When I first found out that a documentary about Cleanflix was playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, I immediately added it to my must-see list. I’ve always been interested and outraged at the concept of Cleanflix.
For those of you who don’t know, Mormons are advised not to watch R-rated movies because the language, sex and violence will contaminate and pervert your brain. The modern day prophets say the best solution is to avoid these things at all costs. A video rental store was opened in Utah to cater to to the sanitized beliefs. Cleanflix would take Hollywood movies and professionally edit them in final cut, removing most of the “bad parts.”
The film features a number of comparisons between original theatrical cut and CleanFlix re-edits, most of which are both hilarious and appalling. Swear words aren’t bleeped, scenes are suddenly cut, the cleanflix edits are actually remarkably well done, at least technically. But deleted shots, sequences, or conversations, often results in a completely different intention in the dialogue or moments of a film.
The sanitized versions could be rented at the CleanFlix store, or even be made available for purchase to the paying public (they did this using a 1:1 ratio, including an original purchased copy with each cleanflix copy). At one point the company was operating 10 corporate stores, in addition to almost 70 franchised dealerships. The documentary CleanFlix tells the story of the rise and fall of Cleanflix and other edited movie dealerships in Utah, with a primary focus on Daniel Thompson, a Cleanflix franchisee who became the de facto leader of Utah’s the edited movie revival. And Daniel’s story has just as many twists and turns as the headline story.
If I have any complaint about the documentary, it is that at one point it becomes too focused on Thompson’s story, and misses opportunities to talk about the ethics, present and future of the sanitized movie business. I would have loved to learn more about how and why Hollywood creates TV and airplane edits of films, but refuses to provide these edits to the Mormon audience. I would’ve liked to see a follow-up on the DVD players being created today that allow parents (or whomever) to selectively edit adult content out of a movie. This story doesn’t end with Daniel, and the movie shouldn’t end with him either.
But that said, CleanFlix is easily the most interesting topical documentary about movies since This Movie Is Not Yet Rated. Cleanflix is a movie which continues hours after the credits, in the conversations and debates you will have with your friends and family. It creates a discussion about art, censorship, rights, religion, and technology. With popularized art, what are the rights of the creator (director), copyright owner/distributor (studio), and the art buyer (moviewatcher). And as technology grows, will Hollywood be able to contain the demand for sanitized movie edits?
Interestingly enough, the directors have said they would like to give the film a big premiere in Mormon country… Sundance, make this happen!
/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10