Is ‘Margaret’ the great lost American movie of the past decade?

Coming into focus; finally audiences will get to judge for themselves… but not on Blu-Ray or streaming.

A few weeks back a story in the New York Times Magazine (“Kenneth Lonergan’s Thwarted Masterpiece”) shed some much-needed light on the tortured history behind Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan’s long-delayed follow-up to his much-admired You Can Count on Me (2000). Shot way back in 2005, and starring Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo, Margaret suffered the kind of epic behind-the-scenes battle between director and producer — resulting in a botched theatrical release — that used to befall ambitious filmmakers in Hollywood with dismaying regularity.

Writer-director Lonergan’s cut of the movie ran three hours; a meddling producer demanded a cut closer to two hours; the distributor Fox Searchlight mandated a version that ran no longer than 150 minutes. After years of lawsuits and countersuits, Martin Scorsese was even brought in, and working for free he turned in a 160-minute edit. Finally a 150-minute version was unceremoniously dumped in a few theatres last fall, and a handful of critics lucky enough to see it sniffed out potential greatness, if only some of the later scenes didn’t seem weirdly truncated…

The DVD/Blu-Ray combo, with different edits.

The good news is that Lonergan’s preferred 186-minute edit is now available… sort of. It’s as if Fox Searchlight is determined to create maximum confusion and irritation about the DVD and online release of Margaret. The DVD has the 3-hour cut, and the Blu-Ray for some reason has the 150-minute cut. And you have to buy both in a combo set. There’s no other single-disc release, which makes little sense to this writer.

As of this writing, only the 150-minute theatrical cut is streaming on iTunes and Amazon, which I hope will prompt some kind of outcry. Otherwise, people who rely on streaming as their default mode of watching a movie will be getting stuck with the edit that’s a compromised version of what Lonergan intended.

On Tuesday, July 17, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is holding a free screening of the three-hour version, with Lonergan and Anna Paquin slated to attend. Your humble correspondent has reserved a ticket, so stay tuned for a followup on whether Margaret lives up to the mystique that has built up around it.

UPDATE: Margaret turned out to be all that. Click here for more.

Feel free to weigh in