The trouble with airline movies

I am writing this from a business class seat between Frankfurt and Shanghai, which I cannot, in all fairness, describe as an altogether frightful experience, in between good red wine, awful whisky (unfinished), reading Alfred Chandler’s very enjoyable Strategy and Structure (I am teaching a session on it mid-January) and Nassim Taleb’s equally enjoyable The Black Swan at the same time.

Another thing they have in business class is movies – a terrifyingly bland selection, which led me to choose Love Actually, something of a family tradition. Only, this was is the airplane version, which is edited for offensive content. This turns out to be most of the interesting dialogue and quite a lot of the story. Not only is all of the glorious swearing (and lots of other colorful language) missing, but one of the subplots (involving two stand-in actors performing an ornate sex scene on a film set while conducting a very bashful courtship.) Not to mention that even "complicated" words are edited out, and whole scenes missing.

I think this kind of ham-fisted sanitization is a particular problem for English comedies – they enjoy their swearing and sexual innuendos and perform them with panache and inventiveness. The watered-down and sensibility-tested version just doesn’t wash at all.

(Incidentally, in the screenplay to Four weddings and a funeral, Richard Curtis talks about how having to shoot the airline version of his comedies brought even more swearing into the world, as the director invariably had to be reminded after finally completing a long series of takes of a complicated scene that they now had to do it all over again for the airline version.)

Which leads me to think – I have watched a lot of movies on airplanes (my main source, come to think of it) – what have I missed? Perhaps all those bland comedies and dramas actually were a lot better than I thought?

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