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The Lens: There's always the 'Special Director's Edition'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 23, 2009 - Warner Home Video has announced the release in May of "Director's Showcase: Take Four," a seemingly random collection of five films from its vast library. What's unusual about this collection - beside featuring the long overdue DVD premiere of Michelangelo Antonioni's head-trip "Zabriskie Point" - is that two of the films were notorious failures now being offered as "Director's Cuts" assembled after their theatrical releases.

Hal Ashby was still in the beginning stages of a (mostly drug-related) career decline when he made "Lookin' to Get Out," a 1984 film that was largely believed to be a vanity project for actor Jon Voight (who co-authored it). According to a Warner press release, Ashby re-edited the film later (it's not clear why), unknown to the producers. A print of the revised edition was discovered among items Ashby donated to UCLA. In the press release, Voight is quoted thusly: "For various reasons, the film we released didn't really represent Hal's best work. I knew every version of the script and every cut, so I was understandably excited, but I also didn't want to be disappointed. But when I saw it, I knew instantly it had Hal's touch. The way he took all the elements and made it his own, it was almost like we were working together again. Because when Hal Ashby cut his films himself, it was magic."

Having seen the film back in '84, I'm skeptical. And while it makes more sense to try to fix a failed film than to tinker endlessly with one that succeeded the first time, it's too bad that Warner couldn't release the original theatrical version as well so there will be a record of what audiences actually saw on screen 25 years ago.

Hugh Hudson's "Revolution" was an even bigger failure, an expensive historical film that was meant to be Warner Brothers' major Christmas release in 1985 but was hastily withdrawn from theaters after a few screenings. (It never opened in St. Louis.) The film was criticized - a bit unfairly - for its anachronistic casting of Al Pacino and Nastassja Kinski, as well as for the conceit of a British director tackling the very un-British subject of the American Revolution. Hudson, still riding on the success of "Chariots of Fire" and "Greystoke," never quite recovered.

Now Hudson and Pacino have re-edited the film, trimmed it by 10 minutes, and added narration (by Pacino) to move the story along, calling the new version "Revolution Revisited." I'll admit I'm kind of curious to see how they justify this much-maligned project, although, as with the Ashby film, a healthy amount of skepticism is definitely required. The DVD will also feature a conversation between director and star in which they "speak with each other, candidly and in detail, about the original movie's production, how they've reworked it and how it affected their lives."

In addition to the no-frills edition of "Zabriskie Point" already mentioned, the "Director's Showcase" is filled out by John Boorman's "Beyond Rangoon" and David Cronenberg's "M. Butterfly," all presumably as originally released in theaters without the benefit of hindsight and second guessing.

The Lens is the blog of Cinema St. Louis, hosted by the Beacon.

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