Last year, the demand to see edited movies at Brigham Young University's Varsity Theater was so strong that students who lined up before noon for a nighttime screening were limited to purchasing just six tickets each.
But starting Tuesday, BYU students might not even show up at the Varsity Theater at all because the LDS Church-owned university will discontinue its longtime practice of showing edited films."Discussions with suppliers of films and film companies have made it clear that BYU will not be able to secure formal approval to continue editing films," according to a statement issued by administrators through BYU spokeswoman Carri P. Jenkins.
This week, Hollywood producers of Academy Award-winning "Titanic" ordered an American Fork theater to stop showing edited versions of the James Cameron blockbuster.
BYU's policy of showing edited movies has been under review for about six months, and university officials insist they aren't just making a knee-jerk reaction to the flap between Paramount and Towne Cinema.
But the opposition to Towne Cinema's plan to cut nudity and a love scene from "Titanic" encouraged BYU to institute its new policy now rather than wait until fall semester begins in September, when administrators planned to announce it.
"Maybe there's an opportunity for a new kind of theater in town," Jenkins said, suggesting the Varsity Theater might turn to classics instead of edited versions of films like "A Time to Kill" and James Bond's "GoldenEye."
BYU officials point out that movie classics seem to be making a comeback, both on video and in new theaters dedicated just to showing oldies. But the question remains whether BYU students will prefer to stay on campus to watch Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon" or drive across town to see Tom Hanks' performance as a World War II soldier in R-rated "Saving Private Ryan."
In January, BYU decided it wouldn't show Steven Spielberg's "Amistad," which depicts a deadly slave mutiny aboard a 19th century Spanish ship. About the same time, BYU received a letter from one of the film companies requesting that its movies no longer be edited.
At that point, the Varsity Theater pulled many of the edited R- and PG-rated movies from its winter semester schedule while Student Life Vice President Alton L. Wade engaged in discussions with film producers and distributors about editing movies to BYU standards. Although BYU may have been able to continue the practice unofficially, Hollywood refused to grant permission for cutting certain scenes or offensive words.
But rather than run the risk of offending a filmmaker administrators decided to simply discontinue the wildly popular but problematic editing of films.
"We have always been very open with the various distributors about our practice of showing edited films," Jenkins said. "The reason for recent discussions was to gain formal approval (from producers)."
The Varsity Theater sparked a controversy in 1994 when it scheduled Spielberg's "Schindler's List" but then decided not to show the Holocaust movie because the school was denied permission to edit out depictions of nudity and violence.
After that flap, the theater discontinued showing edited R-rated movies for several months, but a student-initiated survey found that nearly 90 percent of BYU students wanted the edited movies to return.
Soon after, the Varsity once again employed a committee to review and edit films. The theater in the past also has shown versions of movies edited for viewing on airlines. In those, the cuts are made not by those who are going to show the film but by those who made it.
But now, the edited films appear gone for good. A committee likely will continue to screen films to decide which ones can be shown at the Varsity Theater, although the exact process has yet to be determined, Jenkins said.