Ray Lines is Larry Flynt's Lex Luthor. He likes his families big, his religion stiff and his movies bleeping clean. The CEO of CleanFlicks.com and pioneer of the film sanitizing movement, Lines says removing profanity, sex and violence from Hollywood hits is as American as the edited version of American Pie. In fact, he thinks it's time Soderbergh, Reiner and their crotchety lawyers stop whining and turn the other cheek.
"If I was Hollywood, I'd get behind this," Lines says. "We're making them money, for crying out loud; they're selling more R-rated movies than ever."
Lines and other vigilante movie editors recently made national headlines after President Bush signed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA). Although the legislation provides no protection for businesses such as CleanFlicks which rent and sell "family safe" films it did cast the growing industry in the spotlight of demon Tinsel Town's assault on "values."
The family entertainment act does safeguard companies such as ClearPlay, a Utah-based business that provides DVD filters. For $7.99 per month (plus a $149 unit), customers can download movie-specific software commensurate with their tolerance for cuss words and fucking scenes. The technology, known as player control, literally cleanses films as you watch; and unlike CleanFlicks and the video editing faction, it is now protected under federal copyright law. "I started this whole mess," Lines says. A former television producer, in 1999 Lines began bootlegging prude versions of Titanic at the request of fellow Mormons in American Fork, Utah. Before CleanFlicks and its competitors existed, third-party editing was very much a backroom operation performed with Scotch tape and scissors. Students at Brigham Young University's Varsity Theater had been re-cutting Hollywood pics since Marilyn Monroe's box shot in The Seven Year Itch years before Lines' neighbors were aroused by Kate Winslet's rack. But when BYU quit sanitizing in 1998 under fire from Sony a move that resulted in the Varsity Theater's closing Lines was just getting started.
He did freelance editing for rental shops in American Fork before opening his own store, which by 2004 expanded to almost 40 locations around Utah. He's since sold the retail spots and moved operations online, where he wholesales clean flicks to about 100 video stores and serves custies in 50 states.
"Our customers are not all people with small families, either," Lines says. "These are single adults and all kinds of folks."
The CleanFlicks catalogue stretches from Black Hawk Down to Black Knight. With few exceptions, Lines and his squad have exorcized filth from every Oscar nominee and summer blockbuster in recent memory. Subscribers can watch Big without being subjected to Tom Hanks noticing his manly wang, or Saving Private Ryan without all that gratuitous gore. To Hollywood buffs and industry bigwigs who say the scene in Office Space where Jennifer Aniston is harassed by the Chotchkie's manager loses all meaning without her giving the finger, Lines has a simple answer:
"If you're going to sell `a movie` to me, then I have the right to change it, resell it, rent it and do whatever I want with it ... To Steven Spielberg or anyone else: If you don't want us to do this then don't make the product available in the store to buy."
The Director's Guild of America (DGA), which has a suit pending against CleanFlicks and several similar outfits, disagrees. DGA spokesman Morgan Rumpf says, "They are marketing property-unauthorized edits to films which they didn't conceive, didn't invest in and don't own all without the consent or participation of the copyright owner and the director." Rumpf also maintains video editors do not provide viewer choice as they claim, but instead govern the editing with their own politics.
Lines disagrees. "The customers decide what gets cut; they've helped us create a standard through e-mails and phone calls." Potential proof of his progressively democratic editing is how "nigger," "nigga" and "faggot" generally remain intact, even though words such as "damn," "Jesus" and "hell" get 86ed. For instance, on the decision to cut sex scenes from the scrubbed version of 8 Mile, and leave in the rampant heterosexism, Lines says, "It's about a rapper in Detroit ... so I think the expectation is a little bit lower on a movie like that."
Although Hollywood pressure has forced some editing houses to close, CleanFlicks and many other sanitizers the biggest of which are based in Utah remain strong. And unless the law says otherwise, they plan to continue fighting their good fight.
In the meantime, what are the artists to do? A look at CleanFlicks' catalogue suggests ruthlessness might be an out. Among selections you won't be able to obtain scrubbed versions of are Kids, Happiness, Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction, the last of which, Lines says, contains more than 400 F-words. But while some flicks don't make the cut, Lines says others are worth the effort.
"I think Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List and Braveheart should be seen by young adults," he says, "but without the F-words and the sex and nudity."