Friday, 29 August 2008

Why edit a film when the director is already dead?

This is going to be to the point. I am a massive fan of Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid. It's a beautiful, haunted, near-masterpiece, a film made up of mood and little moments, building mood and carefully moving from moment to moment, building a world where every action has some sort of meaning, even if it is not obvious.

This version of the film is what we call the director's first cut, of the turner cut, as it was shown by Turner classics first. The theatrical release version was hacked about and hated by the director. The director's first cut is the version now viewed as the real cut, the best version available that was supervised by the director personally, was shown by the director as the version closest to his original vision.

Now some Peckinpah experts, focused by Paul Seydor, think the film might not have been what was completely intended, as it was never fine cut and completed by the director to his instructions before death. Which makes sense. But that turner cut is what is still the best we have, supervised by Peckinpah.

Now Seydor has worked a reconstruction, putting scenes back, paring scenes down from the turner cut. Now there are two problems here. First of all, his recut, which was re-mastered while the turner cut was not, is far worse creatively than the turner cut. It has a pre-credit sequence that was actually the credit sequence in the turner cut, but with shots moved around, freeze-frames for credits deleted, which ruins the pace and the beauty of what Peckinpah did, which was about the death of Patt Garrett. Now its a clumsily edited bit of brutality, lacking any real grace. Then it has a dialogue scene between the central characters from the turner cut that he cuts the end off, losing a very important reaction from Billy The Kid. Then he has a title sequence. Then the film begins. Peckinpah in the turner cut, had the credits within action, in a way reminiscent of the beginning of The Wild Bunch, and got on with the story. Seydor also cuts an important end scene, returning to the death of Pat Garret, following his murder of Billy The Kid, which has emotional closure, and is rather beautiful. Without it, the ending is slightly lesser emotionally. Seydor also adds a scene Peckinpah never had in any cut, with Garrett and his wife, which kills the pace and doesn't tell you anything about the world you do not know. The entire recut takes out beautiful little moments that Peckinpah made, details and accumulative mood, and adds very little. You never get the sense this editor, despite writing a book on Peckinpah, recognises why Pat Garrett is a beautiful film. It's because the film takes its time, that its beauty is in the wistful, what could have been, thoughts on why a character is damned. So Seydor, a professional editor, bungles important areas of editing, such as pace, mood, story clarity, little character details, for what he calls pacing it up a little, to end on strong points. It's an atrocity.

Now to the main point. All he has are theories on what Peckinpah would have done. Its not like he had detailed notes, like the Touch Of Evil restoration had. All he had are theories. Why have the go to do this to the work of a dead man, suggest this is what would have been the cut. Its a horrific action, something which should be frowned upon. Essentially it's a filmic atrocity that should never have occurred.

So I'm sticking to my Turner classic version of this great film, with its weak images, sound that goes all over the place. It's not perfect but its a real film. Not like the abject failure of the new cut.

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