The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Double Feature Fandom: 2 Grindhouse Fanedits by The Man Behind the Mask.
Originally conceived as a fan-made double feature re-imagining two classic ’70s blockbusters as B-movie exploitation cinema, The Man Behind the Mask’s JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit and The War of the Stars: A New Hope Grindhoused are presented here as the first authorized, commercially released fanedit features. These homemade films mix source material with unused footage, new digital effects, original and appropriated music, and audio and visual content from other films to produce a new viewing experience that elaborates on otherwise familiar content. Considered two of the best regarded and most entertaining edits produced from within fan subculture, The Man Behind the Mask’s Grindhouse Double Feature is a thoroughly contemporary, decidedly nostalgic, assuredly postmodern tribute to 1970s cinema and to a pair of popularly beloved favorites.
- High-definition digital master, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray editions
- Interactive lexicons cataloging material incorporated into each fanedit
- Interviews with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg
- Audio commentaries by faneditor The Man Behind the Mask
- Roundtable discussions with Robot Chicken co-founder Seth Green, Robot Chicken: Star Wars co–writer Breckin Meyer, actor and faneditor Topher Grace, Slash Film writer Peter Sciretta, and Fanboys director Kyle Newman
- Fanmixed, a new interview with legal scholar Lawrence Lessig on fanediting, copyright, and piracy
- From Cornell and Conner to Fanedit.org, film scholar Michael Zryd on the found footage film tradition
- PLUS: A booklet of essays by cult film scholars Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton.
Just wait a minute. I know this looks crazy, impossible, and out of place with the Criterion Collection’s role as a canonical cinematic gatekeeper, but bear with us. Make Mine Criterion! is intended to, amongst other things, champion the deserving fringes, to dream a little, and to remind that there are genres, national cinemas, or industrial modes that are “important” but not yet in the Collection. As much as everyone loves Criterion (MMC included), there are easy targets for omissions (animation, Bollywood, etc.). Let’s say something a little more contentious here – the Collection’s post-millennial titles are, generally speaking, conservative art house choices. This is not to say that any are bad films; just that most of these titles resemble what are conventionally deemed as significant, meritorious works and that, in fact, they carry on an international art house tradition that is more than 50 years old and that makes up a large portion of the Janus Collection, Criterion’s foundational library. Very little of the Collection’s post-millennial films represents the industrial and technological shifts presently going on. Criterion has reserved space for qualifying older titles. Equinox (Jack Woods, 1970) and Robinson Crusoe on Mars (Byron Haskin, 1964) immediately come to mind as films included specifically for their technical merits. The post-millennial title that comes closest to reflecting the present filmmaking context may be Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture (2010), as Dunham honed her skills through YouTube circulated shorts. In many ways, Denham is that “little fat girl in Ohio” that Francis Ford Coppola questionably longed for, but there is so much more going in microfilmmaking and so many more tensions and innovations to explore.
Fanedits seem an ideal forum to investigate the boundaries of contemporary film media, as a multitude of trends and issues converge in this cinematic mode. For starters, fanedits exist primarily due to the proliferation of digital media and the accessibility of inexpensive, professional-grade editing equipment. Essentially anyone in Ohio, little fat girls or not, can create something approximating theatre quality and thanks to the internets and social media, they can share and compare with relative ease. Naturally, fanedits exist as an elevated and intensified form of fan interaction. In turn, notions of ownership become destabilized as the one-directional model from creator-to-work-to-consumer is complicated. Auteurship, something the Collection has promoted long beyond the idea’s own theoretical lifespan, is problematized, and these works, relying on the same material but fashioned by non-rights-holders, exist in a strange, legally grey area. Releasing a fanedit would allow Criterion to explore so many worthwhile topics – fan culture, democratized film technology, nostalgia, authorship, digital culture, remix, ownership, postmodernism, social media, found-footage films. In this respect, the case can be made that the fanedits made by TMBTM are significantly more relevant to current cinema than the crushing verité of Cannes’ beloved Dardennes.
But you say, “Hold on. That sounds all well and nice, but rights-holders will never go for this.” You may be right, but it might not be as improbable as it first appears. While getting these titles released may be a very large undertaking, here are a few potential principles to guide a commercial release that might not make it as daunting as it first appears.
- Get the Rights-Holders Onboard. That might sound obvious and easier said than done, but Criterion seems to have decent working relationships with Universal, 20th Century Fox, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. (And I am aware of Lucasfilm’s sale to Disney.) Obtaining their blessing and abiding by the rules that follow would go a long way to the success of a fanedit release. If that seems fanciful, keep in mind that Robot Chicken achieved the same endorsement for its Star Wars trilogy, and how far different are these two fanedits from those works?
- Give Credit Whenever Possible. Both fanedits incorporate material from outside of either Jaws or Star Wars and giving credit to all rights-holders is no doubt necessary. This may require some uncharacteristic cross-promotion. Hopefully Criterion can leverage their relationship with Jim Jarmusch to get content from Iggy Pop, Neil Young, and Rust Never Sleeps (1979) cleared.
- Provide No Monetary Compensation to the Faneditor. If that sounds harsh, keep in mind that both the fanedit community and The Man Behind the Mask strictly adhere to the principle that fanedits are for personal-use, not profit, and that no fanedit should ever be paid for. TMBTM identifies himself as a faneditor, specifically distinguishing himself from the creators of the source materials and the authors of the stories he reimagines, and encourages screening of his fanedits to be done freely. This would also keep rights-holders comfortable with the fanedit community as being one of creatively minded, but entirely private amateurs. Considering that special feature and essay contributors are frequently compensated by the Collection through swag (free DVDs, etc.), this rule might not be that outlandish either.
- Create an Edition Worthy of its Price, Regardless of the Fanedit Itself. While asserting that no fanedit should be paid for, TMBTM is not against commercial release. He has welcomed the inclusion of fanedits as special features to the titles themselves, presumably avoiding the community’s rule against paying for fanedits. While a Criterion release should showcase these fanedits, the label has the advantageous position of being in the business of creating elaborate editions with a bounty of special features. It may be possible to create a package that stands on its own, worthy in the eyes of the faneditor of being paid for without contravening the community’s spirit.
- Select an Appropriate Fanedit. Many fanedits are fanfixes, recuts of films that seek to remedy some perceived deficiency in the source material. The most famous fanedit, Star Wars Episode I.I: The Phantom Edit (George Lucas/Mike J. Nichols, 2000), is precisely such a fanfix, cutting Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (George Lucas, 1999) down from 138 minutes to 115 minutes and seeking to remedy perceived deficiencies in the often maligned first episode. It is easy to understand the discomfort that an original creator may have in such works and why objection might be made to their formal release. Many popular Star Wars fanedits place themselves in competition with Lucas’ work. Harmy’s Star Wars – Despecialized Edition seeks to restore the original films to its appearance when released in 1977, while also showing it in HD quality. Adywan’s Star Wars Episode IV Revisited attempts to create a platonic ideal from all of Lucas’ iterations of the films, balancing original narrative intentions with modern effects. Jamie Benning’s Filmumentary series provide feature length documentaries that follow the films’ narratives. Each of these popular fanedits exist in some form of potential competition with source films or their supporting material and are therefore problematic for release. The Jaws and Star Wars fanedits of TMBTM are fanmixes and, like the Robot Chicken Star Wars Trilogy, make something new out of something familiar, claims no alternative authority over the source versions, and, in fact, rely on an understanding of the originals for their enjoyment.
Having canvassed the merit of a fanedit release by Criterion, we’ll say more about the individual films in their respective posts. With regard to cover packaging, Peter Stults seems like a nice fit. Stults is one of a few artists who’ve achieved some notoriety recently by creating what Sean Hartter calls “Alternate Universe Movie Posters.” Hartter did it first, producing vintage posters for contemporary films, recasting each movie and restaffing the production to suit the era of the poster. Stults’ work is professional and goes so far as to add textural details like folds and wear, nice touches for a grindhouse double bill. While his work treads the 1970s less frequently than the ’50s or ’60s, his poster for Sydney Pollack’s Killing Them Softly shows the era would be in capable hands.
Credits: In order to acknowledge both the source film and the contribution made by the faneditor, citations for fanedits will include the usual reference to the original director and the initial year of release, as well as to the faneditor and the year of the fanedit’s posting. These proposals owe a great debt to the Fanedit.org site, Nathan Barry’s Wired article “Star Wars – The Fandom Editors,” and Supergoober‘s Q&A with The Man Behind the Mask. Film specific posts will provide a more direct comment on the disc features, but it is worthwhile noting that an obvious emphasis has been placed on avoiding parties harshly critical to the rights-holders. Rather, space is provided for the owners/creators themselves, fans/artists with positive relationships to the rights-holders, and academics capable of addressing the material thoughtfully and reasonably. TMBTM himself is a strong opponent to piracy and copyright infringement and a defender of the source material and the rights connected to them. If all that still sounds like selling out, then so be it. Cult film academics Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton are frequent collaborators and are co-editors of the monograph series Cultographies (which really needs to release more titles!). They should be able to divvy up booklet duties and provide something insightful and entertaining.