A viewer can always claim a certain amount of authorship over a film. They interpret it in their own unique way, whether reacting idiosyncratically to sights and sounds and events or in the more clearly interactive sense of filling in narrative gaps, bringing together pieces of a puzzle or imagining the past of The Man with No Name. All this is obvious. Opinion and individual experience are authorship as well as viewership or criticism.
In a previous post inspired by reactions to Lars Von Trier's Antichrist I suggested that a work of art, once released to the world, can become as much as ours as the makers'. I also wrote how a Director's intentions may be unknowable and ultimately unimportant, uncoupling the art from the artist (Director, film and viewer as points on a triangle rather than a straight line).
But viewer authorship, putting aside copyright ramifications, can take on a different meaning, with new editing tools available to computer users. Film-watchers can reinstate deleted scenes, or cut away sections they think damage the film. They become authors in its fullest sense. People often think "I wish it didn't have that" or "If only he hadn't deleted..." and yet even if they edit it to their satisfaction the instinctive reaction is still to say "If only he had done it like this".
The fact is the edited version now exists, and can now be called the great film that, in their mind, it was prevented from being. The final shot of The Bourne Ultimatum seemed redundant and too neat. If I remove it (or even just pause the DVD!*) then there is no problem and no annoyance. A confusion over authorship and the rights of people to change and then accept the changes is a block to realising that certain frustrations can be eliminated.
A new deleted scene from Return of the Jedi was recently unveiled and quickly inserted back into (its assumed rightful) place by YouTube users. However, whether it is out of respect for an artist's original vision, or his intellectual rights, these edits are not accorded full and somehow concrete reality by the viewer. Does it need to be slickly put together? Of course the wish would always be there that the viewer's editing be carried out with the same quality as the rest of the film, visually, aurally and so on.
A move towards self-tailored art would seem to fight against the joy of shared experience of a well-known piece. Billions of versions. Think of the outrage at certain modernising edits made by George Lucas himself to the Star Wars saga and you understand both the irritation at not having a single, discrete artefact but also the force of this feeling of viewer ownership. These are interesting thoughts, I think, that speak of the conflicts at the heart of a viewer turned maker. Generally one would only want to change something that is already close to the ideal, the very films that you would be most afraid of touching.
Does the changed film even need a physical copy, given that our experience of a film lives far longer in our minds than it does before our eyes? Perhaps not. In that case, we certainly wouldn't need to worry about infringing rights.
The ideal reader or the ideal viewer describe the man or woman who understands perfectly what the Writer or Director wished to communicate. Yet maybe the ideal viewer, in a new age of art consumption, is the one who understands exactly what he himself wants and is willing to create, or rather sculpt, it.
*Video and even more so DVD has changed the way films are watched. They've given us the option to dip in and out to see favourite scenes are study particular moments (very helpful for film criticism).
It also means that a long and demanding film, such as Satantango or Melancholia, that had to be seen as a whole at the Cinema can be managed at home to keep boredom to bay. What would have to be seen in one 7 hour block can be seen over 7 days. The effect the films have inevitably changes.