One film from the year’s festival circuit so far that I’m particularly looking forward to revisiting is David Lowery’s “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.” That’s partly because a first viewing afforded many rich textural pleasures — from Bradford Young’s dusky cinematography to Daniel Hart’s inventive, handclap-heavy score — that deserve to be savored in less pressured surroundings than a Sundance premiere, but also because the film has changed a little, and reportedly for the better.
In my otherwise admiring review of Lowery’s film, a kind of spiritual sequel to Terrence Malick’s “Badlands,” I voiced some concerns about its luxuriantly deliberate pacing: “[It] seems a tad too impressed with its own longueurs, thickening the pace less to serve its own story than a vague sense of formality,” I wrote back in February.
As it turns out, Lowery felt similarly — and so, it seems, did The Weinstein Company, which is distributing the film outside the US. (IFC are doing the honors at home.) Harvey Weinstein’s reputation for muscling in on the editing process of his company’s films precedes him: that oft-repeated nickname “Harvey Scissorhands” didn’t come from thin air, after all. And though often viewed in an uncharitable light, his hands-on approach has often been creatively enhancing rather than meddling: he’s a man with a keen sense of how audiences respond to films, and isn’t afraid to tell protective directors to kill their darlings.
Since its Sundance premiere, Lowery has re-edited the film, in line with (though not dictated by) notes from Weinstein. The changes weren’t foisted upon Lowery, who felt that the pre-Sundance editing process had been too rushed, and the film apparently hasn’t been drastically reshaped: as described by Anne Thompson, the new cut “[isn’t] missing anything significant, with Weinstein’s suggestions used “to help get in and out of scenes faster and build dramatic tension and emotion in some key sequences.”
Lowery knows a thing or two about this: he edited the structurally dizzying yet disciplined “Upstream Color” with director Shane Carruth. The version of “Saints” shown at Sundance had three credited editors: Craig McKay, Jane Rizzo and Patrick Knickelbine. However, Thompson quotes producers as saying Lowery is the editor of the new cut. Weinstein, meanwhile, might well take the credit for himself, but that is to be expected.
The re-edited film played at Cannes and, most recently, at the Los Angeles fest. Critical word has remained steadily effusive throughout, suggesting that whatever changes have been made, they’re working. I’m eager to see for myself; the film opens in the US on August 16.