Those Who Cannot Rewrite The Past Are Condemned To Repeat It

If you had a chance to rewrite the past, would you? Lets put aside the time travel conundrums we know so well from books and movies, like whether changing the past would mean altering the present so there's a chance your parents might never have met, Osama bin Laden might have been born a girl, or TV might not have sunk to new lows like having John McEnroe host a quiz show with the riveting hook of--yawn!--watching someone's heart rate go up and down.

What if you could change things you've done without any dire consequences? Or even better, make a few more bucks because of it. Steven Spielberg is doing just that in the new version of E.T. he's getting ready to release. Remember the scene near the end of the movie where FBI agents surround the spaceship? Well the guns they used to be holding have been digitally removed and replaced by walkie-talkies. It's a good thing the aliens didn't get violent or the agents would have had to throw their walkie-talkies at them. "Take that, you mean old extraterrestrials!"

Reportedly he did this, at a cost of $100,000, to keep Drew Barrymore happy. I sure hope he has more success than Tom Green did. The New York Post reports that Drew, Spielberg's godchild, is "fanatically opposed to all forms of weapons." Apparently that doesn't include pouting lips, stamping feet, and coercion.

He's far from the only person doing this. Releasing director's cuts, both on DVD and in the theaters, is big these days. A director's cut, in case you've been too busy being grateful that President Bush choked on a pretzel instead of throwing up on a Japanese dignitary to pay attention, is when a film director releases a version of the movie which is the way he or she intended it to be. In other words, longer. Remember, it's called a cut because they cut the film negative, not because the director cuts anything out. After all, most directors are men, and no matter how many times we're lied to, we still believe size matters. Thus they add scenes, characters, and dialogue, turning Apocalypse Now into Apocalypse Forever.

They're doing this with books too. They're called "restored" novels. They're the final draft of a book the way the author turned it in. You know, before an editor got his or her grubby pencil on it. The past 10 years have seen restored novels from writers including Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Thomas Wolfe. Some changes are small. Others, as with All The King's Men, include going back to the main character's original name and cleaning up his foul mouth. You know, kind of like changing Larry Flynt to Bob Jones and having him found a fundamentalist university instead of a magazine empire.

It's true there are a lot of reasons a movie or book is edited. Sometimes it's because the director or author is being self-indulgent. Other times it's because petty, small-minded, incompetent people in positions of power who are unable to create anything themselves like to exert their influence. Trust me, I don't say it lightly when I claim that some writers and directors need editing. After all, I'm a writer so editors are one of my few natural enemies. Bears, sharks, and scorpions don't make me break out in a sweat, but people who live to hack up--I mean, refine--what I've spent so much time, energy, sweat, and talent writing do.

Sure, sometimes changes have to be made. For instance, when books migrate to the silver screen they have to be altered. After all, novels can be longer, cover more years, and include more characters and scenes than anyone's butt could possibly sit through. Sometimes the changes are small, as in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Sometimes they're big, as in Forrest Gump where the book's "Being an idiot is no box of chocolates" became "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get," totally changing the main thrust of the book and creating a sickeningly sweet Whitman's Sampler aphorism in the process.

Even though the Harry Potter movie had to eliminate and subrogate characters, they overstepped the boundaries of rewriting the past when they showed Harry and his class mates riding brooms the wrong way. That's right. Contrary to what your mother-in-law wants you to believe, there is a right and wrong way to ride a broom. At least according to Kevin Carlyon, High Priest of British White Witches, and I'd have to be insane to argue with anyone who can turn me into a toad.

According to him you don't ride a broom like they did in the movie--you always wear a helmet. Just kidding. Actually that's only required in California. He says that when witches ride brooms the bristles face forward. Of course you also see drawings of them riding sidesaddle but that wouldn't have been appropriate in the movie unless they wanted to inject sexual proclivities where they don't belong. That doesn't start until the sixth book, Harry Pottymouth and the Sorcerer Get Stoned.

The problem, of course, is that when directors and writers revert back to their original intentions they're tampering with what we've become accustomed to. We're used to the governor in All The King's Men being Willie Stark. We're used to The Exorcist ending without an explanatory conversation. Hey, we got it, okay? And we're used to FBI agents who don't put their firearms away because Drew Barrymore doesn't like them. Luckily we won't have to worry about changes to John McEnroe's TV show, The Chair, since the only change there will be that it won't be around long. See, some change is good.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com. His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation. Email: md@maddogproductions.com

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close
alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.