“Fan Edits and the Legacy of The Phantom Edit“ is my first essay published in volume 17 of Transformative Works and Cultures, which is an international, peer-reviewed journal published by the Organization for Transformative Works. In my essay, I provide an extensive history of the controversial reception of The Phantom Edit, discuss its various effects on the critical reception of contemporary fan editing practice, and argue for new perspectives on the expanding field. I also argue that fan edits join sanctioned film revisions, extended cuts, and redux versions in communicating the inherent malleability of cinema to wider audiences.
Further, I attempt to dispel an incorrect perception of fan edits as merely the reactive work of disgruntled fans. As a researcher and a fan editor, I can speak from experience that fan editing is more creative and complex than that. Fan editors approach their work with varying attitudes and intentions, and while some edits try to improve on an existing film, a great many others are experimental works and film preservation projects. As I argue in the essay, to simply label these revisionist filmmakers as disgruntled fans doesn’t appropriately engage with their creative subculture.
For that reason, I share several examples of fan editing works to illustrate the diversity of recent projects and include embedded videos and photos. I emphasize that fan editing practice and communities have evolved since The Phantom Edit and I argue that scholarship should address contemporary works instead of basing nearly all fan editing commentary on one text. This is especially important given that The Phantom Edit has been so misunderstood since its initial release in 2000. My essay attempts to clarify the history of The Phantom Edit and observe its influences on the subsequent fan editing communities.
To be clear, The Phantom Edit is a remarkable work and is an impressive revision of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). Fourteen years after its release, The Phantom Edit is still among the most popular fan edits and it’s often the one that introduces people to the concept of fan editing, whether they actually watch it or not. Its reputation has shaped many perspectives on this practice and, for some, “phantom edit” is even a metonym for “fan edit.” Scholars, critics, and journalists frequently cite The Phantom Edit in passing when they touch upon the subject of fan editing, but they tend to avoid in-depth discussions of the work itself and neglect the expansive body of fan edits that have appeared in its wake. Unfortunately, The Phantom Edit is often used as a touchstone rather than a significant example of a particular style or genre of fan edits.
The legacy of The Phantom Edit is dysfunctional because it draws newcomers to this field and is so frequently used to represent fan editing, but it is increasingly not representative of this practice and its communities. I argue for further study of contemporary fan edits in order to explore the evolution of this exciting form.
Wille, Joshua. 2014. “Fan Edits and the Legacy of The Phantom Edit.” Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0575.
- “Fan Editors Are Artists, Not Disgruntled Viewers.” KU Collegian, Spring 2015: 11. (URL)
- Christine Metz Howard, “Fan editors are artists, not disgruntled fans, KU scholar argues,” KU Today, November 6, 2014. (URL; KUFMS mirror)
The following is another example of my argument that revisionism is recursive, or rather, fan editing is contagious.
In my endnotes for this essay, I refer to the re-editing work of Steven Soderbergh, including his mashup edit of Psycho (1960 and 1998 versions) and an abridged cut of Heaven’s Gate (1980). Soderbergh usually shares his remixes as embedded streaming videos on his website Extension 765. His recut of Heaven’s Gate was derived from an unrestored DVD edition of the film and its visuals were noticeably compressed for online streaming, but a fan editor called Take Me To Your Cinema (TM2YC) reconstructed Soderbergh’s version using the 2012 Criterion Blu-ray edition as its source. According to TM2YC:
I really wanted to enjoy Soderbergh’s dramatic slashing-in-half of this overlong but beautiful film but the poor quality stopped me. So now I’ve recreated ‘The Butcher’s Cut’ frame-by-frame based on the restored 2012 ‘Heaven’s Gate’ Blu-Ray. It’s Steven Soderbergh’s fanedit with me just presenting it in the best possible light.’Heaven’s Gate’ has many strengths, including some the most beautiful cinematography you’re likely to see, a wonderfully poetic script and one of the greatest scores ever recorded. But pacing, strict editing, character motivation and narrative clarity weren’t among them. I think Soderbergh has addressed many of these flaws and also reduced the inflated running time down to almost exactly a half.1
It’s also worth noting that TM2YC’s version, like many recreation efforts, introduces new variations. He explains that his intentions were
To match Soderbergh’s visual cuts frame-by-frame using the newer 2012 HD source (Which was not available when Soderbergh made his fanedit). While every care has been taken to reproduce the 180 or so visual cuts exactly, some shots differ by a frame or two. This is due to tiny differences in the source movie from the DVD to the Blu-Ray. I have also tried to reproduce the “spirit” of Soderbergh’s soundmix. However, I’ve made my own adjustments to the mix, to further smooth transitions and improve small areas, when I thought it necessary.2
The following are comparisons between frames used in Soderbergh’s original recut based on the unrestored DVD and TM2YC’s remake based on the restored Criterion Blu-ray:
In January 2015, TM2YC released Heaven’s Gate: The 2nd Director’s Cut, which is a high-definition reconstruction of a rare version of the film that was not included in the 2012 Blu-ray distributed by the Criterion Collection. TM2YC explains:
The much shorter cut is not a studio-imposed hatchet-job but the result of 6 months of Director Michael Cimino’s further work in the cutting room, trying to perfect the film. It’s 67 minutes shorter, features a voiceover, radically rearranged scenes, altered dialogue, music and SoundFX and 18 minutes of new footage.
For whatever reason he did not chose to restore this cut of the film for Blu-Ray and opted to present his first much longer cut that he himself had withdrawn.3
TM2YC derived most of the footage for this second Heaven’s Gate project from the 2012 Criterion Collection Blu-ray and the 2013 Second Sight Blu-ray, Heaven’s Gate: Restored Edition. He primarily used a French DVD release of the second director’s cut, La Porte du Paradis, as a screen reference.
- Take Me To Your Cinema. 2014. “Heaven’s Gate: The Butcher’s Cut.” Internet Fanedit Database, July 31. http://www.fanedit.org/ifdb/component/content/article/79-fanedit-listings/fanfix/1050-heaven-s-gate-the-butcher-s-cut. ↵
- Ibid. ↵
- Take Me To Your Cinema. 2015. “Heaven’s Gate: The 2nd Director’s Cut.” Internet Fanedit Database, January 8. http://fanedit.org/ifdb/component/content/article/87-fanedit-listings/custom-special-edition/1119-heaven-s-gate-the-2nd-director-s-cut. ↵