Once upon a time, the Hollywood studios routinely did stupid things. They still do but there's one area where today's movie companies are more enlightened than their predecessors: They've adopted a belated respect for filmic elements, preserving what the old studios mindlessly trashed.
Deleted scenes from the biggest contemporary embarrassment are not only retained but meticulously added to DVDs pitched as "special edition," "director's cut" or "extended version," while 60 minutes were cut from Orson Welles' 1942 gem, "The Magnificent Ambersons" and then junked by RKO. We can see as much of any "Transformers" film that we want to see (or don't) but can't see the complete "The Magnificent Ambersons."
Movie buffs have been united for decades in decrying this travesty. Welles severed ties with his film editor Robert Wise, who cut the film twice at RKO's orders and whom Welles called "a traitor." And although Wise went on to have a successful directorial career, he was forever shadowed by his participation in the cutting of "The Magnificent Ambersons," pretty much demonized for the rest of his life.
Full disclosure: I've never been a fan.
Although I am happy to endorse any movie conspiracy, what if Welles' original cut was, well, unwatchable? Or, at least, difficult to watch? What if RKO actually improved the movie, saving Welles' arse and reputation by editing it behind his back? After all, even in truncated form, the film has been acclaimed as a "masterpiece." A critics poll overseen by Sight and Sound magazine named it was one of "the greatest films ever made." And, for what it's worth, Bob Wise contended that the edited version is better than the original. Was he being self-serving? Was he right? Seems to me that he was hammering the final nail in his coffin with that remark.
Although the excised footage and the negatives were destroyed by RKO, there have been rumors for decades that a rough cut of the film exists in Brazil where Welles was working (on another project) while his film was being edited/butchered. What if that print somehow materializes? And what if it's (dare I say it?) disappointing? I'm playing devil's advocate here.
When the legend becomes fact, make a pointless movie.
For reasons that probably have everything to do with attracting an audience, Annapurna's trailers for Adam McKay's "Vice,"which played in theaters for months before its opening, positioned the film as a comedy. I guess that there is some kind of circuitous logic to this, given McKay's success as a director of comedies and the participation of his company, Gary Sanchez Productions (partnered with Will Ferrell).
But that's a stretch.
While the movie undeniably has its amusing moments, it's no comedy. Actually, it's rather depressing, even though it affects a breeziness in its depiction of Dick Cheney's reign of terror. Which was no laughing matter.
Exacerbating matters is the fact that most critics have bought into the sales pitch, describing it as a comedy in their reviews, and a few have singled out Tyler Perry as the only cast member who plays it straight as Colin Powell. But everyone plays it straight in the film. No one tries to be funny, not even Sam Rockwell in his uncanny impersonation of George W. Bush. The movie is well-acted, stylishly made but it's simply not funny.
Nor should it be.
And it never addresses the question of exactly why it was made. What were McKay's intentions? To mock Cheney? He doesn't. In fact, he makes the man borderline sympathetic. "Vice" is no lip-smacking liberal revenge fantasy. If that's what you're expecting, you'll be hugely disappointed.
And there are moments in it that make no sense, in neither narrative nor metaphorical terms. For example, McKay dwells endlessly on Cheney's open-heart surgery (a bit of advice: avert your eyes), while allotting a few, blink-and-you'll-miss-them shots of the obscene torture that Cheney sanctioned. And all of Bush's immediate predecessors are acknowledged (via archival footage), everyone except the most immediate, Bill Clinton.
He's glaringly absent. As is the reason that this movie was made in the first place.
Everyone's a critic.
Speaking of Adam McKay...
Most newspapers have a TV listing that includes one-line critiques of movies being televised that generally have nothing to do with the original reviews written by the paper's critic(s). Case in point: The New York Times and its TV listing of McKay's terrific 2006 Will Ferrell comedy, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” Originally, the TV critique for the film was a simple (and simple-minded) "a paean to product placement."
Huh? That's a fairly dismissive view of a film that was greeted rather enthusiastically by one of the Times chief movie critics, A. O. Scott, and whose original screenplay (written by Ferrell and McKay) was singled out for Oscar consideration by its other chief critic, Mahohla Dargis. (Although it's not generally known, "Talledega Nights" opened to positive reviews.)
Well, that original mini-critique, probably written by a copy editor, was subsequent changed to "a good-hearted spoof" in the Times listing. So what about the "product placement" reference? That came from a squib, probably also written by a copy editor, directing the Times' readers to Tony Scott's review. Scott never mentions product placement in his review but he does refer to "corporate sponsorship," which makes sense, given that the film is a comedy about professional Nascar drivers. Copy editors!
Bad Hair Day.
If you've ever thumbed through People, you've undoubtedly noticed a regular feature toward the back of the magazine in which two seemingly identical pictures are placed side-by-side and the readers are challenged to locate the minute changes that make them different. I think of this every time I watch Billy Wilder's "The Apartment." Which is often.
Having experienced Wilder's gem over and over and over again, I've picked up on subtle elements about it. For example, star Shirley MacLaine's trademark pixie shag - considered so off-beat at the time that one wag suggested that she combed her hair with an eggbeater.
And that's the look that Shirley sports through most of the movie, except for one, brief fleeting moment early in the movie when her hair looks similar but different - that's when her character meets Fred MacMurray's for a quick drink in a Chinese restaurant. The eggbeater look is gone!
In the scene immediately before it, in which she sets up a tentative date to see "The Music Man" with Jack Lemmon, the hair above her forehead is long and uneven (see the "before" photo, above). A few minutes later, her hair actually looks coiffed, a tad too perfect, and with short, straight bangs (see the "after" photo, below). Her hair momentarily changes for that scene and only that scene. And it looks, well, unnatural - like a wig.
My theory is that Wilder had to reshoot the Chinese restaurant sequence (for whatever reason) months later and MacLaine's hair had changed in the interim. (By this point, she was filming William Wyler's "The Children's Hour.") So she was given a wig to approximate the look that she originally had. Feel free to disagree - or you can tell me that I'm imagining all this. I guess only MacLaine herself can solve this mystery. If she remembers. Award of the Week.