After Scorsese dismisses the idea of a Wolf of Wall Street director’s cut, why complete control does not equal a better movie.
Surely one of the most anticipated releases of the upcoming circle jerk known as ‘awards season’ must be Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Starring the forever Oscarless Leonardo DiCaprio, the movie details the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a New York stockbroker who dived into a life of corruption in the late 80s. Scorsese recently revealed that the initial cut of The Wolf Of Wall Street ran at over four hours, which is, by anyone’s standard, rather long. The film has been ‘trimmed’ to 2 hours and 59 minutes, which is still longer than Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
To receive an NC-17 rating in the US is like shooting your movie point blank in the face, so if cuts have to be made, they will be
Scorsese famously does not release director’s cuts, believing that they don’t have any relevance now; “In the old days, if the [studio] took the film away from you and they made a cut and there was a director’s cut here…that’s a director’s cut. But a longer cut is a longer cut.” As arguably the most revered living filmmaker, Scorsese is in a rather more comfortable position than most directors – as DiCaprio notes, “At the end of the day, no one’s going to prohibit Martin Scorsese from making the film he wants to make.” Scorsese, along with Quentin Tarantino, is a rare director whose name is bigger than the movie, thereby allowing him to exert more control over the final output. However, this is not the case for most directors.
So why do we receive alternate cuts of films? First, we need to examine the reasons for films being cut in the first place. Audience attention spans have to be taken into consideration; three hours is really the longest a mainstream release can be before punters drift into a collective coma of disinterest. Then we have to consider the ratings system, particularly in America, where to receive an NC-17 rating is like shooting the movie point blank in the face – you try and avoid it where possible. Some of the major US cinema chains refuse to show NC-17 pictures because sex and hard violence turns their children into psychopaths, or some such nonsense. This rather hampers the film’s ability to make money, so if cuts have to be made to avoid an NC-17, they will more often than not be made.
The primary reason for releasing a director’s cut is artistic. Sometimes movies are cut, usually for the reasons above, against the director’s will for theatrical release, after which a version closer to the original vision can then be put out on DVD. Sometimes a director will feel that they themselves didn’t completely fulfill their original goals for the film and will have another stab at making movie perfection. In principle, this seems like a noble and worthwhile pursuit, but what if instead of bringing the film closer to perfection, it actually dilutes the potency of the work?
What if, instead of bringing the film closer to perfection, the director actually dilutes the potency of their work?
Consider Blade Runner, a film that has existed in seven different versions throughout its dogged history. Each version features alterations that change the film significantly. Perhaps most well known is the re-insertion of the unicorn scene in the 1991 Director’s Cut that further fuels the debate over whether Deckard is a replicant or not. It can be argued that having multiple views of one story offers greater insight into the philosophy of the film, but on the other hand if, for example, Deckard is a replicant in one version and human in another, does this not muddy and confuse the story?
Which is the more reliable version of Blade Runner? Which is the true version? Some argue that it would be the Final Cut, which Ridley Scott had complete control over, but it has to compete for viability amongst several other versions. 25 years separate the Final Cut and the original. Scott will have changed and so with him his motivations, opinions and artistry (see: recent output).
We must also consider whether the director has any real right to create an alternate cut. Movies are a commercial enterprise – there’s no two ways around it. They cost a lot of money so, in order to continue making them, movies have to make money. Films are cut to increase commercial viability because that’s the environment that allows the art to exist. Without money, movies are just a screenplay. Once money is invested in a project, not only is there an obligation to make a return on that investment, that project has money at the heart of it, literally and metaphorically. Should we not, therefore, view the art in the conditions in which it was produced? In some regards a director’s cut feels like cheating, shirking the film’s responsibilities and saying “‘OK, here’s what I REALLY meant.”
Art is never finished; it’s never perfect because perfection doesn’t exist. You have to let it go
Scorsese’s philosophy is simple: the film you see is the film you see. As one of the greatest lovers of cinema, the medium and the place, it’s easy to see where this philosophy comes from. People go to the movies, they watch the movie, and they go home again. The experience stays with you, pure and untampered with – whether it was good or bad is a different matter. Art is never finished; it’s never perfect because perfection doesn’t exist. You have to let it go.
Featured image: Universal
Inset images: Universal; Warner Bros