There’s a story I heard years ago about a fan who walked up to science fiction writer Barry Longyear lamenting, “I just saw the movie Enemy Mine (1985, based on Longyear’s novella of the same name). It’s a travesty what they did to your book.”
Longyear responded, “They didn’t do anything to my book. It’s still available just as I wrote it.”
As movie fans learned recently, that’s not always the case. William Friedkin’s crime classic The French Connection (1971) has been censored by Disney, who owns the rights to the film. You can read more about the details here, but this is extraordinarily bad news, not only for movie fans, but everyone.
Whenever any person, corporation, or entity decides a creative work (or any part of a creative work) is unacceptable and removes it, they have ripped away the creative control of that artist. The rights of corporate ownership should cover the sale, distribution, and other aspects of the property without changing the property itself. Even when such things happen, the original property is usually made available as it was originally intended along with a “director’s cut” or “extended cut” (or however you wish to designate the modified version). Audiences should have the opportunity to own both the original and the newer cut. We may be opposed to the tampered-with version, but we should have the option to see and own the original. (George Lucas, I’m talking to you. Make both editions available.)
We can talk about this topic all day long, but ultimately we can’t do much about.
Or can we?
As soon as I heard the news about The French Connection, I looked online to see if the 20th Century Fox (owned by Disney) Filmmakers Signature edition Blu-ray was available to purchase. It was sold out on Amazon and Deep Discount DVD. Why? Because (1) as far as I know, it hasn’t been tampered with, and (2) physical media fans know that purchasing a movie on 4K, Blu-ray, or DVD is the only way to truly own a film that’s not going to be tampered with. (We hope it hasn’t been tampered with for the physical media release, but there are plenty of people online who can tell you if that’s the case, which sometimes includes music, film color, etc.) You can’t guarantee that with streaming or digital copies. Even if those platforms are showing the original intended editions, those can disappear at any time. Just ask Kindle users who have purchased eBooks that no longer appear on their devices.
The excellent book A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph chronicles the wild and crazy world of collectors of physical film, fans who feared that if they didn’t own (in most cases steal) such movies, they would be gone forever. They may be right, but they’re also keeping others from the enjoyment of those films. (Another story for another time.)
This is why physical media is so important. You’ve heard it again and again: You can’t depend on streaming, steaming doesn’t offer everything, anything that doesn’t fit into an algorithm must go, etc. But we also have to realize that the average person that subscribes to one of the major streaming services probably isn’t interested in classic movies. They certainly wouldn’t call them classics, but simply “old” movies, which translates to “Nothing I care to see.”
As long as the technology works (yet another conversation for another time), my DVDs and Blu-rays will play just fine. I don’t have to worry that someone sneaked into my basement, removed all the non-politically correct moments from Airplane! (or pick your own movie), and placed it back on my shelf. Not going to happen.
But we’re seeing censorship in places besides the movies. The act of banning books has been around as long as there have been books, but such things are done out of fear and ignorance. Yes, the world has produced many books, movies, songs, and other creative works that are offensive or contain offensive elements. We could sit down and talk about those things, why they’re offensive, how they affect us, and we can properly react to them, but it’s far easier to simply destroy or deny access to them.
It’s pretty simple. If a movie offends you, don’t watch it. Watch something else.
If a book offends you, don’t read it. Read something else.
Simple. Or it should be...
In the meantime, if you love creative works, purchase them in formats that you can own forever. Support the artists and companies you care about.
I recently purchased some films from Undercrank Productions, two Lon Chaney collections and a collection of Edward Everett Horton comedies. (And there’s a great sale that’s still going on.) I may go back for more.
Also support film screenings at museums, libraries, and film festivals. When you attend those events, you’re often watching films you can’t see anywhere else. Support the organizations that are trying to restore and preserve such works, organizations such as the Film Noir Foundation.
If you know me, you know that the best part of all this is building community. Being around people who share your passion is such a blast. You learn so much, and the excitement is contagious.
Please consider supporting physical media and the organizations keeping it alive. Keep watching, keep sharing. Thank you for reading.
If you enjoy my posts and would like to express your support and appreciation, you can buy me a coffee.