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So Fresh Vs. So Clean: The CleanFlicks Calamity
by Thomas Overbeck

You've been a devout follower of your local church for as long as you can remember. You wouldn't dare expose your precious children to any offensive material, and you constantly monitor what music they listen to and what they watch on TV. You yourself wouldn't like to watch a movie where too much blood (or clothing) is shed, and the worst language you want to hear is maybe a "hell" here and there. All of a sudden, there's a film coming out on DVD that interests you a lot - say, "Black Hawk Down." It was a critically acclaimed film, you've heard a lot of good stuff about it... yet it's rated "R" for all its profanity and gory war scenes. You don't want to wait another year or two for a TV or cable network to put it on the air, and lately they don't edit much offensive materials out of the films, anyway. So what's a righteous and responsible family man to do? Well, that's where CleanFlicks comes in.

The way some people in Hollywood have been carrying on, you'd think that CleanFlicks, based in Pleasant Grove, Utah, was out to conquer all of the smut in filmdom, superimposing CGI fig leaves on all sex scenes everywhere. To hear the folks themselves, all they're doing is filling a niche and delivering "clean" versions of popular films to their target audience: deeply religious and other morally conservative families who would like to view all those wonderful films out there, but will not allow anything with a PG-13 or R rating into their homes. CleanFlicks takes the films themselves and edits out the stuff that their intended customers would find offensive, so that they could watch screen classics like "The Godfather" or "Platoon" with their kids and not have to tell them to leave the room, turn their heads or cover their ears. Indeed they never thought their humble actions would cause shock waves throughout the filmmaking communities.

In fact, Ray Lines, the forty-something founder of CleanFlicks, was just a humble Mormon in 1998 with some fancy film-editing software on his computer, and his neighbors wanted him to do them a favor: Could he possibly take their copy of so-and-so, and record a new tape of it with all the bad stuff cut out? Whether they just wanted to watch "Saving Private Ryan" and not have to see bloody body parts, or "Titanic" without Kate Winslet's nude scene, Ray was always happy to oblige. From there his labors soon evolved into a small business, and from THERE the small business quickly grew into a multi-state operation, with some of the stores even turning a profit. There are now CleanFlicks stores in 18 states, including Texas, Michigan, Ohio and Arizona.

To no one's surprise, the power players in Hollywood are furious about what CleanFlicks is doing to their productions. The Directors Guild of America recently filed a lawsuit against CleanFlicks for marketing unauthorized copies of their films, citing violations such as editing without the permission of the filmmaker, trademark infringement or false advertising. Many big names in filmdom, such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, are backing the DGA up in their lawsuit. Terms such as "derivative work right" are being tossed about.

CleanFlicks' current president, John Dixon, maintains that his company is not doing anything illegal, and he took careful legal steps to ensure that. Every CleanFlicks store is officially a "co-op", where the customers, as members, also have a share in the ownership of that store, and subsequently they own all the videos that are sanitized and offered for rent. Thus, a viewing of a CleanFlicks video is not a "public viewing" in the eyes of the law. "We're paying for these films up front," Dixon stated in an interview with The Village Voice. "For every single copy we send out we have to have the original, so the studios are receiving full payment."

According to a recent poll taken by Wirthlin Worldwide, 58% of those surveyed were interested in "watching popular Hollywood movies that have been edited of all graphic violence, nudity and profanity." So there is basically an untapped resource out there, if you ask the people at CleanFlicks. One that consists of fervently religious families that rarely patronize the theaters, but would probably spend money they normally wouldn't and enjoy the latest box-office smashes on DVD if all the naughty bits were excised. "All we're talking about here is choice," Ray Lines recently told The Wall Street Journal. "We're not telling Steven Spielberg to make a different movie... I can go into Wal-Mart, buy a set of golf clubs and paint 'em a different color, and nobody cries about that."

One need only rent Robert Altman's 1992 tour de farce "The Player" to see what goes on with studio execs and how they bargain with the film producers to include more sex and violence in their projects. Although I'm sure artistic license was taken and the actions of these executives were exaggerated to some degree, it's no secret that a lot of bartering DOES go on in Hollywood about how much gore and skin should be included in the films. And although I personally wouldn't give my future offspring a totally sheltered life, I can understand how frustrated some parents are in finding quality entertainment for their kids when there's so much out there that they don't want their kids exposed to, and what "family" fare the studios DO toss out is of extremely poor quality. Making cleaner versions of movies is nothing new, but what editing IS done to these films for broadcast television and mid-flight entertainment on the airlines is still controlled by the studios, and to some folks it doesn't seem to be enough. To these people, CleanFlicks is a godsend.

Is CleanFlicks a legitimate threat to the movie industry, relentlessly shredding Hollywood's precious works of art, or are they just a small group of folks with good intentions providing a fresh new cinematic alternative for jaded movie buffs with high morals? The upcoming legal challenge may indeed have a jarring effect on what people can do with their films once they've been bought, not only with the conservative CleanFlicks folks, but with anyone who uses a computer to edit a film to their liking, such as the guys who put out a 99%-Jar-Jar-free version of "The Phantom Menace". What we seem to be witnessing here is a small revolution of sorts incited by conservative families across America. If you're not gonna tone down your act, we're gonna do it for you, they're basically saying. We've got computers with video editing software and we're not afraid to use 'em.

And I say, let them have their fun. It's not going to affect the rest of us and the raw, uncut films we watch on a regular basis. No one's gonna hold a gun to Neil LaBute's head and order him to censor every last copy of "In The Company Of Men". If anything, all this publicity will only serve to gain them more business. It certainly has gotten the usual share of jokes. (Coming Soon: The CleanFlicks version of "Clerks"... You'll laugh through all 45 seconds of it!) In fact, this may even possibly quell the tempers of all those religious hotheads out there and reduce the amount of protests that the right-wingers regularly lob at the entertainment industry, since thanks to companies like CleanFlicks, they can now get just what they wanted: all the popular blockbusters without all the nasty stuff.

Hey, if it'll get these people off our backs for supporting films like "Dogma" or "American Pie", I'm all for it.

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originally posted: 01/07/03 16:43:50
last updated: 01/01/04 14:16:49
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