American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
When it is seen by thousands of airline passengers on American and Delta flights early in March, the director's name will be listed as R. Duffy. That's the pseudonym Mulligan chose when he felt it was necessary to disown the film.
"The airlines demanded so many excessive and unreasonable cuts and changes that I took my name off the film," Mulligan said Tuesday. "It's the first time I've ever done that."
Mulligan, whose credits include "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Summer of '42," said he agrees with airline policy calling for the removal of profanity or nudity that could be offensive to families traveling with children. "But now the airlines are going far beyond that -- what they're doing falls somewhere between the ridiculous and outright censorship."
Mulligan's refusal to have his name associated with the in-flight version of a film casts light on a controversy that has been smoldering in recent months in Hollywood. What is unusual is that he has spoken out and taken a stand. Revenues from sales to airlines are an important source of income for Hollywood, and most contracts for in-flight films include a clause in which the studios or filmmakers agree to make no public statements about alterations to their work.
"The Man in the Moon" tells the story of two young sisters growing up in the South in the 1950s, and both developing a crush on a neighbor boy. The movie is a touching coming-of-age story, which was given the mild PG-13 rating when it was released to theaters last October. But for a sale to the airlines, Mulligan said, "An additional six minutes were taken out. It was no longer the film I had directed."
In Mulligan's view, airline movie standards are censoring the life out of movies.
"They said none of the kids in the film could say 'hell' or 'damn,' " he said. "They wanted to cut a moment at the top of the film when the family is going to church and one of the girls says, 'I hate church.' They cut all of the so-called nudity, which consisted of the younger kid [Reese Witherspoon] skinny-dipping by herself in a country pond, where you saw no nudity but a bare bottom, from a distance. A completely innocent scene. They cut anything that resembled nudity of any kind, even two young people in a very masked situation making love in middle of woods."
Mulligan said the fact the over-all film got the PG-13 rating was an indication of how innocent it was.
When films play on U.S. airlines, they are usually preceded by the words, "Edited for airline use." This phrase is too innocuous, Mulligan said. "It doesn't reflect the fact that passengers are not seeing the movie the director made."
Mulligan said he has personally edited his films in the past for airline use, but this time found himself up against a "take it or leave it" attitude. "I've never before taken my name off a film," he said. "This was a very painful decision for me."
Mulligan's decision to speak out on the issue caused a flurry of "no comments" from other Hollywood sources. One person associated with the Directors Guild, who asked not to be named, expressed surprise that MGM, the studio that released "The Man in the Moon," didn't have a no-comment clause in Mulligan's contract. Officials at MGM did not return calls.
I was told off the record by an industry source that airline sales are an important source of revenue for Hollywood studios, which essentially go along with any cuts that the airlines request. "Most directors take a deep breath and turn a blind eye on the airline version, and take the money," the source said. "Mulligan is spilling the beans."
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