Utahans lose to greed in fight for edited movies

(U-WIRE) PROVO, Utah — The managers of Towne Cinemas in American Fork thought they were doing a good thing by showing a version of “Titanic” with the nude scene and sex scene edited out.
The theater had some of its best attendance ever, with hundreds of members of the community coming out to support the notion that Hollywood entertainment could, in fact, be made decent.
Brigham Young University thought it was doing a good thing, too, when it began editing movies for the Varsity Theatre more than 20 years ago. Here was a chance for students and local citizens to see movies they might otherwise be hesitant to watch due to the films’ objectionable content.
Unfortunately, where both Towne Cinemas and BYU erred was in editing the films without having explicit permission from the filmmakers to do so. And as a result, both the edited “Titanic” and all edited Varsity Theatre movies are history.
To BYU’s credit, administrators thought they had permission, having had an “understanding,” in the words of Student Life Vice President Alton Wade, with the film distributor that editing was OK. BYU had certainly never hidden the fact that films were being edited before being shown at the Varsity.
And when it became apparent that perhaps some of the Hollywood film companies didn’t know BYU was editing their films, administrators contacted them to finally, officially, seek their approval. The approval was denied, though, and now the Varsity will edit films no more. Instead, only movies that don’t need editing will be shown — a small category of films indeed.
It’s an unfortunate turn of events for Utah County moviegoers, but hopefully an important lesson has been learned. Towne Cinemas and the Varsity Theatre both had good intentions — to provide clean entertainment for the community — but they went about it the wrong way. Editing a print of “Titanic” and showing it the way you want is a bit presumptuous, not to mention illegal.
And though BYU administrators thought they had at least unofficial approval to do their cut-and-paste work, why did it take 20 years for someone to finally check and make sure?
Although both parties might have erred in their behavior, some of the blame must also go back to the film companies. When BYU asked for permission to edit movies for the Varsity Theatre, every single film company said no.
And for what reason? Not “artistic integrity,” for these same companies edit their own films on a regular basis and sell them to airlines, not to mention television networks that not only edit out profanity and nudity, but even cut out entire scenes to make room for more commercials.
No, it’s not in the name of art or copyright that Hollywood studios are saying no to BYU and Towne Cinemas. It’s something else. To quote a popular Varsity Theatre movie that will never be shown there again, “Show me the money.” The airlines and the networks pay millions of dollars for cleaned-up versions of objectionable movies; BYU and American Fork, alas, can’t afford those kinds of prices.
If Hollywood were at all interested in what America wants, the film companies would allow BYU to edit their films. By turning their backs on a devoted audience, no matter how comparatively small, Hollywood executives are merely showing once again that it’s not the people that matter — it’s the money. No one’s surprised, of course, but many people are disappointed that greed has once again stopped a good thing dead in its tracks.

This staff editorial originally appeared Thursday in The Daily Universe (Brigham Young University).