Blockbuster censorship?
November 28, 2007 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone prove that Blockbuster edits out content they deem obscene or immoral?

I can only find hearsay of "My friend rented Movie A and said it didn't have Scene B in it", but I've never had any proof, either directly from an employee of Blockbuster (which would be preferable) or from someone who took the time to get several possibly offensive movies from both Blockbuster and either the officially released "for sale" versions, or a version from Netflix, or what-have-you.

Anyone have the real scoop?
posted by tzikeh to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
When I watched "Thank you for Smoking," in St.Louis it had a much longer sex scene than when I saw it in theatre's in Savannah. I thought I was going crazy, but it turns out St.Louis is a select city and Savannah isn't. In the week between when it was released in St.Louis and Savannah they edited it out.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:14 PM on November 28, 2007

A quick search on google finds many sites that claim its a myth, and none that provide any proof of internal censorship.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:16 PM on November 28, 2007

I did search google, and found many sites claiming it as a myth, but I also found people saying they'd rented, say, "Bad Lieutenant" and later had a conversation with a friend who'd seen it in theaters and described scenes (the nun-raping, for instance) which were not on the DVD.

So I don't know what to believe and I'm hoping for first-hand experience from a MeFite.
posted by tzikeh at 12:19 PM on November 28, 2007

thebrokenmuse -- but that's in theaters; I'm talking about renting from Blockbuster. Is that what you meant?
posted by tzikeh at 12:20 PM on November 28, 2007

I think if Blockbuster edited out the content they'd be in legal hot water. I seem to recall an online rental (think "family-friendly Netflix") service which did this, and the courts ruled against them.

I'm sure there are various cuts of movies, as scenes that are acceptable here just won't fly when the film is shown in another country. Whether or not Blockbuster is choosing to distribute a different cut or not is possible, but that's not what you're asking.

"Can anyone prove that Blockbuster edits out content they deem obscene or immoral?" I seriously doubt Blockbuster does any of the editing, however, it should be easy enough to prove (make sure you're getting the same rating; don't compare the R version to the unrated version).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:21 PM on November 28, 2007

Doing that would require a separate production run for the remastered DVD. It's not something that a couple of prudes working in the back room could crank out in an evening.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:23 PM on November 28, 2007

My personal experience isn't so much that they've edited the movies themselves as much as they rented out censored or edited versions without mentioning they were censored. My friends and I rented Dead Alive from Blockbuster once and their version was missing elements of the full movie.

It was enough to make me swear off renting from them (that and the fact that they once charged me a fee for a movie I returned on time and that was sitting on their shelf).
posted by drezdn at 12:25 PM on November 28, 2007

i don't believe that blockbuster does any editing of films, as the copyright owners (the studios) would go pretty ballistic over this. see their reaction to CleanFlicks, the company that was trying to sell such "cleaned-up" movies a few years ago.

but blockbuster does, as i understand it, only stock r-rated (and below) movies, which would not include the 'unrated version' of movies that are released on dvd. (pretty much every r-rated comedy in recent memory has released an unrated version, i think.)
posted by jimw at 12:26 PM on November 28, 2007

I believe jimw is right, that Blockbuster stocks the r-rated versions of unrated or nc-17-rated films. I know for a fact that when I rented Belle du Jour from Blockbuster about 7 years ago, the copy was missing tons of scenes.
posted by Falconetti at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2007

I'm not so sure that Blockbuster necessarily censors out material itself, but instead offers differently rated versions of popular films that are edited to a standard that the Blockbuster Corp. deems acceptable.

What I can offer of my own experience with this is that I once rented John Waters' film, A Dirty Shame, and was disappointed when I discovered, upon watching, that it was a far more heavily edited version of the film. When I inquired about this at Blockbuster, the employee pointed out that Blockbuster only offered the "rated R" version of the film, versus the NC-17 version of the film (for which Waters received so much attention). To my knowledge, Blockbuster does not offer NC-17, or "unrated," cuts of films.

I too remember hearing the rumor about Blockbuster editing their films, and that this was somehow tied to Blockbuster being run by the LDS. Perhaps the practice of offering only pre-edited "R rated" versions of the more risqué films somehow morphed into this rumor?

On preview: what drezdn and jimw said.
posted by numinous at 12:33 PM on November 28, 2007

As jimw wrote, anecdotally, Blockbuster stocks R-rated versions of movies that may otherwise have an UR cut.

Sometimes, that means a movie that was meant to be UR, like the 1999 French flick "Romance," ends up as a nonsensical cut down R.
posted by J-Train at 12:33 PM on November 28, 2007

Anecdotal: I worked at a local, non-blockbuster video rental chain 10 or so years ago, and the movies that had some soft-core action often got, um, worn out at those scenes. The tapes would often break, and us employees would splice the tape back together, resulting in a second or two of naughtiness being deleted. In this era of DVDs, broken video is less not an issue, but I just thought I'd throw that out there as a possible origin of these types of rumors.
posted by twoporedomain at 12:37 PM on November 28, 2007

Former Blockbuster employee here (7 years ago FWIW). Requiem For A Dream came out while I was working there and I watched the version Blockbuster carried pre-street, then later purchased the unrated DVD and discovered that the last 20 or so minutes of the film were heavily edited (specifically the party scene at the end featuring a certain two-sided object). Pretty much every cut of that party scene was shortened, which really messes up the pacing as you can tell that Aronofsky was very deliberate in what he chose to show when you watch the real deal. I can't remember whether the "ass to ass" line was omitted or not.
posted by baphomet at 12:38 PM on November 28, 2007

When I rented Boogie Nights from Blockbuster, there was a scene where William H. Macy’s wife is having sex with a guy in the driveway. He Comes in the house and complains about his wife with “an ass in her cock.”

It made no sense to me that they would deliberately use this line, unless he flubbed it and they decided to leave it in to show the confused state he was in. I just assumed Blockbuster made the edit because talking about ding-a-lings in bum-bums was against their corporate policy.

Can anyone confirm that this is what the line actually is? I know I didn’t imagine it.
posted by bondcliff at 12:51 PM on November 28, 2007

Also note that Blockbuster's decision not to carry unrated versions of films might be less about censorship and more about pandering to the lowest common denominator. They made the decision to only carry pan-and-scan versions of DVDs when widescreen alternatives exist, which suggests that they don't want to carry multiple versions of the same film.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:53 PM on November 28, 2007

Can anyone confirm that this is what the line actually is? I know I didn’t imagine it.

Little Bill: My fucking wife has an ass in her cock over in the driveway, alright? I'm sorry if my thoughts aren't with the photography of the film we're shooting tomorrow, Kurt, OK?

Maybe it was intentional, to invoke the state he would be in having just seen that?
posted by kableh at 12:56 PM on November 28, 2007

I read *somewhere* that Blockbuster stopped this practice when they created their netflix-oid, which stocks the unrated versions too.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:04 PM on November 28, 2007 and compare run times?
posted by Freedomboy at 1:07 PM on November 28, 2007

There are frequently differences between theatrical cuts and video releases of films. Usually, that movie's IMDb page will have that information under the "alternate version" section. For example, the above-mentioned Bad Lieutenant was never released on video in its original theatrical version, looks like.
posted by mkb at 1:07 PM on November 28, 2007

Regarding that Boogie Nights line, I once owned the 2 DVD edition, untouched by anything Blockbuster, and Little Bill definitely says this line as quoted above.
posted by porn in the woods at 1:10 PM on November 28, 2007

My local blockbuster only rents the unrated versions, not the R-rated ones, so you get all your gore/sex/whatever intact. If they have it in stock.
posted by nomisxid at 1:45 PM on November 28, 2007

I know for instance, that when watching Bad Education from Blockbuster, during one of the gay sex scenes portions were deliberately blurred out (extremely noticeable). I also recall reading somewhere (I can't seem to find it now), that Blockbuster doesn't actually censor them, but they request censored versions from the movie studios.
posted by deansfurniture5 at 2:06 PM on November 28, 2007

Doing that would require a separate production run for the remastered DVD. It's not something that a couple of prudes working in the back room could crank out in an evening.

While it would require a separate pressing, this in fact would not be much of a problem for a company with the resources of Blockbuster. The edits themselves could be performed over the course of a day's work; they wouldn't even need to re-telecine the footage, just edit from the MPEG2 files present on the DVD. Figure one prude operating the editing system while the other prude acts as standards-and-practices control, and this is well within the realm of possibility.

Male answer syndrome much?
posted by jtron at 3:02 PM on November 28, 2007

I doubt that Blockbuster themselves are doing the actual editing. Rather, studios offer different edits on films for different locations and uses. For instance, I have rented NC-17 films at my local Blockbuster. I suspect, though, that Blockbusters located firmly inside the bible-belt probably receive the more edited versions.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:09 PM on November 28, 2007

Strangely, my entire film class ran into this once. The prof. rented "Strangers on a Train" by Hitchcock, which is not a terribly objectionable film by today's standards. But here's what happened.

In the film as originally edited, the movie begins and ends with scenes in which the protagonist, while riding a train, is recognized (as a famous tennis player) by a gentleman sitting across from him. The first meeting starts the film rolling. Thus, the second time it happens, the lead and his girlfriend hustle out of the train car. Also, the man who recognizes him the second time is a priest.

Now, when we were watching the film in class, the movie ends abruptly at the end of the previous scene. So abruptly in fact that I remember seeing the professor looking bewildered, and she later found the unedited version to show us the proper ending.

We figured that BB must have cut out a scene that they felt would offend Christians, and which, frankly, was more of a neat bookend than an essential part of the story.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 5:03 PM on November 28, 2007

To echo a lot of other people in this thread, it is highly unlikely that BB is doing any editing itself, but rather picking and choosing what it stocks to match some standard.

True story: I once called up a Blockbuster looking for a copy of "The Gay Divorcee". The fellow on the phone said "I'm sorry, we don't carry that kind of film here" and pretty much hung up on me. What bugs me is that he was right: over a period of months I realized that Blockbuster carried almost no Fred and Ginger movies.

I still don't think we had the conversation he thought we had, though.
posted by tkolar at 5:26 PM on November 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

From "Does Blockbuster edit its movies?" at Salon this past August:

It is true that Blockbuster does not carry movies that the Motion Picture Association of America has rated NC-17; this is a long-standing Blockbuster policy, Cannizzaro says. Blockbuster does carry some unrated films, but only those that the company has determined would not have received an NC-17 rating had the MPAA rated them. Thus even though they weren't rated, you won't find John Cameron Mitchell's "Shortbus," Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs," nor, of course, Kirby Dick's "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" at Blockbuster.

Blockbuster is clearly refusing to make certain movies available to the general public. Whether that falls under your personal definition of "censorship" is up to you, I guess. To me, refusing to carry NC-17 movies for your adult customers is a no-brainer example of the concept. The article notes Blockbuster's insistence that they do not edit movies, but this NYT article from 1996 explains why they don't have to:

Retail chains that designate themselves as family stores, including Kmart and Blockbuster, are having a profound impact on pop culture. Like their counterparts in the music industry, film studios are recutting movies, removing scenes and changing video packaging, often without the director's consent, so that Blockbuster, the huge video chain, will put them on its shelves.

I think that's where the "Blockbuster censors movies!" originally came from - the fact that Blockbuster used to refuse to carry certain kinds of movies, which led studios to self-censor to placate the company in order to get their films on Blockbuster shelves. The watered-down version of Requiem for a Dream that showed up in Blockbuster stores a few years back is clear evidence the pressure was still in effect then. It would be easy to call your local Blockbuster and ask if the regular version is available on the shelves today. According to Salon, though, the no-NC17 policy was still in effect as of August.

Why on earth anyone would make that kind of company their regular stop for movie rentals is beyond me.
posted by mediareport at 8:49 PM on November 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

the fact that Blockbuster used to refuse to carry certain kinds of movies

And still do refuse, I should have added...

posted by mediareport at 8:51 PM on November 28, 2007

nor, of course, Kirby Dick's "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" at Blockbuster.

I wonder if this policy applies to Blockbuster franchisees. Because the local Blockbuster (franchise) does indeed have this film.
posted by timelord at 9:31 PM on November 28, 2007

Watch John Waters "A Dirty Shame" from Blockbuster. They even call it the neuter version.
For a movie about sex, it is really really censored. Words, body parts, sexual motions with clothes on, its all censored.

Boycott Blockbuster. Hopefully they'll go bankrupt and go away in a couple more years.
posted by ijoyner at 7:34 AM on November 29, 2007

I confronted a BB manager about this sometime around 2000. He told me, "Blockbuster does not censor movies! However, studios release many cuts of a film. There is the version that's going to be on television eventually. There's the version that they show on the planes..." He told me that Blockbuster carefully chooses which cuts to offer its customers. I wonder if he meant that they make special deals with the studios to get these cuts issued, since obviously the studios are not offering airplane-grade versions to the retail market.

The problem is that BB is carrying these neutered cuts without in any way labeling them as compromised. First time I saw E Tu Mama Tambien, it did not make any sense. The pivotal scenes were all cut into bits, and the most important moment of the film (end of the last sex scene) was missing. Never rented from BB again. And I cheer whenever another one closes.
posted by damehex at 5:34 PM on January 23, 2008

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