Great American Films Still Get Made, They’re Just Hard To Find: Lonergan’s 3-Hr MARGARET


“Kenny, you made a masterpiece. Unfortunately it’s in the wrong decade and the wrong country.”

These were actor Mark Ruffalo’s words to writer/director Kenneth Lonergan upon seeing the 3-hour cut of Lonergan’s film MARGARET.

For those who don’t know, playwright Lonergan’s second film (his first was the incredibly well-received YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, also starring Ruffalo), underwent a tremendous journey from script to screen. The epic urban tale was filmed in 2005 by Lonergan and lingered in an interminably long editing limbo. Lonergan had a difficult time finding the cut that worked for him; an artist struggling to find his vision while financiers and a studio breathed down his neck. Not that Lonergan was a victim here. His needs (to be left alone to do the work) are a lot to ask when so much time and money is on the line. Something Lonergan is well-aware of. And he seems to carry little resentment over how things went down. He seems to understand all-too-well the role he played in the film’s history.

“Nobody really did anything wrong, exactly, it’s just everyone was very frightened and nervous. Some people can have fights and then go back to work; I have a big fight and I shake for the rest of the day. Or even if it’s not a fight, it’s just a conversation, and a problem comes up I think about that [constantly], so I very much need to be left alone completely and that’s the one thing that’s very difficult for people. Understandably. I mean, write a cheque for $12 million dollars and you wanna make sure it’s going to come out all right, it’s reasonable. But I need to find a way to separate the two things… Not that it was all bad, the film came out very well, I’m happy with the result and I’m happy that people seem to like it. So I don’t know what more I can ask for. Except to be younger.”

Producer Scott Rudin pushed Lonergan to complete his cut until he finally realized what was happening:

“Kenny’s not a guy who takes distractions well or easily. He’s somebody who is highly concentrated on the work and not at all interested in the politics. So when the politics started to become noisier than the work, that was hard for him.”

Lonergan was contracted to deliver a two and a half hour film. Financier/producer Gary Gilbert stepped in when this seemed like an impossibility and commissioned a 2-hr cut from a different editor. This satisfied no one but the financier himself. Finally, in the fall of 2008, Lonergan delievered a 2-1/2 hr cut that everyone but Gilbert signed off on. Many say Gilbert didn’t sign off out of bitterness and a vindictive nature due to the negative response to his handling of Lonergan and his insistence of his own 2-hour cut as the preferred version of the film. Gilbert refused to pay his half of the $12.5 million budget. Lawsuits ensued.

According to Rudin:

“The guy who pays for the movie is not supposed to be [in the editing room]. . . . He’s a guy who wrote a check. Mr. Gilbert badly hurt the movie. Mr. Gilbert going in and working in the editorial department was a very destructive act… If you’re making a movie with Kenny Lonergan and you sign off on the script, he’s the director, that’s the contract you made. Because you decide that you’re anxious about your investment, that doesn’t give you the right to completely recalibrate your relationship.”

Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker (both friends and supporters of Lonergan’s) were brought in to the editing room to heal wounds and delivered a 160 minute cut that everyone signed off on, including Lonergan, but again Gilbert refused. Mark Ruffalo:

“There comes a point where people cut off their nose to spite their face, and I certainly witnessed that. Whatever bad blood went down between them, I never felt like Gary ever got over it and actually tried to ensure that the movie and Kenny would be harmed.”

So with three cuts now in limbo and still no version really satisfying Lonergan’s vision, the film ended up in cinema purgatory for a total 6 years, unseen by a curious public confused by the many behind-the-scenes tales.

Eventually, in the fall of 2011, Lonergan’s own 2-1/2 hour cut of the film was released with almost no marketing. It disappeared almost immediately. A twitter campaign fueled by fans and critics resurrected the film for another theatrical release in October of that same year. But it was too-little too-late and the film was barely recognized by the public at large.

Lonergan

Now, the 2-1/2 hour cut has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. But Lonergan’s 3 hr cut has also been released, though you will not find it streaming or for rental. It is available ONLY on DVD and ONLY on the DVD/Blu-ray Combo pack sold on Amazon. And while this is not being marketed as a Director’s Cut but as an Extended Cut, it is widely considered the cut to see as it seems to be the version that comes closest to capturing Lonergan’s vision.

In the writer/director’s own words:

“It’s not a director’s cut. We’re calling it an extended cut. It’s a different version. A director’s cut is where they take the movie away from you and chop it to pieces and send it out without your permission…This is just another version with a little bit more of everything in it.”

Matt Damon, who is one of the film’s many notable stars, explains:

“One of the reasons this took so long is because [Lonergan] didn’t want to give up and he’s put his whole soul into this thing to the exclusion of any other work he could have been doing. And it wasn’t a triumph at the end because they weren’t able to release his version.”

Well, now that version is available. But sadly, that availability is limited and will still only be seen by a select few “in the know.” So, while it’s great that we finally get to see the film, there is still a battle to find a way to put this cut of the film out there for others to access, to discover, to be potentially moved by (not to mention to see it in Hi-def on Blu-ray). In a country where surface mediocrity is lauded as deep and introspective (THE DESCENDANTS, UP IN THE AIR), it’s a shame that one of the greatest contemporary American films has gotten so lost, so mismanaged, so belittled. Academy voters were either unaware or indifferent. Not that an award is the be-all and end-all of any work of art, but it does offer an opportunity to raise awareness of a film’s existence. But then the question comes into play as to whether the average American movie-goer would even get that they were in the presence of one of the greatest American films to come along in years. Very few contemporary films suggest that Americans as filmmakers and filmwatchers are capable of any level of depth or insight. More than not, most American films showcase our unwillingness to dig beneath the surface, to understand anything but the most literal, the most blatant. This was not always the case, but it appears we have somehow managed to devolve into such a state. It’s not that there aren’t daring writers and filmmakers out there, it’s just that the battle to get those films made, no less released, is near-impossible. The corporatization of the industry combined with a slow infantalization and anti-intellectualization of the populace has culminated in a rather hostile creative landscape. To quote Ruffalo again, “it’s in the wrong decade and the wrong country.”

Of the three best contemporary films I’ve seen recently, only MARGARET is American-made. The other two, CERTIFIED COPY and NORWEGIAN WOOD, are both foreign-made, foreign-language films. Only the 3-hour cut of MARGARET represents the artistic potential and expressive sensibility present in our country and, as stated already, most Americans are completely unaware of its existence and will have a hard time seeing it even if they are. And, by any contemporary standard, the film’s an anomaly; films like MARGARET rarely, if ever, get made here. And when they do, birthing them is usually an extraordinarily painful process and these babies are reviled as bastard children or stillbirths by the masses (certainly by the corporate powers-that-be). But thankfully, there are those who recognize their beauty and their innate humanity and fight vigorously and tirelessly to see these children find their proper place in the world. And that’s where our hope for the future lies. But it’s a staggering uphill battle.

Then there are those who recognized something extraordinary in Lonergan’s theatrical cut who have not been able to make the leap to the three hour cut. I’ve read online a number of self-proclaimed reviewers mourning the longer cut as “ruining” a masterpiece. They complain about “unnecessary” imagery of people walking the streets of N.Y., of the soundscape of the film having been changed to no longer focus exclusively on the main characters, but on the people in the world around them. I have heard complaints of too many shots of planes and buildings and of the 3-hour cut’s use of opera music. We have become so unaccustomed to anything but the most patent and transparent that we have lost sight of subtext, of metaphor, of cinematic language. I cannot imagine MARGARET without the scenes of our main character Lisa walking among the throngs of New Yorkers, her voice, her story, no more important than the voices and stories taking place all around her. This is a film about a teenager slowly coming to the realization that she is not the center of the universe. That her life is no more or less important than the lives of those around her. She is literally becoming aware of the world she lives in.

As for the opera music and scenes, the entire film centers around how teenagers often see their experiences as taking place in a melodramatic world; they hear the histrionic scores of their lives as they stumble their way through a rather self-centered world on the brink of shattering with no real understanding or perception of the consequences of their actions. This isn’t a judgement, but an observation. Without this, the film loses one of its most powerful threads thus weakening the final moments of this beautiful, touching and emotionally poignant film. After all, the movie is titled MARGARET, who is not a character in the film, but taken from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem titled “Spring and Fall: To a young child:”

   Margaret, are you grieving 
   Over Goldengrove unleaving? 
   Leaves, like the things of man, you 
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 
   Ah! as the heart grows older 
   It will come to such sights colder 
   By and by, nor spare a sigh 
   Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 
   And yet you will weep and know why. 
   Now no matter, child, the name: 
   Sorrow’s springs are the same. 
   Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed 
   What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: 
   It is the blight man was born for, 
   It is Margaret you mourn for.

THIS is what the film’s about at its heart, in its soul, and all the pieces Lonergan has placed back into his Extended Cut and all the changes he’s made from the shorter version work toward enhancing this theme, both emotionally, practically and aesthetically. The shorter version is, while still extraordinary, more “conventional” than the longer cut. Certainly less poetic. And, as a result, it lacks the nuances of its sibling.

For example: Planes and buildings… The film takes place in a world still reeling from the aftermath of 9/11: the violence and suffering, the trauma, the fear, pain, longing and need for retribution that so many felt in the years following that tragic event. And how we eventually lost some of what we gained through our shared experience. Lonergan:

“Don’t you remember how everybody was slightly more awake or more attuned? You’d hear a car backfire and you’d jump? I remember it took several years before I stopped noticing airplanes. It was sort of like the city was still shaking from it, but also didn’t quite know how to be about it. I feel like it just suddenly supercharged everybody with an awareness that they didn’t have before, but without much more information… In 2003, every time an airplane went by you went ‘Oof,’ felt nervous. That’s not the case any more. That lasted for about 5 years… so [back then] everyone was a bit nervous and on edge. It was a bit different for a few years and unfortunately I don’t think the difference has sunk in in quite the way that I wish it had. For a moment it felt like, I felt like, the U.S. had joined the rest of the world, and then two weeks later all the TV commercials were back and it was all the same again. And I don’t think it’s very different now from how it was in 2000.” 

For anyone who has read any of my other posts either on writing or on film, it should come as no surprise that Lonergan’s MARGARET is my kind of film. My personal journey as a writer has taken me down a path where I have started not only to trust my subconscious throughout the storytelling process, but to consider it my most valued and faithful partner:

“I tried to turn off my conscious mind and that’s why the first draft of the script, it was never meant to be shot, but it was 306 pages, because I let scenes go on. I knew where it was going and I knew where the beats were and I just kind of closed my eyes, and it’s amazing what happens when you do that. I had a wonderful time writing it and it was very easy to cut a hundred pages out of it in two weeks — you know when she goes to see the bus driver in Brooklyn, that scene is probably six pages long and it was sixteen pages long when I wrote it.”

The growth Kenneth Lonergan has shown from his first feature to his second is monumental. Where YOU CAN COUNT ON ME had a terrific script with terrific performances, it was most certainly directed by someone whose hand had not yet steadied to the cinematic craft, though Lonergan himself is a lover of cinema, particularly classic. With MARGARET, Lonergen has made one of the most profound, insightful and emotionally gripping pieces of cinema to come out of the heart and mind of an American filmmaker in years. It is the greatest reflection of who and what we are, of how we see and experience the world. This is a film that showcases what American filmmakers are capable of beyond our technological prowess. I urge you to find a way to see it.

In its full 180 minute Extended Cut version, of course.

Sources:

Kenneth Lonergan on Margaret | Film interview, TimeOut Chicago

Kenneth Lonergan Discusses The Changes In The New Cut Of ‘Margaret,’ Digital Vs. Film, 3D & More, IndieWire

Kenneth Lonergan On The Inspirations, Performances, Resonances & Structure Of ‘Margaret’, IndieWire

Kenneth Lonergan’s Thwarted Masterpiece, NY Times

Advertisements
Great American Films Still Get Made, They’re Just Hard To Find: Lonergan’s 3-Hr MARGARET

Spielberg Comes To His Digital Senses


Anyone who knows me knows I find digital alterations of older films sacrilege. While I fully support director’s cuts of films and the opportunity for a filmmaker to finally show the world the work he or she intended, I am equally adamant that once a film is out there, once it has been consumed by the public, become a part of our collective psyches, that it has a right to exist in its original form, as well as its director’s cut.

Thankfully, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and William Friedkin, to name a few, have honored that very concept by releasing both original and altered versions side by side (E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL, BLADE RUNNER, THE EXORCIST respectively). However, filmmakers like George Lucas have gone out of their way to actually destroy original cuts of their films (the original STAR WARS TRILOGY) in the hope that those original versions would disappear from history altogether. Ironic since Lucas himself once argued to the Supreme Court when fighting colorization that once a film is out there it belongs to the public and should not be altered or manipulated. Since those coherent days, Lucas has become the poster-child for film alteration and history re-writing. Much to the dismay and anger of many of his once loyal fans (this writer included–for me the original STAR WARS TRILOGY films are dead, never to be watched again).

Luckily for us, director Steven Spielberg stated recently his desire to allow his films, warts and all, to remain as they were presented to the world in their original forms out of respect for the films themselves and the history they represent.

“There’s going to be no more digital enhancements or digital additions to anything based on any film I direct. I’m not going to do any corrections digitally to even wires that show… If 1941 comes on Blu-ray I’m not going to go back and take the wires out because the Blu-ray will bring the wires out that are guiding the airplane down Hollywood Blvd. At this point right now I think letting movies exist in the era, with all the flaws and all of the flourishes, is a wonderful way to mark time and mark history.” 

Now if only he could talk some sense into his long-time pal Lucas and convince him to follow suit and respect the films, the history they represent, and their loyal fans.

Spielberg Comes To His Digital Senses

THE PLAGUE Spreads To Italy


It’s always exciting to see a campaign to save one’s name and work reach the farthest shores. Since starting my campaign to make people aware that the film titled CLIVE BARKER’S THE PLAGUE —despite having my name attached as writer and director– was not, in fact, my film, word has spread far and wide and there seems to be no end in sight. Most of you familiar with me and/or my blog know this story backwards and forwards. I won’t repeat it here. But I will share a recent article with you that was printed in the Italian movie magazine BLOW UP earlier this month (February 2011). I will link to both a PDF of the actual Italian language article, as well as an English translation.

Again, though it’s been over 5 years since I went public with my story and a Writers & Director’s Cut of the film, this tale still manages to have legs, regardless of whether or not I instigate activity around it. And I won’t lie. That makes me very happy. And it also inspires me.

Blow Up: PENSIERO STUPENDO – by Pier Maria Bocchi (in Italian. PDF).

Blow Up: THIS STUPENDOUS THOUGHT – by Pier Maria Bocchi (English Translation).

THE PLAGUE Spreads To Italy

Why Fight For A Director’s Cut Of A Low-Budget Horror Flick?


Every once in a while someone asks me that. And it’s a valid question. THE PLAGUE, even in my cut, is a flawed film. It was compromised before we shot a single frame and that’s the sad truth. But regardless, everyone involved –well, those who cared about the integrity of the film and its story, rather– believed that even a low-budget genre film could have something to offer, could extend the reach of the genre’s more recent conventions and create something unique, something with a voice, a film with something to say, questions to ask. So for all the people who had hoped this film would offer something of that, however small, myself included, it remains important to stand up for the film we set out to make and the intentions behind making it. For our reputations, for what the film attempted to say, and for future films and filmmakers that find themselves in a situation like ours. For me, it’s being true to who I am and to the promises I made to both myself and others. And, strange as this may sound, to the audience that may have actually gotten something, anything, out of watching this film.

I make no claims to THE PLAGUE being a masterpiece or even great cinema, but it’s better than what was presented. It’s more than what was handed to the public with our names and reputations attached. And for anyone who saw some trace of something decent, something interesting and possibly thought-provoking hiding at the edge’s of the producers’ cut and wondered to themselves, “What happened here?” and took that extra step to find out the answer to that question, I wanted to make sure there was an answer out there; I wanted them to know that someone gave a shit and tried to offer them something better, smarter, than what they were given.

Here’s the latest comment posted to our ever-growing petition to Screen Gems:

“Having watched part of the clive barker film last night I was frusutrated as there was clearly a message that the film didn’t properly show, leading me to look at the grapes of wrath and to the website for the film. I find horror films very boring which is why i turned over part way through as it was just a slasher pic and what is the point of those?but flicking through the channels happened to see the last few minutes so tried to see some of the film on the +1 channel but it was still just a slasher pic. leaving me unsatisifed and thinking it was a good film gone wrong. THIS WAS ALL BEFORE I SAW THE INFO IN THE WEBSITE AND KNEW ITS HISTORY.”

Makes it all worthwhile for me every time someone writes something like this. So long as the truth behind this film and its intent is out there for people to discover, then there’s still some hope that at least people are still trying to make decent films and that, next time you see a film that should have been better than it was, you might realize that there’s a good chance it actually had been. At least at some stage. And then maybe, MAYBE, if we’re really lucky, people will start asking for what they should have received, all those films that might have effected them in some way that they were denied for a myriad of reasons. One of those reasons being a lack of faith or respect for the vision and passion behind the work itself and the people imagining and fighting to bring it to life. Yes, even if it’s just another low-budget horror film.

Working in the film industry, it is so easy to forget that not everyone knows how things work here and what happens behind the scenes. Too many people believe that the films they see are the films that the writers and directors intended them to see. It is very often not the case. The average person doesn’t know the lengths to which a film can be entirely re-imagined in editing and post. And then there are the people within the industry and elsewhere –in this bizarre age of celebrity obsession– who believe that it is more than enough to simply get a film made, any film, no matter how it turns out. That it’s the credit that is important. For some, that may be true. But for many out there, the credit means nothing if the creative vision for the film never makes it to fruition, if the storyteller’s voice is rendered obsolete. During post-production on THE PLAGUE, when we were told point blank by Sony Screen Gems’ Head of Acquisitions “We own this now and see no reason for the writers and director to be involved,” I knew my work on this film was just beginning. And all these years later, I’ve never been more proud of that work.

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/plague/

http://www.spreadingtheplague.com/

Why Fight For A Director’s Cut Of A Low-Budget Horror Flick?

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu


Ang Lee’s “Ride With The Devil” may be one of the most overlooked films of the past 20 years. Perhaps right alongside Ang Lee’s “Lust, Caution.” Why this prolific and much-lauded filmmaker should have two staggeringly accomplished films so completely disregarded here in the States is a mystery to puzzle even the likes of Sherlock Holmes.

It seems Universal lost faith in “Devil” some time before its theatrical release. Why exactly this was is, today, mere speculation, but some reports suggest that the studio got cold feet over complaints regarding Jeffrey Wright’s character as a former slave fighting for the Confederate Bushwackers (even though, it turns out, that character was based on an actual person). But whatever the cause, Universal opened the film on a paltry 11 screens with almost no advertising. The film was, quite literally, thrown away. As for the American critics who did see the film, their disregard for this complex tale is beyond comprehension. Rarely does a film come along with such layered writing and performances.

Despite Lee’s insistence that “Critics praised the film for capturing the romanticism of the era through language,” there were those who claimed the dialogue to be “more suited to sermons and editorials than to everyday speech”. However, the eloquent speak is taken directly from Daniel Woodrell’s novel “Woe To Live On.” “So many of the things I read that were written by actual participants had a rich syntax. County histories, personal recollections, etc.,” Woodrell explains in his interview with Peter Bowen in Film In Focus“The material just seemed to call for a Walter Scott-backwoods-Shakespeare-Twainian sort of mix, at least to me.” The language used in “Devil” is in direct opposition to the violent actions we are witness to. And in a film rich in conflict, the language not only adds to the period flavor, but is in perfect sync with the story’s overriding themes. The performances found here belie any notion that these “kids” are anything less than consummate actors. Even Jewel, not an actor by profession, is perfectly cast and delivers a startlingly authentic performance. This is rounded out by the likes of Jeffrey Wright, Tom Wilkenson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Simon Baker, James Caviezel, Mark Ruffalo and many others who deliver the period dialogue with such restraint and finesse, with such fierce casualness, that it adds genuine weight to the contradictory nature of the film and its characters.

“Devil” confronts a part of the Civil War rarely depicted in cinema: the tensions and violence between Confederate Bushwackers and abolitionist Jayhawkers culminating in the Lawrence, Kansas massacre. It is a revealing piece of history and Lee approaches it with his usual intimate sense of time and place. Very few films feel as authentic. James Schamus’ script is a meditation on loyalty and racism and the complex contradictions they bear.  Jeffrey Wright’s staggeringly intricate performance as a former slave fighting for the Confederacy as well as his own honor is one of the most compelling and thought-provoking performances in the film. It embodies both the fearlessness of Schamus’ script and Lee’s immense talent as a storyteller of great subtlety and nuance.

Thanks to the adventurous and demanding folks at Criterion, Lee’s masterpiece comes to us, for the first time ever, in a new director’s cut. Thirteen minutes longer than the theatrical release and restructured to mirror Lee’s original intent, the film has gone from great to greater. And Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer is both breathtaking and accurate to the film source. Some shots do appear soft, but that is as intended by the filmmakers. Other shots are so vivid you can almost feel the soft breeze blowing through the trees. The Director’s Cut was scanned on a Spirit 4k Datacine from the 35mm interpositive and original camera negative. The transfer was supervised by both Lee and cinematographer Frederick Elmes and is shown in the film’s proper aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

The soundtrack is offered here in 24-bit DTS HD lossless audio from the original stems and is a vast improvement over any previous home theater releases. Atmospherics are strong in the surrounds, while never intrusive. This is important as much of the film takes place in intimate settings with quiet dialogue between characters. But when it’s time to rumble, the soundtrack doesn’t hold back as bullets whiz by at lighting speed and the thunderous charge of 200 horses gives the LFE channel an appropriate workout.

Criterion’s extras are somewhat slimmer than on other releases, but what’s here is well worth having and paints a fairly comprehensive picture of both the film and its history. Two audio commentaries, one with Lee and Schamus, the other featuring Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin and production designer Mark Friedberg, are riveting, informative and entertaining. There is also a 14-minute video interview with star Jeffrey Wright that offers insight into why Wright was initially attracted to the film and why he now considers it his personal favorite role to date. In addition, there is also a 28 page booklet containing essays by critic Godfrey Cheshire and author Edward Leslie.

Here’s hoping this new Criterion release finds its way onto the screens of many a home theater across the globe, as well as here in Hollywood where development execs can get a glimpse at what their chosen medium is truly capable of. And let’s hope that “Ride With The Devil” finds the audience it was meant for and takes its rightful place as one of the single most compelling, thoughtful and authentically American films of the 20th century.

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu


Finally! After a short run in New York last year, Ang Lee’s Director’s Cut of his amazing film RIDE WITH THE DEVIL comes not only to Blu-ray on April 27, but via the discerning folks over at Criterion. This is exciting news, indeed!

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL was all but lambasted by critics, dumped by its studio and, as a result, ignored by audiences in its initial 1999 release. But it has found many a fan since then. For the record, I saw RIDE opening weekend and was dumbfounded by the negative critical reviews for a film I thought was as good as anything Lee had directed previously. I have been a diehard fan ever since and have taken every opportunity to show this uniquely engaging film to anyone who would watch.

Not having seen the Director’s Cut yet, I cannot speak to its full merits, but I do know that I will be buying the Blu-ray regardless. This cut extends the film from its original running time of 138 minutes to a full 160.

Here is Criterion’s synopsis of the film:

With this new director’s cut, Ang Lee reconstructs his original vision for his Civil War epic, Ride with the Devil, an intimate, harrowing look at a country torn in half, told from a daringly unorthodox perspective. Set in 1862, during the Kansas-Missouri border war, the film stars Tobey Maguire as Jake and Skeet Ulrich as his friend Jack Bull; they join the Confederate-sympathizing Bushwhackers after Jack’s father is killed by marauding members of the abolitionist Jayhawkers. But Ride with the Devil is also the story of their unusual ally Holt (an astonishing Jeffrey Wright), who’s fighting for the South despite being a former slave. A rumination on identity and loyalty, both political and personal, Ride with the Devil is a provocative challenge to preconceptions about America’s bloodiest conflict.

And here are the Disc’s Features:

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

  • New director’s cut of Ride with the Devil, featuring thirteen minutes of added footage
  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Ang Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes (with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
  • Two audio commentaries, one featuring Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus and one featuring Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg
  • New video interview with star Jeffrey Wright
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Godfrey Cheshire

You can pre-order this DVD or Blu-ray from the kind folks at Criterion HERE.

Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL Director’s Cut Comes To Criterion Blu

Director’s Cut: Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL


_503870_ride_with_devil300Upon its initial release, Ang Lee’s film Ride With The Devil was met with tepid reviews and an almost non-existent audience. Though it only lasted 1 week here in L.A., I managed to see the film twice.

Since then, the film has garnered a sort of cult-following. And rightly so. It’s an amazing film and right up there with Lee’s best. But it was virtually discarded by the film’s distributer and the advertising, what little there was, didn’t connect with audiences.

Part Western, part Civil War Historical Drama, Ride uses as its setting the brutal conflict between pro-Union Jayhawkers and pro-slavery Bushwhackers along the Kansas/Missouri border. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, James Caviezel, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Simon Baker, Jeffrey Wright, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and Jewel. Perhaps the casting made some people think this was just Young Guns for a new age.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Even Jewel, in her film debut, gives a terrific performance and is perfectly cast. I suppose I’m lucky that, though I had heard of Jewel, I had never listened to her music, never seen her face, never read her poetry, and hadn’t heard anything positive or negative about her. So for me, I was able to appreciate her in a completely unbiased manner. After seeing the film, I learned that there were those who were not fond of Jewel, her music and poetry, and the thought of seeing her in a film was not particularly alluring. My suggestion to those folks? Let it go. This is a great film full of towering performances and directed by one of our great contemporary filmmakers.

I also seem to remember critics lambasting the film and taking particular offense to its use of language, calling it artificial and historically inaccurate. Many claimed it was more representative of how people wrote back then, not how they spoke. Luckily, several well-regarded historians on the period spoke up and confirmed that the use of language in the film is, in fact, quite close to how people spoke. How quick we are to judge… I, for one, thought the language beautiful and part of the visceral atmosphere so lovingly created by Mr. Lee.

angFor those of us who are fans of this film, and for those who may one day become fans, there’s good news on the horizon. The Film Society of Lincoln Center in N.Y. is doing an Ang Lee retrospective and are showing, for the first time anywhere, Ang Lee’s Director’s Cut of Ride With The Devil. Lee and writer, producer, and longtime Lee collaborator James Schamus, as well as Daniel Woodrell, author of the novel Woe To live On that inspired the film, will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening on Monday August 10th at 7:30 PM. Mr. Schamus has claimed that this new version of Ridewill include about 15 additional minutes and have a different sound mix and pace.”

Let’s just hope this Director’s Cut finds its way to DVD and Blu-ray so that we can all see the film as Mr. Lee apparently prefers it. Given my love for the theatrical cut, and judging by Mr. Lee’s filmmaking and storytelling sensibilities, I have no doubt this version will enhance what is already a great film. I can hardly wait…

Director’s Cut: Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL