This week’s question comes from music editor, Marah Eakin:
I was a big fan of Sixteen Candles when I was in high school, but I’d only watched the edited-for-TV version of the movie. I remember being absolutely scandalized when I got the actual movie from the library and realized—gasp!—that not only are there boobs in it, but that all the lines from Jake Ryan and Long Duk Dong that I thought I could quote verbatim were, in fact, the “clean” versions of much dirtier lines. Has an “uncensored” version of a familiar entertainment ever scandalized you?
Raising a kid who briefly turned his attention from Ghostbusters and Ninja Turtles to the animated high jinks of officers Carey Mahoney and Larvell Jones, my parents thought nothing of letting me see the first four films in the Police Academy film series. Actually, I take that back: They thought a lot about letting me see the pride of the Steve Guttenberg filmography, as evidenced by the painstakingly censored versions of Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment and Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol I watched as a kindergartner. Beating technologies like the V-chip and ClearPlay by several years, my folks used a dual VCR setup to scrub the movies of any objectionable material—leaving what must’ve been two or three scenes intact in the “Porky’s in a squad car” original. It wasn’t until years later, when I caught Police Academy on Comedy Central, that I realized what I’d been missing. So this is the rare case of a censored entertainment shedding new light on an extra-censored version—though maybe mom and dad were just trying to encourage enlightened perspectives by shielding me from scenes set in the film’s gay-panic running joke, The Blue Oyster Bar.
My parents were early adopters of cable, because they watched Inside The NFL on HBO, so I was able to sneak in a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have been watching (or, in a few cases, just watched with my dad, who was far more lenient than my mom). That said, the video cassette I had with Vacation on it was recorded off broadcast TV, which excised or changed two important things: one, a topless Beverly D’Angelo taking a shower, and two, the East St. Louis pimp’s original retort to Clark’s asking for directions: “Fuck yo’ mama!” (On my version, it was the lamer “Man, what do I look like, Christopher Columbo?”) I’m sure there are other changes, but those stick out, particularly the first. Hey, I was an adolescent, and the Internet didn’t exist yet.
I think I had the heavily edited TV version of Fast Times At Ridgemont High committed to memory before I ever saw the naughty real version, which was confusing in several ways. In the theatrical cut, Phoebe Cates is naked and Judge Reinhold is clearly masturbating—in the TV version, if memory serves, there are some awkward cuts that make an awkward scene even more awkward (and not quite as clear). And it’s so much more than that… So much had to be cut from Fast Times on TV that they actually had to add in deleted scenes to pad out the running time, including a conversation between Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh about Leigh losing her virginity. Most amazingly, though, the TV version has an alternate, cleaner take of a scene in which Reinhold is cleaning graffiti off a bathroom mirror. My young mind originally only experienced him wiping the words “EAT IT” from the mirror, but was shocked by the revelation that in the R-rated version, the mirror reads (kids, avert your eyes), “BIG HAIRY PUSSY.” I’m pretty sure I blushed. (Here’s a site listing all the differences between the two versions.)
I was 12 when Dr. Dre’s The Chronic was released, which was a weird time in my musical discovery and development. All I knew was what my parents listened to, what came on my local radio stations, and whatever MTV and BET were excited about. As “that rap music” wasn’t permitted in my house (no matter how much it sampled Parliament-Funkadelic), my consumption of that genre was limited to whatever I could surreptitiously record to cassette from the radio when no one else was home. As any adolescent-aged radio listener and TV watcher, it didn’t take long for me to get familiar with “Nuthin’ But A ‘G’ Thang” and “Let Me Ride,” but it took a few more years for me to hear the non-radio-edit versions. I think I was about 15 when I actually heard the real version of The Chronic, and I was rather surprised to learn that most guys weren’t “fools” but “muthafuckas” and a bunch of other words I couldn’t say in my parents’ house.
While most of the movie censorship of my childhood involved edited-for-TV versions of films that replaced curse words with incongruous substitutions like “money lover” or “fairy godmother,” my censored viewing of Raiders Of The Lost Ark was inadvertent. Too young to see it in the theaters, I taped it when it aired on cable a few years later, but the tape ran out with 10 minutes to go (the 1980s equivalent of your DVR cutting off the closing credits). My copy of the movie ended with Indy threatening to blow up the Ark, and Belloq calling his bluff. The Nazis take Indy away… and that was it. I asked my best friend to fill me in on the ending, and he gave me the kind of synopsis only a 9-year-old boy can: “The bad guys all die and they put the Ark in a big box.” Imagine my surprise when I finally got to see the climactic scene, when the Nazis’ delight at unlocking the Ark’s secrets turns to horror, as the spirits they’ve unleashed from the Ark turn monstrous, and the power of God burns them up. Even as a young nonbeliever, the idea that God could personally reach down and melt the flesh off of your skull was a terrifying concept.
When I was a kid, we had maybe a dozen VHS tapes on a shelf in the TV room, hastily labeled with the names of movies we’d recorded off TV—most of the tapes had been recorded over three or four times, until the image quality was smeared and the audio track warbled like it was going through puberty. But a few of the tapes were kept to the side, the tabs broken to prevent any mistaken erasures; and maybe the most beloved of these was Ghostbusters. When I finally got around to see the movie uncut, I had to get used to the lack of commercial breaks, and the fact that this version didn’t start with a weird shot of a woman feeding her cat set to ominous music. (Seriously, I still have no idea where that came from.) But I finally got to hear one of the better jokes (“We’ve been going about this all wrong! He’s a sailor, he’s in New York; we get this guy laid, we won’t have any trouble!”), and the confrontation with William Atherton in the mayor’s office suddenly made a lot more sense. In the edited-for-TV version, Dan Aykroyd calls Atherton “Wally Wick,” and Bill Murray says “It’s true, this man is a rodent of some kind, I don’t know which.” The original version is a bit more effective.