Perspectives on Pop Culture and the Arts

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sterilized Meaning - in a humorously annoying kind of way

A while back, I had the opportunity to watch the James L. Brooks film, Spanglish. The experience was, however, rather strange and unsettling, largely because it wasn'’t just Spanglish, it was a Clean Flicks version of the film that some friends had lent us. This was the first time I had submitted myself to one of their sterile bastardisations, and this only because I didn'’t contribute in any way to the financial support or endorsement of their shady practise (cheeky, I know, but I have my standards). Their website claims that they remove all profanity, nudity, graphic violence (rather ambiguous and misleading terminology that allows them to take the moral high ground while not restricting the proverbial market share), and sexual content, which was absolutely spot-on in the case of Spanglish. Unfortunately, as will happen, the process by which this material is removed also inevitably means that certain structural and contextual elements will be affected, thus altering the overall narrative, even if only slightly - which I would argue is still a deceitful trick played out by faceless people with evil designs (come and let'’s hold hands, so we can be afraid together).

I understood all of this beforehand and was, I thought, sufficiently prepared. The last I had really looked into the film was when it was still in the cinema and I read an interesting review by Jonathan Rosenbaum. What I had stupidly forgotten was the recurring theme of miscommunication and how, when certain things are removed from a conversation (like vocabulary/dialog) there is likely to also be a subsequent loss of understanding.

[Enter: The Dragon]

As I sat there watching what is, admittedly, a rather disconcerting film to begin with, I had the distinct feeling that, like the characters in the film, I too was missing something quite vital to the overall understanding of the picture. Certain scenes, having been unrighteously cut because of content, began midway or stopped abruptly thus undermining the real force behind many of the characters' actions and ultimately the central message of the film. I truly felt like the non-english-speaking character, Flor, (apart from the fact that she's a woman, people) whose confusion at being excluded from certain fundamental levels of understanding became quite comical, if ultimately frustrating. However, Brooks used the lack of English subtitles during Spanish dialog (among other somewhat crafty techniques) to create a sense of misunderstanding leading to compelled empathy. If he'’d only called the sweaty little mole in the Clean Flicks dungeon to cut the film instead, he might have saved some time and money shooting those 'unnecessary' bits in order to create the same effect.

The Clean Flicks web site happliy proclaims that this is all because, "It's About Choice!"
Only in the fascist sense my friends, because my choices were completely stripped after I decided to watch the thing.

[Mike previously posted a version of this on another ranty blog]

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