Published on August 21st, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Summary: This straightforward doc on the rise and fall of the "edited movie" industry struggles to find its voice. What starts as a novel premise ends up being a clumsy attempt at slamming organized religion.
NR | 92 min.
Director: Andrew James, Joshua Ligairi
Distribution: Passion River
They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions — the driveway to Ray Lines’s Utah mansion likely is too.
In the early 2000s, a new business model was born when Lines co-founded CleanFlicks LLC, a company specializing in producing and selling edited versions of Hollywood movies. A group of similar companies cropped up following the unbridled success of CleanFlicks but eventually the companies were shut down one-by-one after being sued for copyright violations.
Directors Andrew James and Joshua Ligairi detail the rise and fall of these businesses in their 2009 documentary Cleanflix. The film’s premise is clear enough at the outset but at some point attempts to sprawl into a picture about organized religion and the follies of self-righteous people.
Like clean cut versions of the characters in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, the subjects present in Cleanflix essentially try to make their own versions of existing films. Lines is presented as narcissistic, telling the audience his sanitized versions of modern classics like Schindler’s List, The Matrix, and Fargo are actually superior to the originals. Of course, these edits had more in common with Queen Victoria’s fig leaf than Michelangelo’s “David” statue it was made to cover.
While Lines and his CleanFlicks business model serve as a focal point of this film, the central subject of Cleanflix is a more nefarious and sensational figure. Daniel Thompson was an entrepreneur nestled smack in the middle of Mormon country — owning and operating Salt Lake City’s most successful sanitized video store.
Every documentary must have its star — whether someone the audience is endeared to or completely detests — Thompson fills that role in Cleanflix.
He starts as simply another talking head, providing background and insight into the CleanFlicks empire from a dealer’s angle. Thompson’s interviews are initially mixed in with those of other video store owners and CleanFlicks employees but by the end of the movie, the directors attempt to use him as a symbol of the entire company’s downfall. This misrepresentation is my chief issue with Cleanflix.
I look at Thompson as an outlier. He’s a guy that enjoyed the limelight and being the public face of the sanitized movie industry but when he’s eventually arrested for allegedly soliciting sex from two underage girls, he turns into the ultimate fall guy for all holier than thou Bible thumpers who visit prostitutes following Sunday mass. …and the fact that he committed the act in the back room of his edited video store made it a tabloid dream come true. While this is an entertaining storyline, it essentially has nothing to do with the film’s overall narrative and begins to feel like a witch hunt for the self righteous.
From a filmmaking standpoint, Cleanflix is pretty dull. James and Ligairi follow the boilerplate model for a documentary, not offering much in the way of originality. We get medium-shot interviews, file footage from local news packages, fullscreen graphics providing statistics, and 92 minutes later the credits roll. The film is inexplicably broken into chapters, each being broken up by a graphic and some mismatched original music. The score of Cleanflix attempts to be bouncy and fun, two things the movie is not.
The best part of Cleanflix is that it showcases a segment of the movie marketplace that most of us were never aware of. Typically, film buffs love their pictures gritty and R-rated, but this documentary shows the population of cinephiles that would rather skip the sex, drugs, and language (because apparently violence is no big deal to these viewers) present in most pictures. Watching the edited versions of scenes from Gladiator, Kindergarten Cop, and Saving Private Ryan paired next to the originals is also funny, but loses it’s novelty after a few selections.
Ray Lines and other members of the sanitized movie business attempted to ask Hollywood if it’s necessary to include “offensive” material in order to tell a story — this movie doesn’t really attempt to answer that question, rather it gives those people a platform before making them all look like hypocrites.