Film

Redux Hunting

Bad Coppola or good Coppola? In San Francisco, on the historic,
triangle-shaped flatiron Sentinel building that the director bought to house
his Zoetrope company, a plaque talks of Francis Ford Coppola in the third
person and notes the cinematic art being made right above the
passerby’s reading eyes.

So it’s easy to think of the director’s Apocalypse Now Redux,
which first screened at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, as a pretentious
title. “Redux,” after all, means either “the return of an
organ to a healthy state” or “brought back, restored” (from
reducere, Latin meaning “lead back”). While Redux offered 13
altered or previously unreleased scenes, extending its running time by 49
minutes to 202 minutes, some critics felt the new sequences added little. And
Apocalypse Now was hardly an unhealthy film being revitalized—it was,
and remains, a fascinatingly unwieldy, lumbering classic (not unlike its
hulking Marlon Brando as Kurtz or Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness on
which it’s loosely based). But with a re-recording of lines, new music,
and recolouring that necessitated the cutting of the old film, Apocalypse Now
Redux is the permanent revision of the original release.

Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux, a revision of his 1994 wuxia film,
is also an attempt at definitive-ness, in part because of the many
unsanctioned versions floating around and because the director, according to
his own statement about the film, “discovered that the original
negatives and sound materials were in danger: the laboratory in Hong Kong
where they were stored was suddenly shut down, without warning. We retrieved
as much as we could, but the negatives were in pieces. As if we were
searching for a long-lost family, we began looking for duplicate materials
from various distributors and even the storage vaults of overseas Chinatown
cinemas.” This gradual family reunion then led to a technically
improved film, also trimmed by about seven minutes.

Stanley Kubrick, too, was concerned about the state of his films—the
ones he thought worth preserving, that is, since he bought up almost all
copies of his first, Fear and Desire, so it would never be seen. Yet while
A.I., a project he had contemplated, was brought to life by friend Steven
Spielberg, and Kubrick cut nearly 30 minutes from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and
a scene near the end of The Shining, those scenes, thought lost forever now,
would probably just make up intriguing Deleted Scenes for a DVD.

But another director who has shot so much that a truly different film
could be brought back from the cutting-room floor is Terrence Malick. A
million feet of celluloid were shot for The New World; Malick showed a
150-minute version for two weeks in two theatres (in New York and LA) in late
December 2005 to qualify the film for awards and then, for the wider release
in late January, cut the film to 135 minutes. A 172-minute
version—though not titled “Redux”—was released on DVD
in 2008. Still, a decade before, on his return to filmmaking after a 20-year
hiatus, either Malick or—as cinematographer John Toll
claimed—Toll and the editing team had gone much further, removing from
the working print all three recorded hours of Billy Bob Thornton’s
narration, then cutting all scenes with Thornton, Gary Oldman, Martin Sheen,
Lukas Haas, Jason Patric, Viggo Mortensen, Bill Pullman, and Mickey Rourke
before releasing The Thin Red Line, by then at least 40 minutes
shorter.

Not interpretive but material “redux”—leading a film back
from its archival grave or from decomposition—often seems to be left up
to dedicated archivists or obsessive film historians, in many cases trying to
undo studio interference. The 1998 Touch of Evil project saw Walter Murch,
the editor who returned to redo Apocalypse Now with Coppola, help re-edit
Welles’ film-noir minor classic (the opening is one of the great long
shots in cinema history). Welles’ cut, forever lost, had been reshot by
Universal, and the 1998 re-edit and restoration were based on a 58-page memo
by Welles that he wrote after seeing the studio’s version. (RKO Studios
also cut 44 minutes from Welles’ 1942 film The Magnificent
Ambersons.)

Especially because of particularly inflammable print material (nitrate) in
cinema’s early years, but also because of poor film storage and the
industry’s general disinterest in their archives (most Hollywood
studios, once in the sound era, junked their silent films), countless works
have been lost. FW Murnau’s debut The Boy in Blue, six of John
Ford’s films, a DW Griffiths film starring WC Fields and
Hitchcock’s second film, The Mountain Eagle, are just a few. Akira
Kurosawa’s Sanshiro Sugata is missing 17 minutes and the studio slashed
his adaptation of The Idiot by 100 minutes.

There have been a few odd, much delayed happy endings. The only complete
version of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s celebrated The Passion of Joan of Arc
(among many critics’ all-time best) was found in a janitor’s
closet in a Norwegian asylum in 1981. Just last year, Fritz Lang’s
masterwork Metropolis, in its full 210-minute original cut, was found in a
Buenos Aires film museum; since it is in a reduced 16mm format that’s
badly scratched, it needs true and full restoration, but will then be on disc
later this year.

Some lesser known films the world over are seeing the light of a projector
again, slowly but surely, thanks to a group that Wong Kar-Wai helped launch
at the 2007 Cannes festival and is led by Martin Scorsese— the World
Cinema Foundation (http://www.worldcinemafoundation.org/restoration_films-in-progress.html).
The next film on their list, its inclusion spearheaded by actress Tilda
Swinton, is the 1992 Iranian release Chakmeh (The Boot).

And then there’s the film that rises from the ashes of films un-redux:
Bill Morrison’s 2002 work Decasia puts actual decomposing silent films
on screen, building strange beauty out of decay as we watch the tendril-thin
spirit of celluloid fade away. V 

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