Harvey Weinstein is notorious for making extensive cuts to his movies in order to prime them for the box office. Now the producer known as “Harvey Scissorhands” has taken the extreme step of issuing a brand new version of a film just days after its release.
Cinemas in the US have received a new cut of a controversial documentary about JD Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye, which opened earlier this month.
Unusually for a producer so sure in his commercial instincts, Weinstein said his new version, produced with the consent of director Shane Salerno, had been refashioned to address the concerns of critics, who took against the documentary.
Weinstein has cut 13 minutes from the original two-hour film and added eight minutes of new material, including additional interview time with Joyce Maynard, who had a relationship with Salinger when she was 18 and he was 53. There also is new footage of the author.
The new “special edition” was released to replace the original cut when the film expanded into 60 new US territories over the weekend, after opening in New York and Los Angeles. The Hollywood Reporter said it was “virtually unheard-of for a movie to be altered when it’s already in theatres”.
The new version tones down a dramatic musical soundtrack and reduces a number of re-enactments, such as a man typing on a computer, which critics felt spoilt the film. The changes reflect Weinstein’s belief that the Salinger story, which he will also turn into a biopic with Salerno, has international box-office potential. The films Cinema Paradiso and Like Water for Chocolate became global hits after he chopped more than 30 minutes from each.
Salerno spent years researching the reclusive author for Salinger, which focuses on the writer’s life from serving in the Second World War to the publication of Catcher in 1951. It examines “the effects war can have on an artist” and considers the idea that Salinger was a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder. But the industry paper Variety said: “Salinger would have surely been horrified to see his personal life posthumously excavated to such a degree, and the filmmakers never really make a compelling argument that it should be.”
Maynard criticised the original cut for placing too much attention on Salinger as a “victim” without fully addressing his pursuit of under-age girls. Salinger befriended another girlfriend, Jean Miller, when she was 14. Their relationship was platonic until five years into their relationship, after which he immediately broke up with her.
“When a 53-year-old man writes letters to a freshman at Yale, he’s not writing to a woman, he’s writing to a girl,” Maynard said after viewing the original cut. “And when he suggests that she should give up her scholarship, leave college, leave her job at The New York Times and cut off all relationship with the world, that is also called a post-traumatic-stress event, when it reverberates through her life.”
Salerno, who also co-authored a biography of the author, argued that Salinger “was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time-travel machines back to before various wounds.” Weinstein said: “Shane [Salerno] has created an amazing documentary about one of the most beloved but enigmatic literary figures of our time. We are glad he was able to take the opportunity to add fantastic new footage.”