Cleanflix: To edit or not to edit?

December 29, 2012 at 9:04 am (Uncategorized)

Well, I started to make this a movie review of a documentary called “Cleanflix” (2009). Then I realized that the question it raises is actually more interesting than the movie itself.

“Cleanflix” is the story of a Utah-based chain of video rental stores, that specialized in offering “clean” versions of movies that are rated R or PG-13. Basically, they’d take out any gore, nudity, or profanity for their mostly Mormon customers.

The documentary talks about the origins of Clean Flicks, its rise in popularity, and its ultimate fall. The first part of the documentary is very interesting. The guys who had the idea to offer this service are rather brilliant–there was (and is) huge demand for edited movies. Then, unfortunately, the docu goes into a section that’s basically nothing but dissing Mormons.

The filmmakers explore the reasons that Mormon audiences would want such a thing. Well, for one thing, back in the late 80’s, a prophet told the church that Mormons should avoid R-rated movies. For another thing, anybody who’s ever met a Mormon knows that (unlike me) they just don’t go for gratuitous sex and violence. But that wasn’t good enough–the filmmakers found people to say things like “Mormons aren’t taught to think for themselves.” I found that rude and condescending. You know, there are loads of religious people of all varieties who don’t approve of explicit content. There are even non-religious people who just don’t like to see gore and sex onscreen. That’s their choice. They’re allowed to feel that way. That snotty dis pulled the whole movie down to a level where  it shouldn’t have gone.

The second half of the movie concentrates on one Clean Flicks franchise owner, who turned out to be a real sleazeball. Okay, the guy’s an asshole, but he didn’t speak for the company, and he really wasn’t that interesting. The whole point of including his story seemed to come down to the fact that he went to jail for inappropriate conduct with 14-year-old girls, and the fact that he had a huge porn stash in the back of his Clean Flicks operation. That way, the filmmakers could say “SEE? THEY’RE HYPOCRITES! Again, not a class move. That was one dickweed, not the entire organization.

Not enough time was spent on what to me was the most interesting part of the story–the lawsuits filed by major movie studios and directors that ultimately got Clean Flicks shut down. Sure, they mentioned the decisions, but I was really interested in what the arguments on both sides were. No such luck.

Of course, the ultimate question that the movie proposes is whether or not it’s OK to edit the content of movies for the consumption of people who want to see the latest blockbuster without the blood and boobies. And here’s where my movie-fiend friends are going to start throwing stuff at me.

Yes, I think it’s fine. As long as the original is available, why not offer an edited version for people who wouldn’t watch the original anyway? The studios missed a big, BIG opportunity here. If they’d decided to work WITH Clean Flicks, and get a percentage of edited movie sales and rentals, they would have made a buttload of money. Clean Flicks’ business model was, by the way, a 1:1 ratio. They bought one DVD for every edited DVD they sold or rented. Oh, there were a few people (like Mr. Sleazeball) who were breaking that rule, but it was company policy. In other words, Clean Flicks wasn’t taking business from the studios to start with.

BUT LORELEI! you’re yelling. HOW CAN YOU CONDONE CENSORSHIP? WHAT ABOUT ARTISTIC INTEGRITY?

Here’s how. The customers involved WANT edited content. It’s not being foisted on them, like Blockbuster used to do in the bad old days. And as for artistic integrity…as you can imagine, a lot of directors were screaming bloody murder about their “art” being edited. I call bullshit on that one. Studios have the final say over a movie’s final cut, unless the movie is indie. They own the directors’ “art.” What’s more, studios regularly license the use of edited movies. Ever watched a movie on a plane? Yeah. Unless it’s the latest Disney flick, it’s been edited all to hell. And what do they think happens when a studio licenses a movie for non-subscription broadcast TV? Right again. It gets sliced like a fish at Benihana. (The TV-edited version of “Brazil” is one of the most ghastly things I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch.)

Weirdly, the studios claimed that they had no interest in endorsing edited movies, because there “was no market” for them, which is clearly not true.

So how was the editing, you ask? The scenes I saw from “The Matrix” were seamless. Unless you were very familiar with the movie, you probably wouldn’t notice them. Then they showed a scene from “Saving Private Ryan” that looked like it had been put through a blender and reassembled by monkeys. But that’s not the point.

The point is that Clean Flicks offered a valuable service. If they had a brain between them, movie studios and distributers could have cleaned up, so to speak.

So how would I feel if someone edited my “art,” you ask? As long as it was clearly marked as edited, and as long I got a piece of the action, I’d be fine with it. Of course, if you took all the sex and violence and cussing out of Possum Kingdom, it’d be about 25 pages long. But still.

Big movie studios are already whores. They’re all about giving people what they want. They don’t give a crap about art. And edited movies are something that, evidently, a lot of people want.

Okay, you can start throwing stuff at me now.

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2 Comments

  1. Shirley said,

    I think you’re 100% on track there. My very first thought when I first heard of that company was the movies I’ve seen on TV (while I agree on the horribleness of TV “Brazil”, my worst experience was “Midnight Cowboy”, as I’m sure you can imagine.)

    Movie studios are just as blind & stupid to new ideas as the big book publishing companies. They did indeed miss a rather large boat there.

    Do we know if the people who made the doc are ex-Mormons? Sounds like a whole lot of “validating my life choices/slamming the people who slammed me first” sort of thing. Although not necessarily – people listen to figures like Richard Dawkins who just come out and say “anyone who believes in any sort of invisible being is retarded” and feel that that opens all of them to mockery, making themselves look smarter or whatever.

    I watched “Still Alive”, which was about a man who won an Oscar for his first indie film, and his career has gone nowhere but down since. Now, it’s *advertised* as a documentary about Paul Williams and the fact that he’s not dead, but it’s not … it’s a fanboy obsession, and we have to listen to him rant on & on about how disappointed he is with pretty much everything, including the Philippines. Ugh.

  2. Jen said,

    Thank you! I had similar thoughts while watching this terribly slanted documentary. I would have been far more interested in the financial influence Hollywood had on shutting down the franchise and the legal aspects of the copyright law vs. the one to one law/educational loophole vs. other legal options. It really is a David vs. Goliath story- but they tripped all over themselves trying to turn it into a sexual morality story. Bleh.
    Also, I found the concept of editing mainstream movies as defacing art laughable. I can’t remember the last time I saw a mainstream movie that qualifies as an original idea- much less art! (I also wondered what was left in Hostel if you get rid of all the violence/nudity/language… would that become the shortest movie in history?)

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