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July 1997, Week 3


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 21 Jul 1997 12:10:20 -0600
TEXT/PLAIN (51 lines)
Mike Frank comments--about "authority" in film versions:
" . . . what, to me, is sinister about this is that
it throws a powerful inquisitorial light on the whole enterprise of
criticism . . . the uncertainty and instability that results is appealing to
some people . . . unfortunately because of some no doubt terrible flaw of
character i myself really don't like it very much at all . . .
i do hope that steven will forgive me for the hubris of sharing my own
peculiar idiosyncratic weakness with the list, perhaps in the desperate hope
that someone out there shares it with me"
I don't see that the problem of multiple versions has to throw out the
very notion of criticism, but it does mark some types of criticism as
provisional at best.  It'
s not just soundtracks, of course, but all manner of "texts" that deviate
from one another--the screenplay source, the shooting script, the master
print (presuming one exists), and all the variations for foreign distribution,
tv and video distribution, etc.
There are longstanding questions about these issues in literary textual
criticism--consider Shakespeare alone, if not the Bible.  Which version of
a text is "authentic"?  Which variant spelling or phrasing should be used?
How should the variations be interpreted?
It seems to me fairly clear that auteur critcism first arose (around the  same
time that the New Criticism in literature was beginning to fade) as a way of
marking that kind of textual certainty, to say that the film belonged to
the  director, and not the studio, the screenwriter, or anyone else.  "
Director's cuts" videos and re-releases are a continuity of this sort.
But in the case of film, which as product can vary from the individually-
produced and directed experimental or independent film to the complex
agglomoration of commericial and artistic intentions that mark most
commercial films, doesn't it make more sense to treat the very notion of
"authenticity" as marked by historical and economic context?  In other
words, it *is* possible to have some films that have "authentic" versions;
others that have several versions due to changes of mind or heart by
the director (as we have different endings to GREAT EXPECTATIONS or several
of Henry James' novels); and to have some texts (perhaps even a large number,
especially of current releases) that are multiple and that have to be
engaged with in terms of their release, distribution, and the contractual
issues that surround them, as dull as some of those details might be.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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