Artistic Integrity

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In in this post, Zippy states that if one does not believe that artistic integrity is not finally decided by the artist one is an anti-essentialist.

Well, I disagree with Zippy, not because I am an anti-essentialist, but because I believe we're using one term to mean two different things. I'm not certain I fully understand what Zippy means when he uses the term "artistic integrity," but I'm fairly certain that it is not the same thing I mean. So, in fairness, let me say that when I use the term artistic integrity, I use it to include both the aesthetic dimension of the art (over which the artist is not the final word) and the integral dimension of the art: that is that the final message, meaning, or communication (intention) that the artist intended to convey in the production of the work is, in fact conveyed. And it is over this dimension of the art that the artist is, in fact, the only arbiter. That is not to say that one's understanding or interpretation might not differ from the artist's intent, but that what the artist meant to say in the piece is said in the piece as it stands--the final work is integral to the understanding of the intent. In short, the final version of the work conveys the artist's vision.

It is in this dimension of things that we can enter into a discussion of what it means to change a work in some way. While we might improve it aesthetically, we might completely undermine its integrity because we contravene the artist's intention.

Does undermining the integrity of the art constitute an offense against art? It MAY not, but it always is an offense to the artist and it often becomes an expression of pride (I know better how to say what you intended than you do.). If, indeed, you do know better how to say what the artist is getting at, it would be better to produce a new work of art that does so rather than altering the artists. Thus the difference between artist and ethical editor.

When we claim to know the artist's vision better than the artist (a portion of the claim we make when we say that any given change "improves the work," we arrogantly proclaim that we understand the vision better than the artist.) The other half of the claim of "improvement"--we've improved the aesthetics carries no such onus.

Let's examine a specific case. Let's say I'm watching Saving Private Ryan or Full Metal Jacket and I've decided to eliminate all vulgar language and replace it with "shucks," "darn" or simply to leave silence. We may have made the work more acceptable to some audiences, but we have changed the reality the film reflects. Suddenly we're out of the realm of (perhapd unnecessarily) gritty realism and into the realm of the fairy tale. This clearly violates artistic integrity.

On the other hand, let's say that we change the first Harry Potter movie to have Malfoy refer to someone's "butt" rather than their "ass." Has any irreparable harm been done to the movie or the character? Some would say yes, some no. Personally, I wouldn't make the change, but assuming that it were properly licensed and noted, (some of the language has been changed to make it appropriate for children), I wouldn't get in a huge huff over it either. But I could understand those who might.

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Thinking more on it, it seems to me like the thing about changing or removing 'content' elements is that it attempts to alter the nature of the characters and of the work.

To take the very small example you mention, say that someone had Malfoy say "butt" instead of "ass". (Personally, the terms strike me as in roughly equally poor taste, but I can certainly imagine someone doing this.) Now, this is without question a very minor change, but to the extent that it is a change, it is a change in character as well as content. It changes Malfoy from the sort of boy who says "ass" into the sort of boy who says "butt".

Or in your example of cutting all the profanity out of Private Ryan, one would significantly change the type of men being portrayed and/or the overall narrative style of the movie. (Indeed, this was one of the complaints of my grandfather, who was in the navy in WW2: that modern war movies often made the characters seem more crass in their language and behavior than he remembered them being.) Choosing to have the characters use or not use profanity is (either way) a character and style choice, which makes a difference in the meaning of the overall piece of work. Private Ryan could have been written without using language that went beyond PG. (And, indeed, some pretty grim war movies were produced in the 40s-60s which avoided profanity pretty much entirely.)

I fully support the making of movies with less objectionable content (and movies like The Spanish Prisoner show that even a master of profanity like David Mammet can write a PG movie which is both stylish and suspenseful) but cutting content out of extant movies strikes me artistically bankrupt.

Dear Darwin,

I agree entirely. I proposed the Malfoy example, but I can't really get behind it and support it. In fact, I can't really get behind the idea of "cleaning up" any of these things. I think it's got things the wrong way around.

Instead, shouldn't the focus be on applying pressure to film-makers to produce movies that do not have to be expurgated. If those who cared more about cinema went more often to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose rather than Audrey Rose wouldn't we be moving in the proper direction.

I still oppose the changing of films. There are some that have minor elements that disturb me that I think would be better films without those elements. But I also know enough to know that I am not the only person watching the film and my opinion may not be in the majority and it may not be right.

So, the bottom line. I wouldn't buy or support a firm like CleanFlicks in their efforts. If a film is worth seeing, it is worth seeing in all of it glory with all of its warts. If it is not worth seeing, then it is also not worth redacting to make it watchable.

I think the better approach to making watchable films is to encourage and support film-makers and flim-writers who are already producing work that we can watch without embarassment.

But we also need a less parochial vision of what a work of art might be and what constitutes an essential element as opposed to an optional element.

One thing people tend to overlook is that if a film is easily editable to remove everything objectionable, it probably wasn't all that grand a film to begin with. If not, it may still be tripe (being unredactable is no guarentee of quality).

But, I just have to agree. I wouldn't buy the films, I wouldn't encourage the redactors, and I wouldn't encourage anyone else to buy them either. Some films are simply worth waiting for. As a child matures they can encounter more of these.

But then, I'm not one to think that my child needs to be immersed in the cultural milieu of the time with all that entails. Being in the world but not of it sometimes requires sacrfice or patience. AFter all, cinema isn't exactly crucial to living either a good or a Christian life. If we never saw another movie, we might be deprived of excellent aesthetic experiences, but I doubt that we would incur lasting spiritual harm.



Instead, shouldn't the focus be on applying pressure to film-makers to produce movies that do not have to be expurgated.

Can we say "both/and" rather than "either/or"? Also, this is one way of applying that very pressure.

Dear Zippy,

As I think I've made clear you can but I certainly won't. Here is one definitive area in which we simply do not agree. I see it as either/or because here I do side with Darwin and Kathy not for moral reasons but for other more intangible allegiances. Read that as shorthand for, "I wouldn't want it done to any work of mine, therefore I won't encourage it to be done to works of others."

The only little wrinkle in that being that I despise the copyright law as it stands more than I dislike the idea of altering another's work--and so there is temptation.

But no, for me there is no both/and. But that door is open to you.



Leaving aside the fact that adhoc editing of content out of movies really annoys me (and yet, it annoys me in airplane versions and TV versions as well, I simply like all movies uncut or not at all) I wonder if the success of businesses like CleanFlicks would actually apply any pressure to clean movies up. After all, CleanFlicks buys a legal copy of each movie they have in stock just like NetFlicks. If a bunch more Christians watch Wedding Crashers as a result (that's one of the movies listed on their main page right now), does that tell Hollywood that they should make cleaner movies, or does it tell them that the cultural pressure to watch their movies is so strong that even those who don't approve of them will find a way to buy copies on their own terms.

Sure, it may annoy directors (and rightly so, I think) that some bozo out there thinks he has a better way of editing the movie than the original director -- but they still get the money. And many really, really good movies with no to minimal content don't attract wide Christian audiences. David Mammet, who's usually known for using the F word better and more frequently than Tarantino, wrote a PG rated thriller, Spanish Prisoner, with exactly one 'Damn' in it, and although it was a really good movie, few people turned out for it. Then, on a bet, he made a G-rated movie: The Winslow Boy. Again, a very good movie, with a strong theme about a boy showing great personal integrity. That one got even less attention. Now he's back to making R-rated thrillers, which are also quite good.

I don't think Mammet has any particular interest in appealing to a Christian audience, but at the same time, I think it's pretty pathetic that there's more interest in seeing editing versions of The Wedding Crashers and Fun With Dick And Jane then quality movies that originally conformed to the standards many Christians _say_ they want followed.

I don't think Mammet has any particular interest in appealing to a Christian audience, but at the same time, I think it's pretty pathetic that there's more interest in seeing editing versions of The Wedding Crashers and Fun With Dick And Jane then quality movies that originally conformed to the standards many Christians _say_ they want followed.

Ah, now that is the best objection yet: not "what affect does it have on the art?" or "what affect does it have on the artist?", but "what affect does it have on us?"

I agree that "Wedding Crashers" isn't the sort of movie that can be trivially edited to be child appropriate. There are those which can though: e.g. "Cheaper by the Dozen".

But as Tom at Disputations points out these are all particulars and practicalities in search of a principle.

Or how it affects our literacy, I suppose, which is to say, what effects it has on our literacy. :-/.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 21, 2006 1:13 PM.

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