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APAR's WORKING WEEKEND: Jack Valenti, Edit Your Heart Out

5 Oct, 2001 By: Bruce Apar

I’ve been enjoying one of the most anticipated DVD releases of this, or any, year — The Godfather Collection. Well, at least I’ve been enjoying the movies digitally encoded on the disks, accompanied by laconic, anecdotal and often enough engrossing commentary by the Godfather’s godfather himself, Francis Ford Coppola.

(Hey, that’s some souvenir booklet for these all-time film classics — well, two out of three ain’t bad — that I didn’t find included in the modest cardboard box holding the three films and bonus materials.)

The pictures themselves are always something to behold — especially in their new, mint prints — so it’s hard to quibble if the whole kit and kaboodle isn’t on par with FFC’s cinematic answer to The Great American Novel.

One of my favorite scenes in all of film — and a landmark moment even by Coppola’s reckoning — is the fateful meeting in a Brooklyn trattoria between Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) and Corleone family foe Virgil Solozzo, accompanied in bodyguard fashion by the rogue cop (Sterling Hayden) who busted Michael’s jaw with a fearsome haymaker.

Pacino’s tense facial muscles and darting eyes fill the screen with nail-biting tension — as a subway train outside screeches to a halt. Then, without warning — to the audience or his intended victims — Michael springs out of his seat, points the revolver he just retrieved from its hiding place in the men’s room square at the cop, plants a bullet in his neck and another in his forehead at point blank range, then turns his wrath and weapon on the stunned Solozzo (played by the late Al Lettieri, whose son Tony has worked in the video industry).

Michael, in shock himself at what he’s done, drops the pistol, purposefully strides out of the restaurant gazing straight ahead — avoiding eye contact with other patrons, just as he was instructed by the Corleone braintrust — and the melodramatic music comes up to punctuate a turning point in the film and in the then-nascent career of Al Pacino.

It was that scene, Coppola recalls in his commentary, that convinced Paramount Pictures’ doubting executives that Pacino had the chops to play the complex character of Michael. A star was born.

Now, imagine The Godfather without that scene, or without the equally unforgettable scene at the tollbooth where Sonny Corleone (James Caan) is ambushed with machine guns mercilessly until his body resembles an aerated patch of sod, or where the irascible movie producer Sid Woltz, played by the marvelous John Marley, awakes to find he’s sharing his bed with the disembodied head of his prize stallion.

Picture The Godfather without any of these scenes or other frames depicting the stock-in-trade of the protagonists — violence, murder and mayhem. That, my friends, is what some company by the name of Trilogy Studios purports to offer DVD nation. Trilogy, as you might have guessed, hails from Salt Lake City. We’re not sure what is in the drinking water there these days, but it’s put some strange ideas into the heads of Trilogy executives if they believe they can simply bring this insidious-sounding technology to market without having permission of the movies’ rights holders, and without violating copyright laws.

Digital technology is a godsend in many ways, but, like anything else in the hands of the wild-eyed, it can easily be abused.

According to a story in next week’s issue of Video Store, Trilogy says it intends to edit hundreds of DVD movies to prep them for consumers who acquire its software, which then will enable the playback of those movies in new versions that magically turn an R rating into a PG-13.

Trouble is, if that’s done without the consent and involvement of the rights holder, Salt Lake City will turn into Law Suit City.

There’s even an example offered of being able to digitally dress a fleetingly nude Kate Winslet in Titanic by imposing on her a virtual corset. Who in their right mind can doubt that director James Cameron would rush to embrace and endorse that clever little stunt. After all, he has proven himself a master of special effects in films such as Terminator, T2, True Lies and Strange Days. The prospects are titillating for a Cameron Collection that is so G-rated, it can be introduced by Winnie the Pooh, who himself could be digitally inserted into some of the scenes of nuclear carnage in T2 and the sinking of the Titanic. Then he’d be Winnie the Poohf!

Apparently, Trilogy Studios, unperturbed by the salacious, sinful thoughts of heathens like Cameron, is setting out to singlehandedly “clean up” Hollywood, one pixel at a time. Sorry, Mr. Valenti, but your vaunted rating system just isn’t good enough for the self-righteous among us, who are determined to see their R movies and edit them too, whether the studios and filmmakers like it or not! Who do these copyright holders think they are, anyhow… when it comes to messing with Trilogy Studios, those Hollywood types better check their rights at the door of the house that has Trilogy’s bizarrely-named Movie Mask software.

We don’t know the background of Trilogy Studios, but we do know if this hare-brained scheme actually is allowed to proceed in the way it is described in Video Store’s article, the cackling weatherman down there will have to start reporting a wind chill factor.

Comments? Contact Bruce directly at:bapar@advanstar.com

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