I haven't really talked about why there are three versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby yet. (I'm watching Her one more time tonight, by the way.) It was written as two movies--Him and Her. Two separate scripts that shared a few scenes (with slightly different variations between those scenes). It was only after The Weinstein Company bought the film(s) that a third, combined version was requested.
Editing began with Him. It's the easier film in terms of structure, because, as editor Kristine Boden tells Indiewire, Conor is "more reactive and just want[s] to keep going." Her, on the other hand, has "introspection and gravity." Conor's energy made Him a shorter film. Eleanor, being more contemplative, has the slower burn. Still, Her is only a few minutes longer than Him. And, Them is, as you might expect, longer than either one, taking pieces of each and combining them into one film for both characters. For the separate versions of the shared scenes, it helped in the editing process that outfits (and lighting at least in the final apartment scene) were slightly different--like Conor's shirt in the present roadtrip scene, as I pointed out yesterday. In fact, there was little confusion what scenes went to which film. Boden has an interesting take on flashbacks and the flow of time, when it came time to edit Them:
I think we were all really surprised--and this is kudos to [director] Ned [Benson]--how easily "Them" fell into place. We did it pretty quickly and it wasn't at all painful or agonizing, and that's because it became more chronological. There's a flashback in the opening scene of "Them," but then it goes into the present time and after that it's pretty much a chronological thing. Eleanor had two flashbacks isn't "Her," and in "Them" it became one because the flashbacks weren't necessary anymore. In the "Her" version, they show who Conor was and what her feelings were for him, because he doesn't appear very often in that movie. In "Them," they don't serve the same purpose; you can cut to Conor and see who he is, because he's right there.
And, regarding the supporting characters:
For me, the most interesting thing about doing [the three versions] is what happens to the supporting characters. I love the way that Jess Wexler [Katy] or Bill Hader [Stu] or Ciaran Hinds [Spencer] have this incredible purpose in the separate movies, because they're really contributing to the depth of our understanding of Conor or Eleanor. Like if you saw "Her" first, Hader would appear as a much more mysterious [read: absent] character, but when you see "Him," it's established right at the top that he's Conor's best friend.
Stu survives pretty well into Them, Katy is a definite but diminished presence in Them. Separate from the two intended films, the thing I think is a big loss is Spencer's presence. In Them you see him in what? Three scenes. He's like an old itch in Conor's life come back to haunt him briefly. But, in Him, he's got a lot more screentime, a lot more import. We see Stu a little more in Him than in Them but most of his characterization remains intact. You could mostly say the same for Katy. She has a lot less screentime in Them than she does in Her but her character isn't lost too much. (She's gone from Him entirely, though.) Even her relationship with Eleanor remains mostly intact. On the other hand, Spencer's relationship with Conor is a very different beast in Him than we get to see it as in Them. Like me, Boden misses "a lot of Hinds' scenes" in Them. Eleanor's parents--Julian and Mary--don't lose much screentime between Her and Them but they are virtually absent from Him but for Conor's scene with Mary. Lillian also loses very little screentime between Her and Them but she is virtually absent from Him.
And, I realize that may sound confusing to anyone who hasn't seen the movies. But, think about it this way: think of a good friend of yours. Maybe they post pictures on Facebook with another friend, one they are really close to, but you know absolutely nothing about that person. It's like that. A degree or two of separation and some people become meaningless but they might be the deuteragonist in your good friend's story. That is, like Lillian here, who appears in the background of one scene in Conor's version of events, is a rather vital throughline (and maybe lifeline) for Eleanor. Conor wouldn't know that, so Him cannot acknowledge it. Similarly, all Eleanor knows about what's currently happening with Stu or with Spencer (or Alexis for that matter) is what she gets from that one scene at the bar and one conversation with Conor (in which he doesn't tell her much). So, it would not make sense for those characters to remain in Her. They're supporting characters in someone else's story. Literally.
The final bit from that Indiewire piece that I think is worth sharing is that Boden, asked about deciding which version of the shared scenes to put into Them isn't actually sure which version of the final apartment scene went into the movie. She guesses Her (and she's right, but I had to actually doublecheck on that one). The roadtrip scene was taken from Him because it gives us more time of Conor and Eleanor together. Which means, Her quite deliberately shortens that sequence. Just as Her leaves out the dine and dash bit from the opening sequence of the other two versions. When we do get a flashback to the end of that sequence, we start basically where that version left off and move beyond it. This means that the only time we see Eleanor actually being energetic is when she goes to the club with her sister and leaves with a stranger. Eleanor, then, in Her is an even more sedate, and presumably contemplative, than her Them counterpart. Also, unless you see Her first, you probably like Eleanor a little more. She's flirty and a little more likable in the Him version of that roadtrip.
One more time with The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, going back to Them tomorrow. I have been tempted to cancel my other blog plans for this month and just stick with this movie and its versions for the whole month. Then, I could probably find the time to really break down not just the obvious differences in those shared scenes but the more subtle stuff, get past dialogue and costume and deal with differences in pacing, framing, lighting, and break down the acting choices. But, I think ten days with this film is enough. I've had my tangents, personal and otherwise. I've dealt with the big differences between the films and what they say about their characters. I could certainly manage more days. If I can do 365 days in a row of Groundhog Day, I can manage just about anything.
(I don't mean that as negatively as it may read. I was sorting through some sources for my master's thesis today and I found this article about The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project in which Lawrence Dai says Julie & Julia is "just awful. It's just god awful. I feel like if you watch any movie as many times as I watched 'Julie & Julia,' you'll grow to just hate it." There were moments where I probably would have rather done anything else but watch Groundhog Day during my year with it, but I don't hate that movie. I don't think that it is"god awful." Of course, it had a headstart over Julie & Julia by just being a much better movie outright. So, there's that. When I return to Groundhog Day each month, I don't dread it. Admittedly, sometimes I barely notice it anymore as those days often end up being recap days. Familiarity has not bred contempt for me. It has bred a mild sort of blindness. Groundhog Day is like a part of me. I don't notice my foot much either unless it, like, hurts. Doesn't mean it isn't important to me, or that I don't have more still to say about it. Groundhog Day, I mean. Not my foot. I have no real interest in writing about my foot.)
I wish there were more movies like this one where the intention was multiple versions. And, I don't mean that the filmmakers knew there would be a director's cut later. (And, I don't have time to rewatch the Lord of the Rings films, for example, every day in the near future.) I had an idea for a story--I imagined it, ostensibly as a TV series; in retrospect, it's the kind of limited series structure that would do well on Netflix or Amazon... Anyway, I had an idea for a story several years back in which all the episodes took place at the same time, give or take. Somewhere in each episode, the characters would end up in this particular location--I think the initial concept involved a bar, though that briefly turned into a liquor store or a bank being robbed (the not-long-for-television series The Nine hit on that latter notion a bit)--but the various plots would show us those characters before they got there, and follow them after. Ultimately--and this was before Lost existed--it would have probably felt a bit like Lost. Not the confusing (for a lot of people, but not me) mythology, but the interconnectedness of the characters, how all of their paths crossed in the past, how their lives are wrapped up in each other's in the present, and (despite my abhorrence for the finale) how they will remain stuck in each other's lives into the future. In terms of that future bit, it would have been more like that aforementioned The Nine... which if you don't know, followed the survivors of a hostage taking at a bank as they tried to get back into their normal lives. I've also imagined a show set in a sort of gas station/diner out on a highway someplace, where people come in and go out and the only regulars are the people who work there and it's like Nightmare Cafe or The Booth at the End but without the supernatural, instead just a conversations-with-strangers setup where you'd just get these one-off characters that had to be complete with very little screentime. But, when all I had for my own writing was typing away at stories (in whatever format) at home, these were stories I couldn't really write myself. That last one, for example, I imagined the guest actor being heavily involved in creating the character.
And, now I'm rambling. My point is that I wish there were more movies like this, interacting with one another rather than one-upping each other (as director's cuts or uncut versions do). Also, I wish that two of the other movies I had considered watching this month were more readily available. Or more cheaply available. As is, the plan is three movies this month. Each one has multiple versions. The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby was movie #1. Movie #2--it's more different cuts of the same film, not all different versions trying to do different things. Movie #3--it's somewhere in between.
Or maybe I'll just watch The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby all month, cycle through the three versions and use it as an excuse to go off on personal tangents like my marriage, my divorce, my old story ideas. That might actually be more fun.