"Cinema Paradiso" (1988)
What's It About? A famous Italian director flashes back to his childhood and the time he spent at his local movie house, which was run by a kindly projectionist. If you have heart strings, you better believe they'll be tugged. Hard.
Why Did It Get Cut? Interestingly, unlike most longer international versions that are cut in anticipation of western audiences, "Cinema Paradiso" was cut because it was a commercial flop in its initial release. In Italy, the movie fizzled, so when it was time to take it overseas, the filmmakers cut the film down from 155 minutes to 123 minutes. Unsurprisingly, what was left out were many details that contributed to this longer version's almost novelistic feel. The tactile details of childhood weren't just remembered, they were vividly brought back to life. Tellingly, this wasn't the last version of "Cinema Paradiso" to be released. In 2002, a "director's cut" of the film was unleashed running 170 minutes long.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? Yes, the truncated version is just as powerful as the longer version, which does much to fill in details but little to deepen the film's already powerful emotions. "Cinema Paradiso" is a love letter to cinema. It always has been and it always will be, in whatever permutation it takes. (Though there are some members of The Playlist who believe the longer director's cut is actually the weakest version).
What’s It About? Set in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, "1900" chronicles the lives of two boys from opposite sides of the social strata (one wealthy, one poor) and charts their growth as young men who live through WWI and who cross paths again during Mussolini's fascistic rise pre-WWII. The film stars Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu and Burt Lancaster.
Why Did It Get Cut? Because of its super-exorbitant length (not really solved in any version), its laconic pace, poor dubbing (trying to find one definitive version that's not dubbed is a near impossibility) and over-involved story. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci ("Last Tango In Paris"), his director's cut at Cannes that year ran a whopping 5 hours and 17 minutes. Though contracted to deliver a much shorter version by Paramount, the studio eventually let the director and his producer (who the filmmaker purportedly battled with over the cut) a 4 hour and 5 minute version that was actually released in U.S. theaters, believe it or not.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? A long slog that's not easy to sit through in either length, Bertolucci's director's cut hit DVD in 2005 and we wept trying to get through that grueling, slow-moving experience. Philistines, you say? Watch "Seduced & Abandoned," James Toback's upcoming HBO documentary film about Cannes and selling movies. The director (and his cohort Alec Baldwin) interview Bertolucci himself in the movie and the topic of "1900" comes up (mind you, the auteur brings it up himself). While quotes can be provided upon request, Bertolucci, looking back, sees it as a bloated act of hubris from a young man who thought he could do no wrong (and coming off his biggest work to date, "Last Tango In Paris," one can see why). While it's beautiful to look at (Vittorio Storaro shot it) and it has a cumulative power, "1900" is not the masterpiece Bertolucci thought he was painting back in his peak era, and shaving an hour off its excessive run time can't change that.
"Once Upon A Time In America" (1984)
What’s It About? Starring Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern with Joe Pesci, Burt Young and a very young Jennifer Connelly (her debut), ‘Once Upon A Time’ is an epic crime drama that centers on the lives of Jewish ghetto youths who rise to prominence in New York City's world of organized crime.
Why Did It Get Cut? Again, due to length. A grand (and tragic) statement on the American dream, 'Once Upon A Time' utilizes a moving and involved flashback structure that chronicles the lives of these characters in their poverty-stricken youth slowing building all the way to their crime hegemony in the late 1960s. At its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in '84 the movie was four and half hours. To appease European distributors, director Sergio Leone cut the film down to 3 hours and 49 minutes, but by the time it hit U.S. theaters, Warner Bros. had the movie whittled down to a comparatively scant 2 hours and 19 minutes.
Is It As Good As The Longer Version? There's a long-held belief in some cinephile circles that longer automatically equals better. And while often that's hardly the case, there's no question that Leone's film is a masterwork and the severely truncated version is one of cinema's biggest crimes. The studio re-edited the film in chronological order and destroyed the emotional beauty of the flashback narrative (not to mention leaving huge gaps in the story). In 2003, the closest thing to a "definitive" version was released on DVD, and that is the 3 hours and 49 minute version and it's quite excellent--elegant, epic and long, but not dull for a second. Hardcore Leone-philes' patience was further rewarded in 2012 with a 4 hour and 6 minute Blu-ray, just 23 minutes shy of the original Cannes release, while a restored 2012 version screened at Cannes at 4 hours and 12 minutes. Restoration proselytizer Marty Scorsese is working with Leone's family to regain the rights to the missing precious minutes (apparently there are some legal issues therein) to finally restore Leone's 4 hr and 29 minute version (to be exact). Leone never directed a film after 'America' and the legend has it he was so heartbroken by the disfigured U.S. cut, that it sapped whatever love he had left for making movies. WB, if that's true, you'll forever have blood on your hands.
Several more examples immediately spring to mind, like Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip," which originally started life as a six-part U.K. miniseries but was shortened to a 90-minute comedy, plus a number of Asian action movies like "Shaolin Soccer," "The Protector," and "Hero." Michel Gondry's typically dreamy "Mood Indigo" has also undergone some severe tweaks, according to sources, although the movie has yet to officially open in the United States. Only time will tell on that one. — with Rodrigo Perez