Ya know, as a self-published author I can’t say I haven’t dipped into the pool of revisionist history, though I never got deeper than my ankles. I wanted to fix things, to clean things up, but as much as I have wanted to do more, I haven’t. It’s dangerous business, taking that time machine into the past to tinker with a work that’s already completed. For me, I don’t wanna do it because the person that thought that story up, that wrote it, isn’t around any longer. Yeah, I am still me, but I was in another place in my life when I had that initial idea, when I wrote it, when I revised it, and when I released it. Maybe the piece is better when I am done but maybe that magic is gone, too.
Maybe the reason I wrote it is gone.
That’s the danger.
The other danger is that we can’t live in the past, we can’t keep looking back and fixing errors because, here’s a secret – everything is messy. There is no perfection. The hope is that I release something that captures what I was trying to say and which is as polished as possible. I don’t expect it to be perfect though and don’t agonize over it being perfect. It is what it is. If this was my profession, if this was all I did, then sure, I could invest more time and care but as it is, I want to capture the magic and move forward.
Saying that, it always struck me as weird that Lucas was so obsessed with the Star Wars films and ‘getting them right’. I get that he is a man that had a distinct vision and intent and technology and budget hampered these things. I get that he finally reached a point where he could make the films, older and newer, more like he first imagined them. I get it. Great. I enjoy the revisions but I also think it’s a huge mistake to then remove the original films from circulation because you cheat people of the films that formed their childhood wonder. You take a little magic from them. That’s a cheat. There has to be a point where you have to set your ego aside and let people see the knicks and dings in the art, otherwise it loses its soul.
There are a spate of films that have not even been seen in their originally intended form, studios and producers stepping in and changing the films in the hope of releasing a more profitable product. That isn’t to say that every filmmaker is some genius with a vision that isn’t clouded by their own ego, as there are plenty of films where more powerful voices stepped in to guide the ship back on course, but many times when the film just doesn’t work you long for that rumored ‘director’s cut’ that is said to be out there.
Justice League isn’t a classic, to be sure, and I enjoy the tampered with version we initially got but the ‘Snyder Cut’ is a better, deeper, more interesting film. It has a lot more to say. The same goes with his other ‘director’s cuts’ like Sucker Punch and Watchmen (though now it’s said there’s an even more Snyder-y cut of Sucker Punch out there). Heck, the best example of this sort of thing is with Kingdom of Heaven, a brillian Ridley Scott film that needed more space and room to breathe. Not every film needs this treatment though, nore every work of art. The Stand is a much more rich book with the added content but can you still get the gist of things and the heart of the story without it? Sure you can. There has to be a balance of what is needed to tell the story and what aids the vision. There will be some indulgence but it can’t come at the cost of the heart of the tale. It has to be part of it. It has to serve the story.
So no, not everything needs a new version.
Not everything needs the revisionist treatment though.
Not everything is simply waiting for their master’s touch to return and wave a magic wand and make things hunky dory. That’s why I don’t fool with the past, because I could easily muck up something that otherwise worked. We have to be mindful of that fact as much as we are of the fact that we must serve the present and future, not the past. We can’t keep going over that worn ground again and again and again or we polish over the roughness that made that piece what it was. I still think about editing a movie I was in when I was 18 down so it fully works but, darn it, time marched on.
The past has to stay there.
Some work, some art calls out for the revisionist treatment.
It’s knowing what pieces need us to get in that time machine for and which ones we just need to leave well enough alone that makes a strong artist and a wise one.
As dear old dad used to say…smarten up.
(And go buy one of my many books!)