Thursday, March 18, 2021

Do we need a director's non-cut?

 There's a particular movie with a particular fan base that gets its "director's cut" remake re-release today. Left to his own devices, said director made the thing a crazy four hours long. Same story, just two hours longer, a bit similar to when an author like King or Rowling becomes so successful that no editor or publisher dares tell them to trim a golden word of what becomes a massive tome.

Which brings us to Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, released in 1970. Originally a three hour and twenty minutes film, the studio insisted Wilder trim it to two hours and five minutes. Which brings up the classic "How dare the studio interfere in an artist's vision!"

Private Life is, perhaps, my favorite Sherlock Holmes film, even though Holmes and Watson has made that question debatable in recent years. The quest to see as much of that missing hour and fifteen minutes as possible had me buying a laser disc without a laser disc player back in the day, and getting a friend to video tape the disc's output. And I really enjoy those cut scenes, they're complete little stories in themselves. But as much as I enjoy the movie and the scenes, do I think they would have made it a more viable product when released to movie theaters?

Even a fan has to be realistic at some point.

I love seeing movies in the theater, and pre-pandemic went to at least one per weekend, often more. But a three hour and twenty minute theatrical experience sets a bar for movie quality that very few ever reach. While The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes at that full length might be a treat for Sherlock Holmes fans, I'm pretty sure that burden would have been too much to bear for an average movie-goer, given the film's light tone, not-so-complex theme, and small basic cast. If I weren't a Holmes fan, I doubt I would have invested the time in it, if it came out in a theater at that length.

The landscape has changed now, with streaming services that allow us to stop a movie, take as much time as we need to do whatever in our lives (even go to work for a few days) and come back to start up where we left off. An extra long movie can become a mini-series by our choice, whatever the director's intent. Private Life has some natural break points that would have made it perfect for an extra-long streaming version. It was ahead of its time that way, and perhaps in 2020, during a pandemic, Holmes fans could have rallied an effort to get Billy Wilder to put it back together for HBO Max.

But such was not the case back in 1970. And maybe that's not the worst thing, as much as I love that film. Like a stopped clock that's right twice a day, studios do occasionally get it right.

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