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Friday, August 27, 2010

When should a director stop messing with a movie? Film recuts can destroy a classic or salvage a lost gem

By Matt Zoller Seitz,
August 16, 2010

Sitting in my in box is a press release about a Blu-Ray edition of "The Last of the Mohicans" that's being hyped as "an all-new director's definitive cut by acclaimed director Michael Mann."

The phrase "definitive cut" made me laugh. I like Mann's films a lot, but definitive he ain't. He's a serial recutter, and this is his third go-round with "Mohicans." The first was the 1992 theatrical cut, which remained unchanged until 1999, when Mann released a second version on DVD that removed four minutes but added eight (mostly small moments of character development). I have no idea what this new version will contain, and frankly I'm in no hurry to find out, or buy the disc, for that matter. Why? Because I don't want to encourage Mann to continue tinkering with his movies -- and because the entire phenomenon of director's cuts and definitive director's cuts and restored cuts and expanded cuts and alternate cuts has gotten out of hand and needs to stop.

Except, of course, when I like the result. I'm flighty that way.

Recuts are irksome. They're hit-and-miss, and they're fueled by such idiosyncratic agendas that it's hard to state that they're always a bad or a good idea.

While trying to frame this issue, I realized it doesn't make sense to group all recuts under a single umbrella. There are many kinds of recuts, created for different reasons, under different circumstances. Whether you consider a second or third or fourth cut valid (or superior) to the first depends on what you liked or disliked about the first cut, and the circumstances that produced that first cut, and what you think was gained or lost in revision.

When should a director stop messing with a movie?

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