Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Adventures in Heinous: Boycott Turner Classic Movies!

Much to our perpetual amazement, we have found that we actually control TV with nothing more than our brainwaves. All we have to do is discuss a film that one of us hasn't seen, proselytise about it at length, and make vague comments about hiring it out or buying it cheap. Then, voila, it turns up on TV a few days later. It has happened so often we're starting to take our power for granted. Surely this could be harnessed for good somehow? We could move to China and talk about Kundun a lot, so that it magically appears on one of their state-sponsored channels at peak time. That should resolve that human rights catastrophe in time to stop Sharon Stone wrecking what's left of her career because she just can't stop herself from speaking out about injustice.

Re: our superpower, case in point. Just a week ago I went into praise overload about Philip Kaufman's wonderful adaptation of Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. I can't remember why I suddenly started on about it; perhaps it had something to do with overdosing on Geoff Johns' brilliant run on Green Lantern, which is currently revisiting the test pilot past of Hal Jordan (calling all comic fans wandering past this blog; buy Green Lantern! It's the easily the best DC title on the shelves right now). Whatever the reason for my rabid wild-eyed praise, I bent poor Canyon's ear about the movie for a loooong time, a filibuster she endured with much stoicism, and said she would watch it if we got in on DVD. And then, as usual, it turned up on Turner Classic Movies a couple of days ago. Huzzah! Last night we watched it, thinking it would be a pleasing experience after a week of watching some really crappy movies, some of which were misguided (Flags Of Our Fathers, Catch and Release), and some of which were just flat-out dreadful (Nell, Pearl Harbor).

For the most part, it was a great antidote to all of the nonsense we have been watching recently, filled with superb performances (especially Ed Harris as John Glenn), beautiful photography by the legendary Caleb Deschanel, and skillful writing and direction by Kaufman at the height of his powers. I loved it when I was young, and it was great seeing it again. At least, up to a point. It seems the movie's length was a problem for the culture-hating jerks at TCM, who removed several moments in order to shoehorn more adverts into it.

It's common knowledge that TCM was once in the habit of tinkering with recognised classics, such as colorising black and white films, a practise satirised by Joe Dante in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (in which Daniel Clamp's movie channel shows Casablanca "in colour, with new happy ending!"). I had hoped that with the cancellation of the colorisation project that that would mean the end of any future tinkering, but sadly not. While the US TCM has no adverts, UK TCM has a surfeit of the goddamn things (broadcast at a predictably earsplitting volume in comparison to the muted film), and as a result they think it's fine to hack away at the movies being shown. I honestly thought we had moved past this kind of behaviour, considering the success of the ad-free, uncut Sky Movies channels.

Sadly, no. While the meat of The Right Stuff remained in the film, an early shot of Yuri Gagarin's flight was hacked out, leaving behind a sliver of music in the next scene. Warning bells began to sound in my head. Later on, John Glenn's flight over Australia is truncated, missing out the moment where his arrival is heralded by sparks seemingly flying into space from a fire lit by Aboriginal magicians. While the movie doesn't seem damaged by that moment, the tone of the film shifts, something that is cemented by the appalling, ire-inducing decision to remove all of the cross-cutting from Chuck Yeager's final flight. In the original, while he risks his life and almost dies, we cut back and forth from his peril to scenes of the astronauts enjoying a reception meal to commemorate the opening if NASA's new HQ in Houston. While watching an ethereal dancer on stage, they seemingly become linked by a premonition that something important is happening elsewhere, that the man they most admire is still risking his life to push the envelope while they eat steak and shmooze. To have taken out every shot of the astronauts while leaving in the shots of Yeager's perilous flight must have taken a lot of effort and thought.

Or should I say lack of thought. When the movie ended and I began to calm down, Canyon asked me what I liked so much about the film (she enjoyed it, though she was as pissed as I was that it had been edited). Other than the sheer quality and intelligence of it, what I like most is that while it is a celebration of human spirit and courage, it is also a satire of such, puncturing the cockiness of the astronauts with broad comedic moments while never fully making them look like fools. There is still a nobility to them and their desire to become pioneers and explorers of a new frontier, even if there is, for a long period of the movie, a lot of egotistical behaviour and preening before the ever-present, chittering paparazzi. What helps get that across is the poetic nature of the movie, mostly conveyed during the two latter scenes that had been removed. By introducing a spiritual aspect to the movie (with the beautiful shots of Glenn's capsule being buzzed by mysterious embers being particularly important), the tone of the film is lightened of its machismo and broad comedy, becoming way more than the sum of its parts. Once those scenes are removed, it runs like a straight biopic about macho men trying to outdo each other with acts of derring-do and laddish one-up-manship.

So, basically, fuck Turner Classic Movies for wrecking one of my favorite movies. It's the very last time I will be watching anything on there, and now I'm wondering how many movies I've seen on there for the first time that might have been altered as well. I'm aware I'm probably a long way behind common knowledge of TCM's scissor-happy escapades, but I really thought these kinds of practises had been stopped by now, but apparently not. If you love movies, and want to ensure they are treated with respect as works of art, then you'll avoid the channel too. Bad TCM! Shades of Caruso most certainly doesn't approve.


Elizabeth McQuern said...

I LOVE The Right Stuff. I've seen it easily 30 times. I come from an aviation family and I'm a confirmed space nerd, so that movie hits both of those spots.

Admiral Neck said...

I can imagine you would have been as disgusted as I was at the cuts. Have you seen In The Shadow Of The Moon? It was just shown on UK TV and I'm hoping it will be uncut, as it was on C4. Apparently, for space nerds, it's the ultimate shiznit.