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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Wednesday, 02 January 2008 19:00|
There is a well known adage amongst filmmakers and editors, and it goes something like this: “You always end up cutting your favorite scene.” Sometimes it is the moment in the script that originally captured the filmmaker’s imagination and convinced him or her to direct the movie. Other times it is one of those magical scenes where the actors hit every single note perfectly and delivered unforgettable performances. Still other times it’s a big budget special effects set piece that took months of planning and pre-visualizations and millions of dollars to produce. Regardless of the various and unique variables that came t ogether to produce these scenes of supreme quality, they all share one thing in common: they all end up as scraps on the cutting room floor.
For an audience, this isn’t always a bad thing. Often these scenes interrupt the flow of the film, fail to advance the story, or simply push the running time to unreasonable lengths. As heartbreaking as it can be for the filmmakers, the cutting of a director’s favorite scene often creates a better overall viewing experience for the audience. I personally take issue with this merciless art of editing, however, when it is not one of the director’s favorite scene that gets cut, but one of mine! In fact, some of my favorite scenes of all time never actually made it onto the silver screen.
For years, my sister and I would quote from a Trainspotting scene in which Sickboy and Renton discuss their friend Tommy’s HIV infection, and a disinterested Sickboy says, "Okay, so Tommy's got the virus. Bad news. Big deal. The gig goes on, or hadn't you noticed?" My sister and I would use these lines of dialogue in all sorts of bad situations. “Car got a flat tire? Bad news, big deal,” “Failed your history exam? Whatever. The gig goes on, or hadn’t you noticed?”
The only problem with our endless quoting of this scene was the fact that it was not actually in the movie! We’d quote the lines (using the appropriate Scottish accents, of course) in the presence of friends, and they would have no clue what we were talking about. We’d tell them, “You know, that scene from Trainspotting,” to which they would reply, “That scene isn’t in Trainspotting”, and we would realize that they were indeed correct. It was a cut scene included on the DVD as a bonus feature, and it was so memorable that it ingrained itself into our memories as being part of the film.
The scene essentially serves as foreshadowing for the “big scag deal” storyline that functions as the centre piece of the final portion of the film, but is full of wonderful moments. The chemistry between actors Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller is fantastic, and the scene is filled with memorable lines, including Sickboy’s new approach to life: "Less whores, more slag. Get clean, get into dealing. That's where the future lies!" The scene also exudes a strong tension that emanates from the black humour the characters use to deal with and justify their desolate existence.
During the majority of the scene, Sickboy comes off as the villain. He hasn’t gone to visit Tommy, he talks casually about his work as a pimp and the ways he can exploit junkies to make a buck, but when Renton, filled with an air of moral superiority, condemns his friend’s behaviour, Sickboy quickly turns the tables and replies, “I'm fed up to my back teeth with losers and no hopers, draft pack schemies, junkies and the like. I'm getting on with life. What are you doing?" The audience now views Sickboy in a new light, as someone who is at least trying to improve his conditions in life, and Mark Renton suddenly appears especially pathetic. It’s a fantastic scene and one that should have made it into the film.
Spike Lee’s masterpiece, 25th Hour, chronicles the final day in the life of a convicted felon, Monty Brogan, before he is to begin a seven year prison sentence for drug dealing. Brogan spends the day visiting with friends and family, trying to savor his final hours of freedom in New York. The movie delivers fantastic performances from the likes of Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper from a top notch script. 25th Hour ends up being an incredibly powerful character study of not just Brogan, but also a group of friends and family.
The film was to include a scene, which ultimately got cut, in which the various characters explain the concept of “sway.” The scene, included as a bonus feature on the DVD, breaks down the forth wall and allows the characters to speak directly to the audience. Lee shoots the majority of the scene using a technique that he pioneered, in which the camera is mounted to the front of the actor, so that when they move, the camera moves with the them, always keeping their face in perfect focus, even as the background moves around. It produces a surreal effect (one which Darren Auronofsky utilized well in his breakthrough film, Pi).
Lee’s cut scene begins with Monty telling the audience, “You know, people think I was after the money, and I was… in a way. Let’s face it, money gets you nice things. I like Italian shoes and a fast car, like anyone else. But I don't need them. It's not like I grew up poor. I wasn't chasing the money, I was chasing a feeling. What I hungered for… was sway.” Monty’s gangster colleague, Kostya, explains further, “Sway helps make you money, and money helps make you sway, but sway is not money. This is sway...”
Lee then cuts to various characters who all give us their take on “sway”. For Monty’s girlfriend, Naturelle, sway is getting to shop the warehouse for designer products fresh off the boat before anyone else, because everyone owes her boyfriend a favour. For Monty’s school teacher friend, Jacob, it is walking into the best restaurant in the city without a reservation and being seated right away. One of Jacob’s students tells us that for her, sway is entering a club through the staff entrance so that you can skip the line, the cover charge, and the metal detector. Frank, a stock broker, tells us that sway is, “making a phone call in the morning, and having courtside seats at Madison square garden that evening. Lakers vs. Knicks. Coby and Shizak in the hisouze.”
Finally, the scene returns to Monty, who tells us, “Sway is locking eyes with an undercover cop on the subway. You know what he is, and he knows what you are… and you wink at him. Because he drives a battered Buick and you drive a vintage muscle car and he can not touch you. That, my friends, is sway.”
The scene, besides being a stylish and entertaining piece of cinema with excellent dialogue, clearly explains the motivations for all of the film’s characters. It tells us why they do the things that they do, and why they have made the mistakes that they have made. They all yearn for the power of sway, the ability to do what you want, when you want. Everyone wants the respect that Monty has earned. His friends allowed him to continue drug dealing, even though they knew that it would eventually land him in jail, because deep down inside they all enjoyed the pleasures of sway that his career provided them.
Sway is described by the characters in this scene in such an enticing and understandable way that the audience can’t help but feel that same desire. The scene ends, and we’ve not only been provided with a glimpse into Monty’s motivations, but we’ve also been pulled into his inner circle and thus equally implicated in our complacency. The film is filled with moral complexities and the deleted “sway” scene adds yet another fascinating layer to the narrative.
The theatrical cut of Mark Steven Johnson’s much maligned superhero flick, Daredevil, didn’t just dump one great scene, it cut an entire storyline! The original cut (now released as the Director’s Cut DVD) was a much more nuanced and subtle film. The theatrical cut is a slam bam popcorn action picture that clocks in at 90 minutes, and aims to please the kids without making anyone think too hard. The director's cut, on the other hand, is a well rounded and narrative-focused film with a variety of quiet and loud sequences, funny and serious moments, and scenes that focus on Matt Murdoch’s work as a lawyer as well as his superhero endeavours. The cuts to the original director's cut created a movie that was too dark for kids, too hammy for adults, and too disjointed for the critics. Essentially, the edits produced a film that no one liked.
The original cut of Daredevil might have resulted in a much larger following had the producers only had faith in the director’s vision. The director’s cut is truly superior, and entire scenes play completely differently than what audiences saw in theatres. For example, in the theatrical release, Daredevil and Elektra are kissing on a rooftop when Daredevil hears someone in trouble. He ignores the cries for help and returns indoors with Elektra to make love. In the director’s cut, upon hearing the cry for help, Daredevil does leave and his relationship with Elektra is never consummated. Comparing the two vastly different versions of the movie exemplifies the huge impact that editing plays in the process of filmmaking.
The deleted storyline (basically the entire B plot for the film) focuses on a man, played by Coolio, who is falsely accused of murder. Coolio’s character is a poor, street tough, drug user, so no one believes him when he says that he is innocent. Matt Murdoch - ever the champion of the people - takes on the case when no one else will take it. He and his law partner, Foggy Nelson, investigate the murder and uncover a conspiracy that eventually leads back to the A plot, regarding the Kingpin.
Jon Favreau's Foggy has several hilarious scenes and his relationship with Matt is much more fleshed out. Matt Murdoch - the man behind the mask - is also given much more screen time in the directors cut. Although the movie moves at a slower, less hyperactive pace, the resulting film serves to better capture the dual spirit of the comic books from which it was adapted. It is a longer film, a richer film and - most definitely - a better film. Unfortunately, very few people saw this cut of the movie.
Luckily, many more people saw the extended addition of The Two Towers, where a scene cut from the theatrical version is returned to the picture to clarify Faramir’s motivations and serve as the basis for his entire character arc. The fantastic deleted scene, which features an appearance by Fellowship of the Ring’s Sean Bean, is a flashback to Boromir having just reclaimed Osgiliath from the forces of Mordor. The scene features a Boromir we saw only glimpses of in the first film, the man he was before The One Ring corrupted him.
He is a warrior, a hero to his people, an honourable man and a good brother. He and Faramir celebrate their victory happily, until the arrival of their sombre father. Denethor scolds Faramir for having lost the city in the first place, and tells Boromir that he must go to Rivendell. Faramir, desperate to please his father, suggests that he might be sent in his brother’s place. Denethor responds sarcastically, “A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality?” before refusing the request.
The short scene adds surprising depths of richness to Faramir’s character. We now realize that the news of his brother’s death affects him on an additional level, as it would have been he who died had his father agreed to send him. The scene also provides the audience with the knowledge that Faramir is anxious to please his father, which is why he so badly wants to bring the ring back to Gondor. He is not acting out of maliciousness, greed or ignorance, but rather out of desperation for his father’s approval. Denethor’s words about Faramir proving his worth are echoed several times over the course of both versions of the film, but only when we realize that they were originally uttered by the hateful father do they truly make sense and resonate as they should.
While the extended additions of the Lord of the Rings films will ultimately be viewed as the definitive versions, it is truly unfortunate that such a pivotal scene had to be cut. In deleting the Osgiliath scene, Jackson and company essentially destroyed Faramir’s storyline in the theatrical version of the movie.
If nothing else, these various scrapped scenes, from Trainspotting to The Two Towers, speak to the complexity of editing cinema, and give us a glimpse at the challenging choices that filmmakers are faced with when creating a movie. Film editing is a complex and powerful art form. A little snip here or an addition there can completely alter the piece as a whole, and every once and a while, if you aren’t careful, a film’s crown jewel can end up a scrap on the cutting room floor.