Life is too short to live without the extraneous. One of my my guilty pleasures is inappropriateness in art. I don’t mean off-colour humour, or paintings of bottoms, but serious artistic works which which make unreasonable demands on its audience.
I’ll start by explaining what I don’t mean. I don’t mean a badly written movie, even movies as badly written as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Although the plots and characters in these are so atrocious to be inappropriately demanding, in and of themselves, that demand arises from bad writing, and I do not find that enjoyable. All bad writing is bland. But a bad movie such as Troma Entertainment’s Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (1990) comes closer to what I mean.
To me the best example is the original cinematic Daredevil (2003), more accurately the extended Director’s Cut (2008), which features an irrational 30 minutes of restored footage. Most of this footage is a to-do about a trial of a gangbanger played by Coolio, which is not even tangentially related to the main plot. It’s a brilliant display of complete, unreasoning inappropriateness. And while it would be reasonable to write such a sub-plot into an early draft of a film script, consider the mass insanity required to cast, shoot, and edit that stuff.
Currently my heart aches to see the as-yet-unreleased Batman Forever (1995) director’s cut. Batman Forever was an absurd movie that, even at a final running time of two hours two minutes, was apparently planned to be as frivolous on an epic level. Of course in any movie there are a bunch of unused scenes, but take a look at what was left out of this pointless beauty and bear in mind that this is not the full list (which is here):
- One sequence came directly after the casino robbery, where Batman follows a robbery signal on a tracking device in the Batmobile. He shows up at the crime scene and finds he is at the wrong place (a beauty salon), in which a room full of girls laugh at him. The Riddler had been throwing Batman off the track by messing with the Batmobile’s tracking device. This would explain why in the theatrical version Batman seems to give Riddler and Two-Face moments of free rein over the city. This scene appears in a rough edit on the Special Edition DVD.
- The construction of NygmaTech was after Batman solves the third riddle and was more in-depth. There were scenes shot that appear in publicity stills of Edward Nygma with a hard hat helping with the construction of his headquarters on Claw Island.
- An extended scene established Bruce in the Batcave shortly after having discussed with Dick then that this would have saved his life after the battle with Two-Face in the subway system under construction. In this scene he is appreciated as the GNN news (Bruce watching in the Batcomputer) attacking Batman and Two-Face after the battle in the Subway and after that Bruce talking to Alfred turns into the dilemma of continuing to be Batman and try a normal life with Chase. Like the deleted Helicopter fight sequence, this scene also makes reference to Batman himself being “a killer”, and in the original production screenplay, this scene was to contain footage from Batman Returns, specifically taken from the rooftop fight scene with Catwoman. This would explain why in the theatrical version Bruce turns off all the systems in the Batcave telling Dick he gives up being Batman. This scene appears in a rough form on the Special Edition DVD.
Another deleted scene involved Bruce waking up after being shot in the head by Two-Face, temporarily forgetting his origin and life as the Dark Knight. Alfred takes him to the Batcave, which has been destroyed by the Riddler. They stand on the platform where the Batmobile was, and Alfred says, “Funny they did not know about the cave beneath the cave.” The platform then rotates downward to another level where the sonar-modification equipment is kept, from the special Batsuit to the hi-tech weaponry. Bruce then discovers the cavern where he first saw the giant bat that inspired him to become Batman. Inside he finds his father’s red diary which he had dropped when he first fell into the Batcave after his parents death. He reads the entry about him insisting his parents take him to the theater to see a show the same night they were killed. He realizes he had misread it, and his father had written ‘even though Bruce insists, we wanted to see Zorro so his show will have to wait until next week’. Bruce realizes his parents death was not his fault after all. The giant bat then appears and Bruce raises his arms to match the wing anatomy of the bat and the shot shows that they are one. Bruce now remembers who he is and goes with Alfred to solve the riddles left throughout the film. Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman admitted the scene was very theatrical on the special edition DVD and felt it would have made a difference to the final cut. The bat was designed and created by Rick Baker, who was in charge of the make-up of Two-Face. This scene appears in a rough form on the special edition DVD and is briefly mentioned in the comic adaptation.
- The original ending was similar in style to the previous Batman films, which had involved a scene with Alfred in the limousine, the camera tracking upward through the Gotham cityscape, followed by a rooftop shot involving a silhouetted hero (Batman in the original, Catwoman in Batman Returns) facing the Bat Signal. When Alfred drives Doctor Chase Meridian back to Gotham she asks him “Does it ever end, Alfred?” Alfred replies, “No, Doctor Meridian, not in this lifetime…” The Bat-Signal shines on the night sky and Batman is standing on a pillar looking ahead. Robin then comes into shot and joins his new partner. They both leap off the pillar, towards the camera. A rough edit of the first half of the scene appears on the special edition DVD, but not in its entirety.
But not all inappropriate films have to be critically panned. In Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (2011), the sequence of the creation of the world is, I would argue, vastly inappropriate for modern day audiences… and it completely makes the film. People often declare that there are too many endings in 11 Academy Award winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)–I say that there are not enough, and I still feel gypped that they gave Saruman an early exit in that one.
Inappropriate length is one of the reasons that I love silent film. In the early days of cinema there were no established rules, and so no one making movies knew what could or couldn’t be demanded of an audience. And so you got movies like Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler (1922), which is an action/thriller that runs at a masterfully inappropriate four hours and twenty-eight minutes. Eleven years later the same director made a sequel, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (1933) which was a much more reasonable two hours and four minutes, but which made the completely inappropriate demand that viewers accept that Mabuse, a man previously displayed as possessing a penchant for make-up disguises, could now control people with his mind and leap his consciousness into other people’s bodies.
If we wish to look at literature, I would offer Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo as a masterwork in unrelated asides. Among its frequent and unnecessary departures from the narrative are two chapters that describe life in a 19th Century nunnery and an emotionally descriptive essay on the progression of the battle on the fields at Waterloo. My particular favourite is the several chapters directly in the middle of one of the conflicting climaxes near the end in which we learn the long and winding history of Paris’s sewer system from the 16th Century to the then modern day.
Looking back further we find The Faerie Queene (c. 1590) by Edmund Spencer. Over two thousand stanzas consisting of nine fairly dense lines apiece for which even the author lost enthusiasm for halfway through. Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1789)was so luxuriously lengthy that it provoked one of the most dismissive literary observations of all time from the Duke of Gloucester,
“Another damned, thick, square book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr Gibbon?”
Also consider John Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson (1791), which I truly think will take me a lifetime to finish. Or David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (1996) with its wandering chapters and footnotes that are as expansive as they are essential.
It’s a concept that I explored in my own fiction in my book The Realms Thereunder. I’m well aware of the inappropriateness of the lengthy process in which one character learned the nearly forgotten art of charcoal burning–and only shortened it to its published length under considerable duress. I also delighted in writing roughly eight pages of complete nonsense in order to bore and entrance my readers to a similar degree that the main character was being bored and entranced. It was a bold experiment, and one that came back to bite me in more than one review. And look at this blog itself–it’s hardly appropriate that I listed all those deleted scenes. I was making only a minor point which could have been taken as read. I don’t blame all of you who gave up before reading this far.
Ultimately, I suppose it goes to show that there’s no accounting for taste, but consider what poor shape we would be in as a species if we were not routinely forced to take a fruitless and unrewarding long detour to our destination.