Something old, something new


I recently sat through the clumsily titled “Version You’ve Never Seen” cut of The Exorcist, only to conclude that it should have remained unseen. Another 10 minutes of footage, including the laughable spider-walk scene and a feeble new ending have done nothing to improve William Friedkin’s horror classic. But, as the DVD market is flooded with Director’s Cuts, Special, Limited and Bootleg Editions, film-makers seem intent on resurrecting every lost scene from the cutting room floor to quell our insatiable appetite for novelty. Where will it end?

Perhaps it’s time film fans got the chance to do some tinkering of their own. Technology could yet give you the tools to do a makeover, a remix or even a mashup of your favourite movies. As the music industry forges ahead with new interactive digital formats like MXP4, the company’s chief executive Albin Serviant claims “It’s all about enriching the music experience and adding new features. This allows fans to play with a song they may have heard a thousand times and breathe new life into it.”

Before you recoil at the thought of geeks getting their hands on the work of cinema’s master directors, don’t forget that there are precedents. Remember the 80s controversy over colorization – that handy way of making dull old b/w movies palatable for the shiny, happy Technicolor folks? I’ve no desire to watch Topper or It’s a Wonderful Life jazzed up for those philistines, but if distributors want to make these alternative versions available on DVD, I guess I can live with it.

But a colorized Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant was nothing compared with what advertisers had in store for 60s icons Steve McQueen and Audrey Hepburn. In 1997 McQueen returned from the grave to swap his Mustang for a Ford Puma in a clever rerun of Bullitt’s car chase, complete with Lalo Schifrin’s twangy score. Then in 2005, in a homage to Field of Dreams, he got behind the wheel of a brand new Mustang. As the ad says, “the legend lives”.

What the classy Hepburn would have made of her scenes from Roman Holiday and Funny Face being used to peddle tea and Gap trousers is anyone’s guess. In the relentless pursuit of the dollar, it seems that absolutely nothing is sacred.

While copyright restrictions and (one hopes) good taste probably militate against the wholesale customization of our favourite films, I have some suggestions for how this new “fantasy” digital format might work:

Unravelling Guillermo Arriaga

If you found the original movie too hard to follow, a chronological version of Memento’s backwards narrative already exists on DVD. So surely the fractured narratives of writer Guillermo Arriaga (The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, 21 Grams) just cry out for a little reorganisation. What’s wrong with giving us a beginning, a middle and an end – in that order?

Change the record

I don’t share director Brian De Palma’s taste for the overwrought work of Italian composer Pino Donaggio (Carrie, Dressed to Kill). But given the director’s enthusiasm for the films of Alfred Hitchcock, perhaps we could just reuse one of Bernard Herrmann’s wonderful scores and banish the sound of Donaggio forever.

A face in the crowd

Talking of Hitchcock, why restrict him to just brief walk-on appearances in his movies? A little digital trickery could see him dispensing witty one-liners at the scene of the crime, or perhaps indulging in a spot of voyeurism.

Bond vs Bourne

Who’s tougher, James Bond or Jason Bourne? With no official franchise crossover in the offing, you can settle this question for yourself. Just pick the location and the weapons and watch them slug it out.

As time goes by

Finally, as an ardent Humphrey Bogart fan, I fantasize about giving him a second love interest in Casablanca. (No, I’m not talking about Claude Rains.) Why not spice up that dreary Rick, Ilsa, Laszlo triangle by dropping in a few Bogart/Bacall scenes from To Have and Have Not or The Big Sleep?

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