Grinding an Axe With Hollywood

The newest Hollywood types set to get a nip here and a snip there are not the actors -- but the movies themselves.

Tinseltown has long been accused of creating gratuitously explicit and violent flicks. Now some frustrated viewers looking for cleaner content are taking matters into their own hands -- from companies selling sanitized versions of hit movies to activists demanding edits from already-released films.

"A lot of movies take it as far as they can go. They feel like they have to show violence or sex," said Atlanta parent Julie Avila Stuckmann, who has a 14-month-old daughter. "It would be nice if I could rent something knowing there wasn't going to be much of that in there."

Utah-based Clean Flicks, which has franchises in 18 states, and a host of similar outfits edit sex, violence and profanity out of films, then rent or sell the sterilized versions.

But filmmakers, who consider their movies works of art, aren't taking the issue lightly.

In fact, the Clean Flicks franchise in Denver is embroiled in a legal battle with the Directors Guild of America over whether it has the right to perform the movie makeovers without the filmmakers' permission.

"Our clients' argument is that much of this is gratuitous, and there's not a legitimate need for exposing families to that," said Pete Webb, a spokesman for Clean Flicks in its litigation against the DGA. "They're not doing it to be puritanical. They have their personal, private beliefs about what constitutes family values."

Directors and their advocates say companies like Clean Flicks have no right to impose their values on movies that have already been edited, rated and released.

"It's taking someone else's intellectual property and creation and changing it to suit your whims, then making a buck off it," said DGA special assignments executive Andrew Levy. "It's a violation of the law."

Movies that have been cleaned up run the gamut -- from The Patriot (five minutes of battle scenes were edited out) and Saving Private Ryan (four minutes of the bloody beach-landing segment were cut) to Titanic (nudity was stripped from the portrait-painting scene) and Shrek (profanity and sexual innuendo were chopped).

The battle over tweaking a movie took another turn recently when the reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson called for politically correct edits to the MGM flick Barbershop, claiming the movie is offensive because of a character's remarks about civil rights figures Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

MGM has apologized for offending people but said it won't change the comedy, which is making megabucks at the box office.

"We have no intention of altering the film in any way," the studio said in a statement. "We're proud to have made a movie… that audiences throughout the U.S. have embraced."

Webb said the Clean Flicks case is different from the Barbershop controversy because Clean Flicks wants to give families the choice to rent edited films -- not make the originals unavailable.

"They're not destroying the storyline," Webb said. "Their basic supposition is that to be able to show them to mixed audiences and underage children, some amendment of the video has to be performed."

But Levy said an outside entity shouldn't decide what will and won't disrupt the storyline.

"It's no different than taking a book and ripping out pages, crossing out words -- and then reselling it with the author's name still on it," Levy said.

A handful of other companies -- including Clear Play, Trilogy Studio's MovieMask and Video II -- have also gotten into the business of purifying films.

Some parents support the idea of sanitized movies.

"Everything we see --movies, TV shows, ads -- has too much violence and sex," said Stuckmann, 31. "If you can rent a movie with confidence that you're going to have a good experience, you don't have to worry."

Others are opposed to the concept.

"I think if you're doing that, you're sheltering them," said Jim Smith, 40, of Indianapolis, the father of four teens. "I've got enough trust in mine that if it's out there, it's no worse than what's really going on in the world. That's trying to dictate to them."