well constructed and which allows you to escape your life for a few hours. To think that it will mold people into being avowed defenders of bad cops is like thinking someone will jump on a broom in hopes it lets them fly after reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Give people a little credit, and let them enjoy some escapism.

He’s just enjoying the movie!

Coda

The strangest thing about this is, I’m a nobody and just writing this blog because I like to write. A small number of people like to read it. I’ve said nothing controversial on here.

And yet, I wonder sometimes if there is such a thing as “non-controversial” anymore.

Director’s Cuts

As threatened in my post about what constitutes a movie’s birthday, I will now discuss “directors’ cuts,” both so-called and actual. Before we get into the topic, though, a quick discussion for those who aren’t entirely familiar with the term.

What is a Final Cut?

A final cut of a film is what you see in the theater while you eat overpriced snack food as you lounge on your lazy buttocks, or streaming at home eating affordably-priced snack food as you lounge on your lazy buttocks. It has gone through the usual

It has typically been accepted that the director is the final arbiter of what a final cut is, if anyone gave it a passing thought. Most don’t, and are likely happier for it. The director enjoys the praise, and the director takes the blame.

However, it’s not always the case. Producers exert a tremendous amount of influence on the final cut of a film. Harvey Weinstein, before the wall of silence around his execrable behavior crumbled, was notorious for taking a movie and editing it as he saw fit. Someome producers trust their directors and let them work. Some producers only see a bottom line and obsess about what will bring in the highest gross amount at the box office. Some producers want to fiddle with specific projects in hopes of winning acclaim.

The “kesseljunkie cut” of Avengers: Endgame is much more emotionally powerful.

Examples

Halloween II is a complicated sequel to consider. The final version released theatrically is different than the version released on television, but not just in terms of the gore shown onscreen. It juggles aspects of the story and the ending.

In the behind-the-scenes documentary about the film, the director talks about how “everyone” has a cut of the film. The producer has a preferred cut, and the director has a preferred cut, and so on and so forth.

It’s why so many directors become producers on their own projects, and especially an Executive Producer. It’s their way of subverting the hierarchy by exerting control over it.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi have always been producer’s cuts. George Lucas admitted that his goal of having different directors was to have them do the day-to-day work that was an unlikable chore for him after three draining experiences. However, the stories were his and he was going to be darn sure that what made it to the screen was what he wanted in order to get it told.

To move away from Star Wars, Robert “The Kid Stays in the Picture” Evans came to claim that he “saved” Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather from disaster when he sat down and recut the picture. For context, Evans was sort of the Harvey Weinstein for his day in terms of working on a film – manipulative, controlling, and absolutely convinced he knew best.

So the version of The Godfather we saw was – if Evans is to be believed – a producer’s cut. Ironically, its success gave Coppola the cachet to get final cut control until he burned every professional bridge possible with Apocalypse Now.

The “kesseljunkie cut” of Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi has Dougie Jones. It’s 1000% better as a result.

So What Does That Have to Do with Director’s Cuts?

The nature of a final cut is what makes director’s cuts so dicey. Film is, by its very nature, a collaborative effort. Directors are, by their very nature, controlling people. What you typically see is the product of intense collaboration.

The default for many is to presume that director’s cuts are always the version of the film that should be watched and regarded as authoritative. I know that for myself, I always prefer to watch a director’s cut when it’s available. Sometimes producers make dumb cuts and alterations that are unwarranted and the director’s vision is a more cohesive picture of the film.

Only rarely, or after a notably successful career, does a filmmaker have the ability to control everything from start to finish like Hitchcock did in his masterworks. For every Nolan there’s a journeyman director just trying to make it work so they can continue doing what they love. Heck, Zack Snyder had a film taken away from him and half of it reshot by a completely different person; the resultant reactions are going to result in him finally getting to release some version of his vision years later.

But sometimes the director’s cut is indulgent and bloated. Sometimes it has some good things included, but it’s at the expense of pacing. As an artist, you have to be willing to make painful choices for the sake of the whole. Sometimes you have to concede that the shortest possible cut of Highlander 2: The Quickening will always be the best by default, because the pain ends more quickly.

Some directors are just really good project managers. When the right people are around them, they know how to execute a plan to get things finished on time, on budget, and entertaining enough to justify the investment.

Money!
And by “investment,” I mean laundered mob money and tax breaks.

The Ultimate Point

The ultimate point would be that, director’s cuts should be approached with an air of optimistic skepticism. Because whether an alternate cut is better than the version you saw originally is going to depend on a lot of factors outside of a director’s control.

I loved Blade Runner when I first saw it. The director’s cut released in the 1990s wasn’t even a director’s cut technically speaking, but it became accepted conventional wisdom that it must be more respected because it was labeled as a director’s cut.

The Final Cut of Blade Runner is much more a “director’s cut,” and it is better, but it earns that regard by virtue of a director recutting and tweaking things to get it closer to a vision in the first place, and to account for the missing narration. But it could have gone either way.

So the next time you get into a discussion and someone insists that the director’s cut is the way to go, it’s okay to disagree. If you preferred the other cut, that’s fine. Someone else did, too, and it’s OK if you agree with them instead.