The experience of watching movies on television, by definition, is not the same as seeing one in a theater as it was originally intended to be seen. This is particularly true for epic movies like The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and Lawrence of Arabia. Viewing Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor, on the big screen demonstrates just why this notorious film won four Oscars and was the highest grossing film of 1963.
But on television, it’s not just the size of the screen that gets cut down. When I first started seeing old movies as a child, they were chopped into bite size pieces with commercials wedged into them. And, when necessary, some scenes would be edited so that the running time (with ads) would fit the allotted time.
When feature films started pushing boundaries related to language, violence, and sexual content, it was inevitable that the networks would remove what might be offensive to a television audience when the movie made its way to the small screen. Dubbing out the vulgar language was often laughable, and snipping away the distasteful sex and violence sometimes eliminated key plot points that made the edited movie confusing or even downright incomprehensible.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this was the network version of Secret Ceremony, with the aforementioned Miss Taylor and Mia Farrow. At the time of its release in 1968, Taylor had won her second Academy Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? the prior year, and Farrow had just starred in the hit Rosemary’s Baby. How these two actresses, both at career highpoints, would up in the mess that is Secret Ceremony is anybody’s guess. And that’s before television got a hold of it.
With themes that included prostitution, rape, and incest, combined with a quasi lesbian subtext, it was necessary to cut the movie heavily, even to the point of tossing out some scenes entirely. The storyline was so broken by these changes that a new prologue and epilogue were filmed wherein a psychiatrist, obviously an actor, tries to explain character motivations and to fill in the plot pot holes.
Fast forward to today. Instead of a movie being edited for television—or should I now say “redacted”?—it’s the Mueller report. And rather than a psychiatrist/actor telling us what to think, it’s Attorney General Robert Barr. Now I wouldn’t say that Barr has been spinning the narrative like a whirling dervish, but that’s only because the word that comes to mind whenever I see him is “lumbering.” The talking heads across the spectrum are torturing this story to fit their own agendas, appearing all over cable news breathlessly giving their thoughts on a document that they couldn’t possibly have finished reading.
I was never a fan of the Reader’s Digest condensed books, and reading anything that has been redacted is a set up for a frustrating experience. The only thing that would be more annoying would be to spend the next several days listening to commentators tell me what to think about something I hadn’t read myself.
So I’ll pretend I’m preparing for a class in the English novel, and attack the Mueller report like it’s Middlemarch or Vanity Fair. And while things may go better with Coke, like the old ad from ‘60’s said, I think I’ll rely on the bottle of Grey Goose in the freezer to make this task easier.