Day at the Movies

I’m looking at the guide on the cable box. G is recording The Departed on FX. It is about noon.


G: I’ve never seen it.


T: You still won’t have.


Strict censorship of network and basic cable television in the US means that whenever movies are shown most or all of the obscenities are cut or overdubbed, extreme violence is pruned and ‘sexy scenes’ (for those of you who grew up in the 90s watching rented videos) are taken out. The networks make it worse for themselves by scheduling the most obscene movies in the morning and daytime.

This is as much as FX showed of ‘The Departed’

I mean, what exactly is gained showing Goodfellas at 2 in the afternoon? How does a movie that contains 300 fucks last longer than a few minutes after cuts? We’re not talking about movies where sex, violence and obscenity are gratuities and it plays just fine without them. These are movies where such excess is inextricable from the film’s style and embedded in the world they represent. It’s not even as though the filmmakers had a chance to work up creative solutions to tailor their work to the censorship regimes of network television, as the writers and producers of original programmes have.

Growing up in the UK in the 90s, I remember the BBC would stringently censor popular movies so that they could air in the primetime slot before the 9pm watershed, the time in Britain after which adult television becomes more acceptable to show. There are whole scenes of films I didn’t know existed, like Steve Martin’s hernia-inducingly funny ‘I want a fucking car’ routine from Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But I never felt these edited versions butchered the original in the same way that, say, AMC maimed Scarface, ironically by taking out the maimings. They just left me wanting more.

Like most things in television, it boils down to filling time. The network has purchased programming that’s been made suitable for a daytime timeslot by extensive editing and they’re going to use it to plug a gap in the schedules whenever they can. It’s just a terrible shame so many people will get such a glib first impression of all those wonderful movies. Or think they’ve seen a movie without knowing the half of it.



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