Perkins Cobb wrote:
I also didn't see the point of releasing films that were seriously compromised by BBFC censorship (like Marketa Lazarova). I seem to be in the minority on this.
You're certainly in a vanishingly small minority if you think that a single tiny cut to a three-hour film is "seriously compromising" it - in fact, it's so obvious what's happening from the surrounding context that when I finally saw the uncut version the shot in question was pretty much exactly as I'd imagined it.
But then again, you also use the phrase "completely worthless" to describe a two-disc set crammed with rare material, including one of the only two cuts of The Devils
that Ken Russell personally signed off - so we're firmly in hyperbole territory here.
In any case, if we follow your argument to its logical conclusion, it's literally impossible to release a version of The Devils
that you'd consider "worthwhile", since even the Russell-approved versions were compromised to some degree - the 1971 cut by the need to get it past the BBFC (a contractual necessity, obviously), and the 2004 cut by the continued absence of much of the footage that was cut in 1971 (the scene that Russell obliquely referred to when he told the BBFC's John Trevelyan "I have cleaned up the shit on the altar", for instance). While the re-emergence of the "rape of Christ" scene makes it impossible to state with complete confidence that all this footage has genuinely been destroyed, it does seem extremely likely. (I understand that there's going to be a very detailed account of the film's censorship in the booklet, written by the BBFC's Craig Lapper with much reference to documents of the time).
I fully agree that the BFI should have walked away from the deal if the only thing that Warner was prepared to offer them was the mangled US cut that's already fuelled the iTunes and Spanish DVD versions - that would rightly have been treated with outrage by a British public that's long been familiar with a far superior version. But the British theatrical cut is another matter entirely: until the surprise discovery of the "rape of Christ" scene, it was
the definitive version - and, given that the number who've seen the 2004 version must only be in the low four figures at most (I think it's only had four public screenings), the 1971 cut is still the only version most people will be familiar with.
Obviously, the BFI would much rather release a dual-format edition of the 2004 cut - but I think that given a choice between releasing a crammed DVD edition of the 1971 cut or not releasing The Devils
at all, I think they made absolutely the right call. Quite aside from anything else, it finally gives people in the US the chance to see a Russell-approved version of the film in the correct aspect ratio, an opportunity I don't think they've ever had before unless they happened to visit Britain in 1971 or when a repertory screening was scheduled.