Butchering of Films

Open, general discussion of classic sound-era films, personalities and history.
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Donald Binks

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Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:00 pm

I was reading another thread here about "The Sea Wolf" and my mind immediately questioned why anyone in authority allowed films to be cut (apart from Government censorship rulings)? I ask this because we had the big hoo-hah over the colouring of monochrome pictures - and that practice was stopped. Did nobody at all protest before that when films were being shortened to allow television stations to insert more advertisments? Seems odd to me that nobody back then thought that the producer and director's intentions should be honoured?
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:03 pm

Audiences probably didn't know one way or the other. With no video or television, there was no way for most to see films a second time until they were eventually, if ever, rereleased. I doubt that there were references available to compare running times either.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:06 pm

Danny Burk wrote:Audiences probably didn't know one way or the other. With no video or television, there was no way for most to see films a second time until they were eventually, if ever, rereleased. I doubt that there were references available to compare running times either.


Well, in answer to that, I would have to say that it wasn't particularly audiences who objected to the colouring up of old films - they probably enjoyed seeing them being given a new lease of life; it was the people in the industry who seemed more dead against it. I am therefore more interested in why the industry itself seemed to allow the films to be cut up?
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:06 pm

If you read Greenbriar Pictures Shows, it's jaw dropping how bad the cutting for TV could be at times:

We could say on one hand that folks at-home had it made, what with The Body Snatcher plus Isle Of The Dead on primetime, and gratis, but here was rub: Both pics ran four times in succession over a four hour period, a "devilish pleasure" tempered by necessity of cuts, and deep ones, in order to begin and end within 60 minutes. The Body Snatcher was a 77 minute show, while Isle Of The Dead ran 71 minutes. With commercials, as many as WOR could sell and keep their broadcast license, these classics might have been shorn by a fourth, if not more.


http://greenbriarpictureshows.blogspot. ... weird.html

Reissues similarly were designed to let you make a two-picture evening comparable to a new single picture, so cutting them to get the program over within a reasonable time-- 3 hours say-- was common.

Why didn't anyone care? Because it was fungible entertainment, not art to be preserved forever. That seems hard to understand to us now, but it's how it was then.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:11 pm

I think I remember Jimmy Stewart in old age being in the camp against colouring films. I just wonder if he ever saw any of his films on TV and thought "Hey, where has that scene gone?" - and did not make a similar protest against cuts? Seems odd that one would protest at one thing and not t'other? Perhaps thought processes change over the years?
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 5:30 pm

This doesn't answer the question posed in the OP, but there's a well-known and poignant story about Stan Laurel in his last years. He would see the old L & H shorts on a local station, and they had been edited to fit their time slots. Stan knew those films front to back and hated to see them edited crudely, with whole scenes lopped off. He stated publicly that he volunteered to reedit the films for broadcast -- he would have made trims that didn't destroy the narrative flow of the originals. But, he said later, nothing ever came of his offer.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 7:02 pm

The problem isn't so much the cuts, as it is the fact that it was usually the original negative that was cut, and the trims were then destroyed. So unless there was an original full-length fine-grain print or dupe negative still floating around, there was no way to subsequently reproduce the original as it was first issued. That was the fate of the Technicolor version of "A Star Is Born," "Horsefeathers" and many other fine films, including plenty of Pre-Code films that had to be cut in order to qualify for a MPPA seal upon reissue after 1934. And if a projectionist had not inadvertently and secretly saved the censored Fay Wray footage from "King Kong," we never would have seen that again, either.

While the concept of a "moral right" of authors to control their work has existed for decades in Europe, that idea never gained traction in US copyright law, either for books or motion pictures. And remember too, that virtually all of a studio's product were "works created for hire," meaning that the end product was owned 100% by the studio, which could do as it pleased with it.

Finally, movies studios viewed themselves as business, not libraries or museums, so they had little or no interest in preserving their products. Of course, years later they learned otherwise, but by then it was way too late for an awful lot of nitrate film. SETH
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostTue Sep 26, 2017 11:49 pm

One of the worst butcherings of film has to be the original US screening of Gance's "Napoleon." MGM released it here in the US not long after its release in France, and cut it from its original length of 5 or more hours down to 80 minutes. Critics and audiences mostly derided it, with a few reviews mentioning how much had been cut from its European release.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 4:14 am

For a year, I worked as a cutter at WCIX in Miami (1978). We had both house prints, which were cut and remained so with outtakes stored in a "core box", and bicycle prints, which were edited or formatted on arrival. The hardest picture I ever had to cut was MILDRED PIERCE, which had to be trimmed from 111 minutes to 94. No thought, of course, to delaying the 10 O'Clock News to 10:30. As conscientious as I was, it was a tough job.

Other cutters were not so judicious. I remember one colleague cutting 8 minutes out of a film, one long section, and throwing the trim into the garbage. "What the hell are you doing?" I demanded. "Well, this way the next guy who gets this print won't have to bother." So those of you who have bought prints that had station cuts not restored, it's noodniks like this that are the reason! In this case, though, I managed to salvage the excised footage and restore it before we sent the print back to UA.

My sister was assistant manager of THE CBS LATE NIGHT MOVIE. During one period they ran the original COLUMBO shows, all in a 90 minute time slot. Every show, including the 100 minute shows, was cut to 67 minutes. A couple of years later the Museum of Broadcasting had a salute to Richard Levinson, co-creator of COLUMBO. My sister attended and went up and introduced herself to him. "You!" he scolded, "You murdered my Columbo!"
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 5:17 am

Von Stroheim's GREED comes to mind.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 5:20 am

I don't know whether it has reached this stage in America with advertising on television but here in Australia it has got to the stage where I and most of my friends cannot watch the commercial networks without first recording their programmes in order to watch them later when we can skim through all the many interruptions. Years back the Broadcasting Control Board only allowed a certain number of ad breaks and restricted the amount of time per hour to be given over to the ads. Self regulation then came in which is akin to putting Dracula in charge of the Blood Bank.

Now I am fair minded and realise that (unfortunately) advertising is a necessary part of life - but it has now got to that stage where it is more than irritating. There must not be any respect given by programmers towards the actual films or shows broadcast for why would they cut the film just when someone is in mid-sentence? (Believe it - this type of thing goes on!)

I really feel sorry for all those people who were required to cut films in order to fit schedules.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 5:50 am

If you're talking about cutting films for broadcast on television, there certainly was a considerable amount of grumbling about it. Newspaper TV columnists/reviewers/"critics" would routinely complain about the practice and would warn readers as part of their daily recommendations for "what to watch tonight". Filmmakers on promo tours would complain in their interviews. Old-time stars -- not just Stan Laurel but Fred Allen and many others -- spoke out about it, or made it part of their comedy acts (I seem to recall at least one stand-up comedian doing an act about TV cuttings on The Ed Sullivan Show). (I'm talking about the 60s and 70s here.)

It wasn't just TV editors working to fit films into rigid timeslots, though. It was also the local/provincial censors at work, plus the Broadcasting Standards Agency which enforced its own version(s) of the Breen guidelines on television programs. All nudity was eliminated, gory scenes were eliminated, and best of all, all obscenities were "expletive deleted" or had an innocuous word inserted in place of the nasty one. Even just a couple of years ago, I saw some film on TV -- might have been the first Lethal Weapon -- in which the f-word was replaced by "forget". "Ahhh, forget you!" "Where's the forget gun?!" "You'd better not forget with me, buster, or I'll forget you so bad!"

Donald, most if not all Western countries have a broadcasting regulatory agency which rules on the maximum number of minutes per half-hour that can be given over to advertising. Most of them allow up to a maximum of six minutes per half-hour, which is why the half-hour sitcom episodes run (uninterrupted) for 24 minutes on DVD. The maximum time varies from country to country and from time to time (I can remember it being four minutes per half-hour).

You may also feel overwhelmed because the ads are now shorter than ever, which means more of them are being crammed into those 6-or-so minutes. They used to be 30 seconds long, sometimes 45 or even 60 seconds; now a lot of them are only 15 seconds, so a two-minute ad break now has 8 commercials instead of 4 commercials.

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 6:39 am

When I was working in master control actually switching commercial breaks, the limit was four elements to a break. You could do four commercials or if it were the end break of a program you could do three commercials and a local ID (ususally 3-5 seconds). The first time they tried to get around this was the "cluster buster". It was a 5 second return to the program. In an entertainment program it was usually just the show logo and music. In newscasts it could be a full screen stock market graphic or 7 day weather forecast. Just there to separate the commercial breaks.

I also cut film for the first station I worked at in Tulsa. We had really good film packages and I was required to sit and screen each movie before I cut it (nice job!). I can remember having to cut large chunks out of our morning movie. It was a 90 minute time slot and we hit network at 10:30am, so no fudging. We had lots of Warner, RKO, Paramount & Universal precodes which were short films and worked really well in this slot. But we got another package of United Artist titles and they tended to be in the 100 minute or so range. Those films got pretty gutted.

I remember one of the titles that I had the hardest time with was Key Largo. I didn't have to cut any time out but it was just very difficult to find natural spots for the commercial breaks.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 7:16 am

Jim Roots wrote:Donald, most if not all Western countries have a broadcasting regulatory agency which rules on the maximum number of minutes per half-hour that can be given over to advertising. Most of them allow up to a maximum of six minutes per half-hour, which is why the half-hour sitcom episodes run (uninterrupted) for 24 minutes on DVD. The maximum time varies from country to country and from time to time (I can remember it being four minutes per half-hour).

You may also feel overwhelmed because the ads are now shorter than ever, which means more of them are being crammed into those 6-or-so minutes. They used to be 30 seconds long, sometimes 45 or even 60 seconds; now a lot of them are only 15 seconds, so a two-minute ad break now has 8 commercials instead of 4 commercials.

Jim


Jim - you gave me cause to go look up the regulations as apply in Oz:

Time limit rules for advertising on TV

The ‘time limit’ rules for advertising on commercial television are contained in Section 5 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice, developed by the industry and registered by the ACMA in accordance with section 123 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Some of the key rules are summarized below.

> On their main channels commercial television licensees may schedule an average of:

13 minutes per hour of non-program matter between 6pm and midnight; and
15 minutes per hour on non-program matter at other times.

> Because these limits are ‘averages’, more can be scheduled in any particular hour. However, the maximum that can be scheduled in any given hour is:

15 minutes from 6pm to midnight - with no more than 14 minutes scheduled in any four of those hours; and
16 Minutes at other times.

> Slightly more generous limits apply during election periods to accommodate the broadcast of ‘political matter’.

> These limits apply to ‘scheduled’ non-program matter as distinct from what is actually broadcast. Any assessment of compliance is to be based on ‘Final Schedules’.

> The definition of non-program matter includes paid advertising but excludes short program promotions and pop-up program promotions in the middle of programs.

> Different non-program matter limits apply to the multi channels – which are covered by the clause 5.4 of the Code. This allows 15 minutes per hour between 6pm and midnight and 16 minutes per hour at other times. Again, slightly more generous limits apply during election periods to accommodate the broadcast of ‘political matter’.

Last updated: 09 December 2015


The networks though, get around this little hurdle by reducing the number of ad breaks on one programme and then increasing them on another. So a popular programme could end up having 29 minutes of advertising - but that is only paid advertising - you have to add in all the self promotional material - like advertising for programmes due to air in 2067 etc., No wonder we are tempted to throw a brick through the screen! (I too remember the halcyon days when the limit was about 5 or so minutes an hour!)
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 8:08 am

Quite right, Donald. I've noticed some of the sitcoms that I buy on DVD actually run 22 minutes, leaving 8 minutes for ads, which matches the 15-16 minutes per full hour that you quoted.

I'm a little wary of citing specific examples because I'm at work and unable to check for certainty, but I think my Leave It To Beaver DVDs run episodes of about 27 minutes in actual length, versus my daughter's Big Bang Theory DVDs which runs episodes about 22 minutes in length. That's a loss of roughly 5 minutes from 1962 to 2017.

On a related topic ... with the steep decline in actual paid ads on traditional TV, we're seeing these commercial breaks filled with station self-promotions and PSA's (Public Service Announcements), and since those items are limited in number, we're seeing the same ones over and over again. I watch a sports highlights program every morning on an all-sports channel called SportsNet, and their breaks tend to go like this: self-promo, self-promo, pizza ad, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) PSA, self-promo, car ad, the same MADD PSA again, self-promo, the same pizza ad again, self-promo. So out of ten items, only three were paid ads, and one of those was run twice. No wonder these breaks become so irritating!

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 8:34 am

I think that all TV executives watched John Cleese's video "How to irritate people" and have used it in their training programmes ever since.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 9:10 am

Donald Binks wrote:I think that all TV executives watched John Cleese's video "How to irritate people" and have used it in their training programmes ever since.

Anymore, all you have to do is to mention "TV" - and - I'm irritated!
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 9:51 am

The two most ridiculous cuts i remember from TV in the 70s were:

King Kong fighting the airplanes. Commercial break. Back to the movie for "Twas beauty killed the beast."

A Spanish language station was running a movie with the great tenor Alfredo Krauss. Every time he started to sing they cut for a commercial, and returned to a different scene. I mean, really, why would i have been watching the film except to hear him sing? I called the station to complain but they didn't know what i was talking about.

I don't watch much TV these days but my husband often watched Classic Arts Showcase. There the station breaks in at random times for its station identification, or simply ends the musical excerpt mid note and goes to Korean news. This drives us crazy. One nice thing,though is that Classic Arts Showcase does show silent film excerpts.

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 9:56 am

WOR ran Astaire-Rogers musicals, with the dance numbers cut out.

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 10:08 am

I've read people's complaints that some channels are showing edited versions of older TV programs, while the DVDs are the original length. I think it was Perry Mason or Columbo. The editing sometimes takes out something important.

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 10:20 am

This reminds me of the first time I saw Val Lewton's I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE on video, it was taken from a cut-down TV version running 39 minutes -- roughly half the film missing!
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 10:30 am

There is also the possibility - in other countries and hopefully other times - that the change of the political situation demanded cutting for some films so they could still be shown.

To be honest, however, in a lot of modern films, or let us say since the 70ies, some cutting to streamline might look like an improvement. And I always will remember my conversation with a German cutter that a lot of the product of our new wave became watchable only by strict cutting before its release, leaving a lot of geniuses behind...
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 10:33 am

sethb wrote:The problem isn't so much the cuts, as it is the fact that it was usually the original negative that was cut, and the trims were then destroyed. So unless there was an original full-length fine-grain print or dupe negative still floating around, there was no way to subsequently reproduce the original as it was first issued. That was the fate of the Technicolor version of "A Star Is Born," "Horsefeathers" and many other fine films, including plenty of Pre-Code films that had to be cut in order to qualify for a MPPA seal upon reissue after 1934. And if a projectionist had not inadvertently and secretly saved the censored Fay Wray footage from "King Kong," we never would have seen that again, either.


Just curious, what's missing from A STAR IS BORN? (I assume you're talking about the 1937 version here, not the 1954?)

Aside from the documented cases of films cut for production code reasons, are there any well-known examples of films that were cut later for TV but that are now either impossible to restore, or are no longer available in their original length, and only exist in their cut-down TV version?
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 10:45 am

boblipton wrote:WOR ran Astaire-Rogers musicals, with the dance numbers cut out.

Bob


You're joking, right?

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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 11:17 am

Are there more commercials now than there used to be, say 15-20 years ago? Since I stream everything via paid subscriptions these days I don't see commercials, but occasionally I see standard television and it seems to be half commercial/half program. Unbelievably annoying.

One silver lining (a slim one, but silver) about commercials is that you can immediately tell what age group the programming is aimed at.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 11:22 am

Films were (and still are) cut for airline use. I remember seeing one of the X-Men movies in a theater, and in the middle of the film there was a plane crash. On a cross-ocean trip a couple of months later, I watched it again, and the whole plane trip and crash were missing from the film.

I also saw the great film Love Actually (2003) on a plane. After I came home, I told my wife how much I enjoyed it, so we rented it from NetFlix. I was surprised to see that there was a whole subplot about two porn actors falling in love that had been completely exercised from the airline version. (They do appear naked, but this is a comedy, not a sex film). Presumably just the story dealing with two porn actors was considered too risque for general audiences.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 12:21 pm

Frederica wrote:Are there more commercials now than there used to be, say 15-20 years ago? Since I stream everything via paid subscriptions these days I don't see commercials, but occasionally I see standard television and it seems to be half commercial/half program. Unbelievably annoying.

One silver lining (a slim one, but silver) about commercials is that you can immediately tell what age group the programming is aimed at.


I don't have cable TV anymore, but from what I have seen of it, there is an ever-increasing amount of advertising for other programs constantly scrolling across the bottom of the screen throughout the programs, so between that and the commercial breaks, it's an almost constant bombardment of advertising.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 1:11 pm

MattBarry wrote:
Frederica wrote:Are there more commercials now than there used to be, say 15-20 years ago? Since I stream everything via paid subscriptions these days I don't see commercials, but occasionally I see standard television and it seems to be half commercial/half program. Unbelievably annoying.

One silver lining (a slim one, but silver) about commercials is that you can immediately tell what age group the programming is aimed at.


I don't have cable TV anymore, but from what I have seen of it, there is an ever-increasing amount of advertising for other programs constantly scrolling across the bottom of the screen throughout the programs, so between that and the commercial breaks, it's an almost constant bombardment of advertising.


I wasn't sure if there was more advertising or if I had become newly sensitized to it.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 2:09 pm

Donald Binks wrote:I think that all TV executives watched John Cleese's video "How to irritate people" and have used it in their training programmes ever since.

The most irritating thing about modern commercial breaks is the wretched habit of repeating the same commercial twice in the same break.
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Re: Butchering of Films

PostWed Sep 27, 2017 2:18 pm

Ray Faiola wrote:For a year, I worked as a cutter at WCIX in Miami (1978). We had both house prints, which were cut and remained so with outtakes stored in a "core box", and bicycle prints, which were edited or formatted on arrival. The hardest picture I ever had to cut was MILDRED PIERCE, which had to be trimmed from 111 minutes to 94. No thought, of course, to delaying the 10 O'Clock News to 10:30. As conscientious as I was, it was a tough job.

Other cutters were not so judicious. I remember one colleague cutting 8 minutes out of a film, one long section, and throwing the trim into the garbage. "What the hell are you doing?" I demanded. "Well, this way the next guy who gets this print won't have to bother." So those of you who have bought prints that had station cuts not restored, it's noodniks like this that are the reason! In this case, though, I managed to salvage the excised footage and restore it before we sent the print back to UA.

My sister was assistant manager of THE CBS LATE NIGHT MOVIE. During one period they ran the original COLUMBO shows, all in a 90 minute time slot. Every show, including the 100 minute shows, was cut to 67 minutes. A couple of years later the Museum of Broadcasting had a salute to Richard Levinson, co-creator of COLUMBO. My sister attended and went up and introduced herself to him. "You!" he scolded, "You murdered my Columbo!"

The first time I saw MILDRED PIERCE was when I taped it, back in 1984, from the WGN Morning Movie. I could tell the first few minutes after the credits were missing due to the abrupt change in the underscoring. There was a section cut from the middle of the film, following the death of the daughter, Kay, as well. Not until I bought an official vhs tape did I see the entire film.
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