future art now

review of prefuturist culture

The Fanedit

With the advent of digital video sharing, a new phenomenon has emerged: the fanedit. Movie enthusiasts deconstruct dvds on their personal computers and reassemble them in versions that are more to their taste, in essence creating their own directors’ cuts.

This kind of editing was not completely unheard of prior to the technological innovations that have made it easy for any computer-owner to do it. A famous early example is Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, where footage from the 1931 B-movie East of Borneo was mashed up with shots from a film of an eclipse to create “a surrealist masterpiece.” Strangely, though, the film seems very much a public airing of the same kind of films (“just the good bits”) that porn enthusiasts trade around on the internet today (“Nicole Kidman topless compilation,” to name one at random). Cornell’s fascination with the actress Rose Hobart creates a work that is surrealist only in the sense that it taps into an unconscious mode of viewing, in which East of Borneo ceases to have any interest whenever Hobart is offscreen.

Star Wars and again Star Trek are two of the commonest sources. The first fanedit I saw was the Geordie Star Wars, a bunch of footage edited down from the first series of Lucas films to a tight plot pre-eminently about tavern fights, with Tyneside voiceovers saying funny things in the redubbed video manner of What’s Up Tiger Lily. The potential is still limited, and by far the most common type of fanedit is one where the dvd release is mostly intact, but a particular character or subplot is removed altogether or minimized. One of the most famous early examples of a fanedit removed Jar-Jar Binks from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace – definitely a relief, but hardly enough to make it a good movie.

The Star Trek: Generations movie, where Kirk and Picard actually meet one another and collaborate, both playing major roles in the plot, is not a fanedit (though it sounds like one), but an actual major studio release. Generations was then carefully edited by one fan to remove Kirk and the scenes with the earlier Enterprise entirely from the film! The result, Kirkless Generations, works better than one would have expected, but it is obviously the opposite of the art I’m most interested in. Star Trek: Generations was a sort of conceptual mashup, attempting to bring the aesthetics and values of the first and second Star Treks into apposition with one another. Kirkless Generations tends back toward an episode of The Next Generation, with all the pious plodding of that series and none of the campy Kirk work of the first, while the bad guys incongruously remain more the larger-than-life sort of figures you got in the original series.

Another of the more celebrated works in the genre is Titanic: The Jack Edit. This version minimizes the part of the story from James Cameron’s film that concerns the Kate Winslett character, and removes all of the treasure-hunt framework story that takes place in the late 20th century.

The author’s statement of intent on the fanedit.org site is unequivocal about the fact that his edit is “the courageous attempt to create a version of Titanic that is bearable for men.”

Here’s what he’s done to make this happen:

  1. 9 of the deleted scenes were reintegrated. Among these are:
    - Rose visits 3rd class.
    - Rose and Jack after the party.
    - kissing in the machine room.
    - hunted by Lovejoy.
    - surviving in the icy water.
  2. Old Rose was completely removed. This version is about Jack.
  3. The treasure hunt for the necklace was completely removed. Without old Rose this was not needed.
  4. All Rose scenes from the beginning were removed, where Jack is not present. Later on, when they get closer, Rose gets scenes alone.
  5. All scenes from inside of the Titanic, where Jack isn’t present are removed, as well as all scenes of other passengers, including their tragic demise, when the Titanic sinks. This was done because of perspective reasons. This edit stays true to Jack. So there are not even the deaths or destinies of rather close people shown (Fabrizio, Tommy, Cal, Ruth, Molly, The Captain)
  6. At several different occasions music from Harry Gregson Williams’ soundtrack “Chronicles of Narnia” is added. It fits perfectly.

So “CBB” has cut 90 minutes from Cameron’s 3 hour and 15 minute epic and added 15 minutes worth of deleted scenes, creating a movie with the respectable runtime of 121 minutes.

Note the repurposing of the soundtrack from the first Chronicles of Narnia movie, thus finally finding some worthwhile use for that film.

Given the state of the art at present, the fanedit is still in general a subtractive practice. It’s easier to remove material from a film in a plausible way than it is to add or alter material. Yet despite the difficulty of the task with consumer-level technology (or even with more advanced tools), a few fanedits are striving to do something more than take what they dislike out of the movie.

One example is Bateman Begins. This is a laughable but unsettling experiment that mixes two films in which Christian Bale plays a character who loses it – two of many, of course: The Machinist and American Psycho – with two movies where he plays Batman (and loses it less). I didn’t watch the whole thing, to be honest, but the results of trying to make a continuous narrative out of pieces of four different movies, while dubious in this case, are extremely suggestive.

For the moment, the fanedit remains mostly a kind of jeu d’esprit, and it’s not unusual for it to be motivated, as with Bateman Begins, by a pun or some other sort of joke (though there are worse things to be motivated by!). There is, however, frequently a very real impetus to be able to create one’s own director’s cut, the movie one would actually like to see. Rather like those dvds that let you choose your own versions or ending, but much more radically, the fanedit opens up the possibility of anyone recreating a movie in their own image, and having it judged or enjoyed in direct opposition to the version or versions released by the studio.

In the future I think reinterpretations of movies will be possible by everyone.

I’ll give you an example of a small project I would be interested in trying. I recently watched Citizen Kane again. One of the things that stood out for me was Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack score. As far as I know, this is Hermann’s first film score, and he went on to be one of the most successful soundtrack composers of all time. But I couldn’t stand the score for Citizen Kane. I kept thinking how much better a film it would be if it had a different score, or perhaps no music on the soundtrack at all. In the future, I hope the tools and resources (the actual source materials from the studios?) will be available to let me create things like new versions of Citizen Kane, and make them available for others to judge as they see fit. And also the tools to create entire movies oneself – from found footage, computer-generated actors, whatever.

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