The grim debate over whether it’s acceptable to edit older works of art to cater for modern ‘sensitivities’ has raised its head again with the discovery by eagle eyed film fans that at least two of the world’s most popular streaming services are running a version of a classic, Oscar-winning film with a sequence featuring two ethnic slurs completely cut out of it.
The film in question is The French Connection: William Friedkin’s fantastic (96% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you haven’t seen it yourself) and famously ‘hard boiled’ 1971 thriller starring Gene Hackman, Fernando Rey and Roy Scheider. In the version of the film being shown on the Criterion Channel and Apple TV, around four seconds of the film have been cut during a scene where Hackman heads out of the Narcotics Division office pursued by Scheider. The original scene, which starts at around 9mins and 42 seconds into the film, sees Scheider and Hackman’s characters having a conversation by the door during which two racial slurs are used. In the edited version, all but the last couple of ‘innocent’ exchanges of this conversation have been cut out – clearly to remove the slurs.
Film fans across the Internet and social media are up in arms about this butchering of such a much-loved classic on the grounds that a) it should never be acceptable to censor a work of art (at least provided that work of art is being shown with appropriate age ratings attached to it); b) removing the scene takes away key characterisation and historical context; and c) the edit is ugly and jarring on aesthetic grounds, as it causes Scheider’s character to suddenly jump across the room so that he’s standing right besides Hackman. The cut’s presence is so obvious and jarring that it throws you out of your immersion in the film’s brutal world.
The film clearly appears with an 18 rating attached to it on Apple TV, at least, so there can be no question, surely, of the edit being done with any ideas of protecting children from adult themes. Nor is there any suggestion in any of the information Apple TV or Criterion provide about the film to suggest that what you’re about to watch has been edited to remove ‘offensive language’.
This latter fact should, it seems to me, open the door to refunds being due to anyone who has paid to watch The French Connection on Criterion or Apple TV (in the UK, The French Connection costs £3.49 to rent and £4.99 to buy on Apple TV).
Making the situation all the more strange is the fact that the version of the film that’s provided on Disney+ in the UK and Canada (it isn’t available on Disney’s streaming platform in the US) is uncut, with the full original scene in place. What’s more, it appears in this uncut format without the ‘sensitive content’ warning you get when you play some other old (admittedly usually children’s) titles on Disney+, such as the original Dumbo.
This appearance of an unedited version of The French Connection on Disney+ casts doubt on the assumption by some that Disney – which now ‘owns’ the film following its purchase of 20th Century Fox – is to blame for the unannounced cut. But if the cut wasn’t made by Disney, where did it originate from?
Criterion users who first spotted the edit – as reported in detail by Hollywood Elsewhere (though I think I’m the first person to notice that the cut version is also being carried on Apple TV!) – have struggled to believe that Criterion, a brand famed for its dedication to honoring the cinematic art form, would have originated such an abuse of a classic film. So the assumption has grown instead that the family friendly, image-conscious ‘house of mouse’ must be to blame. However, the fact that the cut is also present in the version of the film that appears on Apple TV suggests that it hasn’t been sanctioned by Criterion, either. Rather the appearance of the edited version of the film on two unrelated streaming platforms suggests, perhaps, that the cut edition has been picked up by these two services potentially ‘by accident’.
That still wouldn’t explain who authorised a cut version of the film to be created in the first place, though. The Hollywood Elsewhere article notes that a screening of the film at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theater on the 12th of May this year also contained the cut, casting further confusion over exactly why and by whom the cut was made.
If the source of the edit emerges and/or Apple TV and Criterion announce that they’ve replaced the current versions of The French Connection with unedited cuts, I’ll either update this story or, if the information is detailed enough, write a follow-up article. In the mean time, though, I can’t help but reflect that perhaps the main take away from this latest example of the sort of problems you can get with streamed content is that if you love a film or TV show, you should buy it on disc!
Read the full article here