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Watch the Restored Original Cut of The Dark Crystal

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The version of The Dark Crystal that was released in 1982 was dark and weird, especially for a kids' movie. But there was an earlier version—darker, weirder, and trippier—that didn't make it to theaters. The earlier cut didn't test well with audiences, so the film was substantially changed to appeal to a broad audience. Voiceover was added, and English dialogue was added to many scenes where the action was previously supposed to be understood through puppets' pantomime.

For the past two years an enterprising fan, 31-year-old Christopher Orgeron, has labored to reassemble that original cut of the movie. He had limited materials to work with, so there are rough edges in many places (most notably the black-and-white scenes from a VHS dub of the original cut). But looking at this version of The Dark Crystal gives us a dose of the Henson weirdness that we see in many of his early films. Whether this is better or worse than the theatrical version is debatable—but at the very least, it's a fascinating glimpse into what might have been. Here it is, and below, my interview with Orgeron.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: On Monday, January 27, 2014 the videos were removed from YouTube and the Internet Archive, at the request of the Jim Henson Company.

Q&A With Christopher Orgeron

Higgins: When you look at this cut of the movie, do you feel that this is closer to what Henson and his collaborators intended than what was released theatrically?

Orgeron: Not necessarily. That's where there's a little contention over the use of the "Director's Cut" title on my video. This edit is indeed an exact replica of an early version of the film that Henson and company showed to a test audience. In that sense alone it's a "director's cut," but I think sadly that's where the distinction ends.

There were obvious hurdles for Henson when it came time to convince the studio execs of the viability of such an ambitious film. So the changes that were made to the dialogue had to be done to help the film appeal to a wider, theater-going audience. I think it should also be noted that the performances given by the puppeteers on set were based on the lines heard in the workprint [the early cut] so in that way, this cut matches the acting better.

Higgins: How would you characterize the differences between this version and the theatrical version? Certainly it is darker, weirder, more surreal. There seems to be a parallel to me with Blade Runner (another 1982 film...) and its many cuts—it had narration and other de-complicating factors added after test screenings, but the original version has more depth. Do you agree with the Blade Runner parallel?

Orgeron: Absolutely. It was clearly a time of film-making experimentation. Late 70s and early 80s sci-fi movies are arguably some of the best that have ever been made. It's like 90s Nickelodeon. Less restriction in unexplored mediums led to some really great creativity. This version of The Dark Crystal plays out more like a sci-fi film set on a different planet than a kids' fantasy movie. The Skeksis and Gelflings seem more like extraterrestrials in a way.

The Blade Runner comparison is a fantastic analogy with similar circumstances. Another one I just discovered recently was in, oddly enough, a Frank Oz film called Little Shop of Horrors. Totally different ending where (spoiler alert!) the plant multiplies and goes on a killing rampage, destroying the entire city! These days I think the formulas for movie-making and audience reception are a little more clear and changes made after test screenings are a little less dramatic.

Higgins: What's your personal relationship with the theatrical version of The Dark Crystal? Do you remember seeing it as a kid? Did you like it?

Orgeron: This tidbit is a little shameful. I was born the same year the film was released and was a huge Henson fan as a kid but didn't really hear about The Dark Crystal until I was about 17. Roughly a year after that, I decided to buy the DVD and give it a go. My perspective while watching it was a little unusual since the film was undeniably "Henson" but my matured brain got to see a vivid and ambitious world that had somehow eluded me as a child. I loved it to death. It appealed to my childhood and early adulthood while still being brand new. I watched the DVD many times and all the deleted scenes, which made me want to find out more about this early version that was subsequently lost.

Higgins: When did you find out about the workprint? Do you know "Aikousha" [the pseudonymous person who posted a low-quality, black-and-white version of the workprint] personally?

After reading the liner notes on the DVD I was disappointed to find that this strange "early" version of the film was mostly destroyed. It seemed that the original idea Henson and Oz had was really different compared to the wide release of the film and I had a looming curiosity to see it. Around that same time I was really getting to more artistic films and began wondering if there was some surviving copy out there in the wild of this darker take on The Dark Crystal. I'd Google it every now and then but never really came up with anything, until 6 or 7 years ago (ish) when I found out about the workprint in a forum somewhere.

I found the thread well after Aikousha had posted his insights into the workprint and how he obtained it, but the site that was hosting the upload was gone and no one seemed to have a copy. I made many attempts at buying a VHS copy from a few guys to no avail, but finding out that there was indeed a living copy of this version refueled my desire to see it. I wish I could contact Aikousha to thank him for finding it in the first place but he's not easy to track down. A few years ago some torrents started popping up for it, which is where I eventually got a copy.

Higgins: Can you tell me a little about the technical process here? It looks to me like you've gotten the majority (or all) of the soundtrack from the workprint, then matched available video to that. Is that correct?

Orgeron: So if anyone is morbidly curious, I recommend finding a workprint copy and checking it out. It's a test of patience to watch. While I did very little to the black & white video clips you see in my cut, the audio was nearly unlistenable on the workprint. Most of the reason I made my edit was to show to some of my friends that really wanted to see the workprint but couldn't stand to sit through the awful quality.

The idea was to use the entire original workprint audio and then match the clean video to it, which is how it mostly went down. The audio had loads of tape hiss and noise that I pulled out and equalized. It's still very compressed, but I was happy to discover the dialogue was still intelligible after processing. I did pepper in some of the final high quality Trevor Jones score during transitional scenes for dynamic range and perspective but some of the score by Vangelis is of course different on the workprint, which I left in. [Ed. note: Vangelis was initially considered to score the film, but Jones got the job instead. Some Vangelis music is included in the workprint.]

Higgins: Do you intend to continue working on this? For instance, if someone actually had better footage to insert at various points, are you prepared to include that?

Orgeron: There are some rough little bits in the edit I intend to smooth out and I would absolutely devote the time to insert better footage. If anyone can improve the black & white footage or clean up the deleted scenes then we can get a few steps closer to restoring this piece of film history.

Where to Learn More

You can read more from Orgeron about his process on The Internet Archive or in the film's YouTube description. If you've got a hankering to watch the theatrical cut, I suggest the Blu-ray release.

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14 Deep Facts About Valley of the Dolls
The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection

Based on Jacqueline Susann's best-selling 1966 novel (which sold more than 30 million copies), Valley of the Dolls was a critically maligned film that somehow managed to gross $50 million when it was released 50 years ago, on December 15, 1967. Both the film and the novel focus on three young women—Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke), Jennifer North (Sharon Tate), and Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins)—who navigate the entertainment industry in both New York City and L.A., but end up getting addicted to barbiturates, a.k.a. “dolls.”

Years after its original release, the film became a so-bad-it’s-good classic about the perils of fame. John Williams received his first of 50 Oscar nominations for composing the score. Mark Robson directed it, and he notoriously fired the booze- and drug-addled Judy Garland, who was cast to play aging actress Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward took over), who was supposedly based on Garland. (Garland died on June 22, 1969 from a barbituate overdose.) Two months after Garland’s sudden demise, the Manson Family murdered the very pregnant Tate in August 1969.

Despite all of the glamour depicted in the movie and novel, Susann said, “Valley of the Dolls showed that a woman in a ranch house with three kids had a better life than what happened up there at the top.” A loose sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls—which was written by Roger Ebert—was released in 1970, but it had little to do with the original. In 1981, a TV movie updated the Dolls. Here are 14 deep facts about the iconic guilty pleasure.

1. JACQUELINE SUSANN DIDN'T LIKE THE MOVIE.

To promote the film, the studio hosted a month-long premiere party on a luxury liner. At a screening in Venice, Susann said the film “appalled” her, according to Parkins. She also thought Hollywood “had ruined her book,” and Susann asked to be taken off the boat. At one point she reportedly told Robson directly that she thought the film was “a piece of sh*t.”

2. BARBARA PARKINS WAS “NERVOUS” TO WORK WITH JUDY GARLAND.

Barbara Parkins had only been working with Judy Garland for two days when the legendary actress was fired for not coming out of her dressing room (and possibly being drunk). “I called up Jackie Susann, who I had become close to—I didn’t call up the director strangely enough—and I said, ‘What do I do? I’m nervous about going on the set with Judy Garland and I might get lost in this scene because she knows how to chew up the screen,’” Parkins told Windy City Times. “She said, ‘Honey, just go in there and enjoy her.’ So I went onto the set and Judy came up to me and wrapped her arms around me and said, ‘Oh, baby, let’s just do this scene,’ and she was wonderful.”

3. WILLIAM TRAVILLA BASED THE FILM'S COSTUMES ON THE WOMEN’S LIKES.

Costume designer William Travilla had to assemble 134 outfits for the four leading actresses. “I didn't have a script so I read the book and then the script once I got one,” he explained of his approach to the film. “I met with the director and producer and asked how they felt about each character and then I met with the girls and asked them what they liked and didn’t like and how they were feeling. Then I sat down with my feelings and captured their feelings, too.”

4. SUSANN THOUGHT GARLAND “GOT RATTLED.”

In an interview with Roger Ebert, Susann offered her thoughts on why Garland was let go. “Everybody keeps asking me why she was fired from the movie, as if it was my fault or something,” she said. “You know what I think went wrong? Here she was, raised in the great tradition of the studio stars, where they make 30 takes of every scene to get it right, and the other girls in the picture were all raised as television actresses. So they’re used to doing it right the first time. Judy just got rattled, that’s all.”

5. PATTY DUKE PARTIALLY BLAMES THE DIRECTOR’S BEHAVIOR FOR GARLAND’S EXIT.

During an event at the Castro Theatre, Duke discussed working with Garland. “The director, who was the meanest son of a bitch I ever met in my life ... the director, he kept this icon, this sparrow, waiting and waiting,” Duke said. “She had to come in at 6:30 in the morning and he wouldn’t even plan to get to her until four in the afternoon. She was very down to earth, so she didn’t mind waiting. The director decided that some guy from some delicatessen on 33rd Street should talk to her, and she crumbled. And she was fired. She shouldn’t have been hired in the first place, in my opinion.”

6. DUKE DIDN’T SING NEELY’S SONGS.

All of Neely’s songs in the movie were dubbed, which disappointed Duke. “I knew I couldn’t sing like a trained singer,” she said. “But I thought it was important for Neely maybe to be pretty good in the beginning but the deterioration should be that raw, nerve-ending kind of the thing. And I couldn’t convince the director. They wanted to do a blanket dubbing. It just doesn’t have the passion I wanted it to have.”

7. GARLAND STOLE ONE OF THE MOVIE'S COSTUMES.

Garland got revenge in “taking” the beaded pantsuit she was supposed to wear in the movie, and she was unabashed about it. “Well, about six months later, Judy’s going to open at the Palace,” Duke said. “I went to opening night at the Palace and out she came in her suit from Valley of the Dolls.”

8. A SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE FILM HID THE TITLE.

Fox held a preview screening of the film at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre, but the marquee only read “The Biggest Book of the Year.” “And the film was so campy, everyone roared with laughter,” producer David Brown told Vanity Fair. “One patron was so irate he poured his Coke all over Fox president Dick Zanuck in the lobby. And we knew we had a hit. Why? Because of the size of the audience—the book would bring them in.”

9. IT MARKED RICHARD DREYFUSS'S FILM DEBUT.


Twentieth Century Fox

Richard Dreyfuss made his big-screen debut near the end of Valley of the Dolls, playing an assistant stage manager who knocks on Neely’s door to find her intoxicated. After appearing on several TV shows, this was his first role in a movie, but it was uncredited. That same year, he also had a small role in The Graduate. Dreyfuss told The A.V. Club he was in the best film of 1967 (The Graduate) and the worst (Valley of the Dolls). “But then one day I realized that I had never actually seen Valley of the Dolls all the way through, so I finally did it,” he said. “And I realized that I was in the last 45 seconds of the worst film ever made. And I watched from the beginning with a growing sense of horror. And then I finally heard my line. And I thought, ‘I’ll never work again.’ But I used to make money by betting people about being in the best and worst films of 1967: No one would ever come up with the answer, so I’d make 20 bucks!”

10. THE DIRECTOR DIDN’T DIG TOO DEEP.

In the 2006 documentary Gotta Get Off This Merry Go Round: Sex, Dolls & Showtunes, Barbara Parkins scolded the director for keeping the film’s pill addiction on the surface. “The director never took us aside and said, look this is the effect,” she said. “We didn’t go into depth about it. Now, if you would’ve had a Martin Scorsese come in and direct this film, he would’ve sat you down, he would’ve put you through the whole emotional, physical, mental feeling of what that drug was doing to you. This would’ve been a whole different film. He took us to one, maybe two levels of what it’s like to take pills. The whole thing was to show the bottle and to show the jelly beans kinda going back. That was the important thing for him, not the emotional part.”

11. A STAGE ADAPTATION MADE IT TO OFF-BROADWAY.

In 1995, Los Angeles theater troupe Theatre-A-Go-Go! adapted the movie into a stage play. Kate Flannery, who’d go on to play Meredith Palmer on The Office, portrayed Neely. “Best thing about Valley of the Dolls to make fun of it is to actually just do it,” Flannery said in the Dolls doc. “You don’t need to change anything.” Parkins came to a production and approved of it. Eventually, the play headed to New York in an Off-Broadway version, with Illeana Douglas playing the Jackie Susann reporter role.

12. JACKIE SUSANN BARELY ESCAPED THE MANSON FAMILY.


By 20th Century-Fox - eBayfrontback, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The night the Manson Family murdered Tate, the actress had invited Susann to her home for a dinner party. According to Vanity Fair, Rex Reed came by The Beverly Hills Hotel, where Susann was staying, and they decided to stay in instead of going to Tate’s. The next day Susann heard about the murder, and cried by the pool. A few years later, when Susann was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, she joked her death would’ve been quicker if she had gone to Tate’s that night.

13. PATTY DUKE LEARNED TO EMBRACE THE FILM.

Of all of the characters in the movie, Duke’s Neely is the most over-the-top. “I used to be embarrassed by it," Duke said in a 2003 interview. "I used to say very unkind things about it, and through the years there are so many people who have come to me, or written me, or emailed who love it so, that I figured they all can’t be wrong." She eventually appreciated the camp factor. “I can have fun with that,” she said. “And sometimes when I’m on location, there will be a few people who bring it up, and then we order pizza and rent a VCR and have a Valley night, and it is fabulous.”

14. LEE GRANT DOESN’T THINK IT’S THE WORST MOVIE EVER MADE.

In 2000, Grant, Duke, and Parkins reunited on The View. “It’s the best, funniest, worst movie ever made,” Grant stated. She then mentioned how she and Duke made a movie about killer bees called The Swarm. “Valley of the Dolls was like genius compared to it,” Grant said.

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How to Perform the Star Wars Theme—On Calculators
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Star Wars © & TM 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The iconic Star Wars theme has been recreated with glass harps, theremins, and even cat meows. Now, Laughing Squid reports that the team over at YouTube channel It’s a small world have created a version that can be played on calculators.

The channel’s math-related music videos feature covers of popular songs like Luis Fonsi’s "Despacito," Ed Sheeran’s "Shape of You," and the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, all of which are performed on two or more calculators. The Star Wars theme, though, is played across five devices, positioned together into a makeshift keyboard of sorts.

The video begins with a math-musician who transcribes number combinations into notes. Then, they break into an elaborate practice chord sequence on two, and then four, calculators. Once they’re all warmed up, they begin playing the epic opening song we all know and love, which you can hear for yourself in all its electronic glory below.

[h/t Laughing Squid]

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