I have 498 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday or Tuesday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it!
What’s the movie? Cleanflix (2009)
What’s it rated? Unrated for unconscionable hypocrisy, the confused and frustrated religious and the truest definition of irony I’ve ever seen.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi. Not Acted by Daniel Thompson, Ray Lines, Allan Erb, Neil LaBute, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Apted, Jared Hess, Spike Lee, Curtis Hanson, Michael Mann, Irwin Winkler and Dan Rather.
What’s it like in one sentence? A sad look at a good idea that very quickly became a bad one.
Why did you watch it? PAJohnDoe78 recommended it and with good reason.
What’s it about in one paragraph? It’s a documentary about CleanFlicks, a company started in Utah catering to (mostly) Mormons who wanted the sex and violence removed from Hollywood movies, so CleanFlicks would purchase the movies from distributors, edit them and then rent them to the public. Obviously, the Directors Guild of America didn’t really appreciate someone editing their films and started asking questions about things like “copyright infringement” and “stealing”, which the CleanFlicks folk didn’t have any clever retorts for. To add to their struggle, different CleanFlicks video stores start popping up all over Utah because of the incredibly high demand for copies of Transformers 2 without robot balls and Schindler’s List sans rape. All of this comes to a head in a final 15 minutes filled with avarice, worship of false idols, lust, blasphemy, disrespectfulness, theft, lies, pictures of also lies, unhealthy jealousy, being open on Sundays and something about graven images.
Play or remove from my queue? Play this movie immediately! There’s so many layers to the shenanigans going on in this movie that it’s staggering. The film makes you feel one way and then seconds later shows you the other side and changes your mind. It makes you care about certain people and then makes you disgusted with them moments later. It places you inside the head of a Mormon and then leaves you there, stumbling in the dark, pawing at the walls hoping to find a friendly man in a suit to show you the way home. It asks you nicely to empathize with people who probably, at the very least, frown upon your lifestyle or, at the very worst, frown upon your lifestyle. Cleanflix makes you think it’s about copyright laws and then reveals itself to be focused on censorship, both literal and spiritual, but then it Kafka’s completely into the story of one man driven to make money and friends and the layers of himself he has to hide to sell to people that might not like the real him.
It’s a fascinating story made all the better by perfect pacing, some excellent subject matter and a story that keeps growing and evolving in the telling. You will not see the end of this movie coming. I was more shocked by the final minutes than any of the big twists extensively mentioned for films like Impostor or Compliance. There are so many layers to Cleanflix that the film begs for an even deeper examination in a novel or a sequel that checks back in on the players after the scorched Earth they left behind is unsalted. As soon as the film ended I wanted more. More of the characters. More of the silly and utterly ridiculous hypocritical viewpoints that flooded almost every frame of the film. More of that feeling of being faced with how I sometimes stereotype an entire group of folk because their fringe elements have the biggest microphones.
I don’t want to go into things too much because watching this story unfold was one of the greatest joys the film had for me, but I want to put some of my comments into context. A chunk of the film is about how the Mormon’s are just regular folks whose prophet (basically the LDS’ Pope, but with God’s actual phone number) told them in the ’80’s that they shouldn’t watch PG-13 or R rated movies because supposedly everything you watch changes you from the person you were before you witnessed it. Garbage in/garbage out. Okay, I can empathize with that. I wasn’t the same person I was before watching Irreversible as I was after. Watching that guy get his face smashed to bits made me feel like I’d actually seen a murder and I felt cold and sickly for the rest of the day. I can also understand being sexually naive or emotionally unwilling to explore my desires but also wanting to be a part of the pop culture conversation, while simultaneously being really uncomfortable with possibly seeing Bruce Willis’ Little Bruno floating around in a pool. I get not wanting to see that.
That’s a choice they should have. That we should have. I grew up with a brother studying Joe Blasco prosthetic make-up effects and used to go onto our grocery store weekly with a shotgun blast to the chest or a throat ripped open and bleeding. Gore doesn’t effect me the same way it does some of my friends and family and I understand the feeling of seeing a darkness and then being unable to shake it off afterwords. But CleanFlicks (the company) didn’t focus primarily on the violence. They mostly edited the nudity and sex, even going so far as to remove Rose’s breast as Jack paints her with truthful admiration of God’s most beautiful creation in Titanic. A random cop with a bullet hole in his head from The Matrix or William Wallace making Scotsmen into Scotspieces in Braveheart make the cut, however. Without making too many judgments, Cleanflix asks you to think about what an entire generation of young Mormons growing up without any knowledge of sexuality or any outlet for it would be like. Not that it’s any different on regular old television, where I’ve seen someone get scooped out of a bathtub with a water pitcher on CSI, but anything remotely love-makey is sanitized to the point of asexuality.
The problem with CleanFlicks isn’t that they found a pretty sizable market and exploited it to the best of their abilities or that they focused their editing strength mostly on sex and not too heavily on the violence. The problem is that it was done without once contacting any of the copyright holders on the films. They figured once they bought a copy of the movie, it was theirs to do with as they wished, including changing the entire structure and thematic content as they saw fit. Naturally, directors like Steven Soderburgh and Michael Mann weren’t too pleased with this and attempted to do everything in their power to get the businesses shut down which should be well within their right to do. What I found interesting is that, as the fates of the video stores came into question, the patrons asked a very simple question that seems like it should have a simple answer. Okay, they realized they maybe some dude editing Hollywood movies in his basement might not be legal, strictly speaking, but why can’t Hollywood sell these people the airplane versions of the movies, which are pretty similar to the CleanFlicks edits? The talking heads in Utah keep pouncing on the idea that they should have a choice about whether they fill their heads with some of the garbage that comes out of Hollywood and, since CleanFlicks proved there’s a sizable market for edited videos, wouldn’t that be another untapped bucket of wealth they could add to their coffers? On the one hand, I felt like this was eating the cake and wanting it too, but in a country that prides itself on the word “choice” more than almost anything, it does seem like a reasonable request.
I’ll go into more next week (especially the sad ballad of Daniel Thompson) and we can get into some of the headier ideas. Watch this movie so we can talk about it and explore some shit.
Do you have a favorite line? It’s a huge spoiler, so I’ll have to save it for next week.
How’s the music? It’s a great score by Chris Ohran that plays like an epic adventure\suspense film over some incredibly mundane imagery, which just adds to the hilarity and sadness. He hits all the big moments with such serious, bombastic grandeur that you’ll actually get a few belly laughs from some of the music cues.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Popatopalis (A documentary about making the film The Witches of Breastwick! Too bad. I always thought The Breastford Wives was a superior film), What’s the Matter With Kansas (is it cancer?), This Film is Not Yet Rated (excellent), These Amazing Shadows (in the queue) and Arrested Development (I really want to figure out the algorithm that compared this to CleanFlicks. It must be all the irony).
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? This shit really happened!
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.5
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 4.5
Can you link to the movie? It’s all I ever wan-ted!
Any last thoughts? Seriously, there’s a moment in the last ten minutes of this film that has the most biting and painful piece of irony I’ve ever seen in a documentary. It’s the finest moment in film I’ve seen this year and something you’ll think about long into the night.
Did you watch anything else this week? I watched the new Aziz Ansari stand up show (damn funny) and Louis C.K. Live at the Beacon (brilliant, but familiar). I mostly read The Twelve by Justin Cronin, which was non-stop intensity matched by a few genuinely frightening moments. Oh, and I didn’t watch it this week, but they just added the film The American Astronaut to Instant. It’s a rock opera written and performed by the band The Billy Nayer show and one of my all time favorite movies. Enjoy the hell out of it.
Any spoilerish thoughts about last week’s film, Doomsday Book? The middle story about the Buddhist robot keeps growing on me. Does anyone with some genuine experience with Buddhism have anything to share about whether the film felt authentic or not?
Next Week? Compliance? Nature Calls? Hick? Alter Egos? Hara-Kiri? Let Go? Jack & Diane? None of the above? Your call.