Rescued by an internet cult, Kenneth Lonergan's indie epic "Margaret" gets a home video release that includes its three-hour version
The phrase "extended cut" may be extraordinarily appropriate for the film "Margaret," which is being released on Tuesday in both its original theatrical version and in a longer version.
Everything about the Kenneth Lonergan film, it seems, has been extended. The film was shot so long ago that two of its producers, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, died years before it was released.
It spent years in the editing room, led to three lawsuits and received a token release that was expanded slightly only after the critics who didn't think it was a mess pronounced it a masterpiece.
Named for a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, "Margaret" stars a pre-"True Blood" Anna Paquin as a high school girl struggling to cope in the aftermath of a fatal bus accident for which she may have been responsible. The film, which is loaded with subplots and characters as it explores interconnection and disconnection, has a density and messiness that enraptured some viewers and confounded others.
The two-and-a-half-hour version released last year was savaged by some critics and lauded by others – but even the ones who loved it commented on its awkward pacing, on some jarring edits and on plot points that appeared out of the blue, all seeming to be casualties of Lonergan's well-publicized attempts to get his three-hour cut down to a more acceptable running time.
Now that film shares a Blu-ray and DVD package with a three-hour-plus version. "This is the detailed version as opposed to the suggestive version," said Lonergan to Eric Kohn. "… It was nice to have the liberty to explore and go into depth in certain areas I felt were interesting to touch on and suggest in the theatrical release."
The longer version does not contain many brand new scenes, although a couple of the ones it does include have a significant impact on the plot. For the most part, Lonergan goes for longer versions of the scenes that were in the original, along with a redesigned sound mix and in some cases completely different music.
Lonergan resists calling the longer version a director's cut, because he insists that he was happy with the original theatrical cut as well. "This is just another version with a little bit more of everything in it," he told The Playlist, adding that he doesn't necessarily prefer the longer version himself.
The process of making "Margaret," though, is worthy of a documentary in itself – a painful one, which may be why the DVD and Blu-ray do not include any supplemental materials, director commentaries or notes.
The film was shot in 2005, with Fox Searchlight giving the noted playwright Lonergan – who was coming off the acclaimed and Oscar-nominated "You Can Count on Me" – complete control with the proviso that he had to turn in a movie that ran no more than two-and-a-half hours.
But Lonergan couldn't do it; he made a three-hour version and then by all reports got stuck for years as he struggled with the dense, multi-character narrative. In the editing process, Lonergan has said, he and his team were "frightened and nervous."
Trimming the three-hour version, actor Mark Ruffalo told the New York Times, would have been "like trying to move a house of cards a hundred yards in a windstorm. Once you pull out a single thread, the whole thing falls down."
Financier/producer Gary Gilbert brought in editor Dylan Tichenor to prepare a two-hour cut, which Lonergan didn't like; Lonergan did his own two-and-a-half hour cut; and Martin Scorsese, a fan of the film, prepared a 160-minute version reportedly similar to Lonergan's.
In the meantime, Searchlight sued Gilbert for not paying his half of the production budget, while Gilbert countersued Searchlight and sued Lonergan.
The film was finally released, with minimal screenings, in only two theaters. Not all of the reviews were complimentary: At TheWrap, Alonso Duralde called it "a mess, a pretentious, talky bore that feels like an amalgamation of workshopped theater ideas thrown at the wall in the hopes that any one of them will stick."
But the film did win a number of rave reviews from Roger Ebert and others, picked up a handful of year-end critics' awards and landed atop a few Top 10 lists. It acquired a very active cult that used the Twitter hashtag #teammargaret, and did particularly well in the U.K.
At a Q&A in New York following an indieWIRE screening of the extended cut on Monday night, Lonergan thanked "the entire British nation" for helping keep his film alive. He also paid reluctant tribute to his fans on the internet, who he said were "like a flock of angels on the horrible computers I despise out there trying to save my movie."
Under pressure to support the movie at a time when it was also pushing Oscar contenders "The Descendants" and "The Tree of Life," Fox Searchlight expanded the release slightly, added more press screenings and sent screeners to some awards voters.
It did not receive an Oscar or guild nominations, but the avid cult stirred up interest in the video release, which is being greeted with admiration by those who were also fans of the original.
Kris Tapley, who named the original version of the film his favorite movie of 2011, found the extended version to be a better film. "It doesn't turn the film into a new experience per se, but I feel like it injects more patience into the overall design and structure of the narrative," he wrote.
The British Film Institute's website didn't rave about the extended version, but it gives it what Michael Brooke called "a modest 'bravi.'" Wrote Brook, "simply getting the film out in a version much closer to Lonergan's original intentions is a lot more than anyone dared hope even a few months ago."
The extended version of "Margaret" screened theatrically in New York on Monday. It will screen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Tuesday, July 17 at part of the Film Independent at LACMA series. It will be followed by a Q&A with Lonergan and Paquin.
Free tickets for the LACMA screening can be reserved at the LACMA website.