There’s an interesting debate being waged over Brian De Palma’s Redacted, but it’s in danger of being reduced to a art vs. commerce scuffle. At issue is the decision made by 2929 Entertainment’s Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner (Redacted‘s financiers) to censor a series of heart-wrenching war photographs (of slain Iraqi civilians) which are intended to close out De Palma’s film on an unironically tragic note – and this requires qualification because the dramatic narrative that comes before this final montage is staged as furious, unsparing satire. What De Palma is attempting to pull off with these images is hardly subtle, but that’s essentially the film’s point: Americans are only going to understand the human toll of this war if they get their noses rubbed in it.
But by redacting the identities of the victims depicted in these gruesome photos (utilizing the comically outdated black bar technique), the visceral power of De Palma’s rueful, Puccini-scored benediction is greatly undermined. The sense is that we are still being shielded for fear that we might become too outraged by the atrocities – both inadvertent and, as is the case with the episode depicted in Redacted, intentional – being committed in the name of our country. De Palma wants us to stagger out of the theater; instead, we exit confused.
De Palma has been lobbying on behalf of an unredacted Redacted since the film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August, but Cuban/Wagner have steadfastly refused to cave because they don’t want to get sued into oblivion over the use of uncleared photographs. The problem, of course, is that you’d have to request authorization from the families of the victims depicted in said photographs, and, according to Magnolia chief Eamonn Bowles, even then you’re not fully protected from a lawsuit.
This debate came to a head Monday at the New York Film Festival, where Bowles interrupted a post-screening press conference to refute De Palma’s claims that the images had been compromised due to some kind of emotional timidity on Cuban’s behalf. The video of this back-and-forth – which some have claimed was staged in an effort to drum up publicity for a difficult-to-market picture – can be viewed below. I implore you to stick with it until producer Jason Kliot takes the stage to explain the fair use issue that, more than anything, is keeping De Palma’s film from being seen in its intended form. In my opnion, that’s what we should be discussing.