The version of "Ragtime" currently in theaters isn't quite the "Ragtime" that E.L. Doctorow wrote -- in fact, it's missing about half the characters, including the likes of Henry Ford, Sigmund Freud and the central-to-the-book feminist and socialist Emma Goldman.
Clearly, director Milos Forman couldn't have cut between all of Doctorow's characters in the same freewheeling way the book did, so a pruning process has reduced the movie to a couple of main plots and an occasional subplot. Not all of this was done at the scriptwriting stage; lots of footage ended up on the cutting room floor at the last minute, when Paramount told the filmmakers that more than three hours of "Ragtime" was too much.
Among those left grappling with the 11th-hour cuts was Randy Newman, the notoriously slow songwriter who wrote "Ragtime's" lilting score. "They wouldn't give me a final cut to work with," says Newman. "I had sort of a rough cut, because they were late turning in the final cut about six times. I ended up writing music for a version that was 40 or 50 minutes longer than the one we ended up with. Emma Goldman was in there, and I wrote a little bit of source music for her scenes. Houdini was in there at one time, too, but I never even saw him -- they cut him out before they gave anything to me."
And does Newman know why all the cuts were made? "Maybe it was necessity, I don't know. I have no idea, and I'm not much interested in it," he says, before hazarding a wild guess: "Maybe it wouldn't have worked as a film without a coherent kind of story line?"