Duff: Favorite films improved by fan editors
Imagine “The Phantom Menance” without Jar Jar. Imagine “Star Trek: Generations” without Kirk. Imagine scenes from Lois and Clark, cut together to make a full movie. These, and much stranger hybrids, are available at Fanedit.Org.
It started with The Phantom Edit, a labor of love from editor Mike J. Nichols – a man who loved “Star Wars” so much he decided to fix it. Disappointed with George Lucas and thoroughly disgusted by Jar Jar, Nichols cut large chunks out of the film, actually making the story stronger in the process.
And although The Phantom Edit is his most famous fan work, it’s not his best. Nichols also edited “Attack of the Clones,” removing redundancy, adding in deleted scenes – proving that editing is a storyteller’s craft, not just a surgical exercise. Nichols’ “Attack of the Phantom” actually improves the narrative in “Attack of the Clones,” going beyond the realm of fan service and turning fan edits into a kind of criticism.
Nichols’ commentary track defines the edit as a labor of love – a heartfelt celebration of storytelling – almost a manifesto. He feels Lucas sacrificed narrative integrity on the altar of special effects, so he cut the film to correct it.
Fan editors are dismissed as pirates, amateurs and vandals by Hollywood, but Nichols’ work gets to the heart of the matter. Most people who watch films think of editing as an afterthought. Some think we don’t need editors at all. I go as far as anyone when it comes to defending a creator’s rights, but a creator who tries to be his own editor has a fool for a client.
So if fan edits are so great, why can’t you buy them at your local video store? It’s not illegal to edit a major motion picture, but it can be illegal to share it. Distributing motion pictures, even extensively edited ones, can be a crime. Creators say fan edits should only be viewed by people who own the original work and should never be sold for profit.
I love the idea of fan edits, and I wish there was a way to make them legal. Editing chores that used to require studios can now be done in your living room. Skills that used to require expensive schooling can now be refined in cyberspace.
Sitting at the intersection of art and piracy, challenging our notions of criticism and ownership, fan edits represent the potential, and the pitfalls, of the digital age.