Friday, December 24, 2010


Knowing that it would drive me over the precipice, a friend recently sent me a link to an article published in The Mail in which Mel Smith talked about George Lucas' plans for the future:

"He’s been buying up the film rights to dead movie stars in the hope of using computer trickery to put them all together in a movie, so you’d have Orson Welles and Barbara Stanwyck appear alongside today’s stars."

This really isn't entirely new. People have speculated on this possibility for a number of years. It's even been tried, though fortunately without much success.

"Laurence Olivier" in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
Laurence Olivier died on July 11, 1989. Fifteen years later, he also (digitally) starred in "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." Leaving the theatre after seeing this movie, I felt it was an appalling misuse of technology, that it desecrated the memory of a great actor who cared immensely about his work by using his image and voice to create a performance over which he had no control. Olivier's extraordinary dedication to the craft of acting was well documented over the years. He famously worked for over a year to lower his voice from its natural tenor range to a baritone because Orson Welles had jokingly told him he should never play Othello, that the music of the character's lines needed a baritone's voice - and Olivier agreed!

A year after the debacle of Sky Captain, Rob Cohen promised (threatened) us with a new film, aptly titled Rage and Fury, starring Bruce Lee. Rage and fury should have been the fans' reaction to the news of this impending disaster when the director first announced the project back in 2006.

So while the concept may not be new, the fact that one man is currently stockpiling the rights to the names, faces and voices of defenseless, deceased actors for future misuse left me, as I'm certain my friend knew, apoplectic.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not the digital manipulation to which I object. Loads of actors have lent their images and voices to video game manufacturers. Living actors, who agree to this being done and share in the economic rewards and who, presumably, have some input as to the results. If Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone are willing to agree to this, that's fine. But when the heirs to a deceased actor fatten their wallets by pimping out the memory of their relatives, this techno-necrophilia is just wrong on so many levels. 

Besides creating a "performance" over which the "actor" has no control, it denies work to a living actor, an actor who could add something to the director's vision by creating something that goes beyond what the director had seen in his imagination. This is precisely why the best directors universally admit that the single most important choice they make during the production process is casting.

Screenwriters have long railed against the "auteur" theory, which gives the director all of the credit for the content of a film. This technology will give the director total control over the performers as well, something that I would suggest no GOOD director would want. In the nearly-a-century that the film industry has existed, the best directors have always acknowledged the contributions of their collaborators, the happy accident of a talented actor's inspiration.

What's next? When do we program a robot to emulate the work of Michaelangelo, Van Gough, Picasso, and tell all of the world's struggling artists to give up and find something else to do with their lives? Or a computer program that will write like Hemingway or Shakespeare so no aspiring writers ever need to commit word to paper?

More than any other artform, filmmaking is a collaborative medium. Placing all of the creative process in the hands of only one individual will intrinsically diminish the quality of resulting piece of art, or, in Lucas' case, product. It is a disgusting illustration of the man's egomania that he would even consider doing this. Lucas may have purchased the "legal" right to use the images of dead actors, but he has not acquired either the artistic or the moral right to use this technology.

I don't expect Hollywood to allow questions of good taste to get in the way of making a buck. It's up to us, the ticket buyers. Nothing short of a total boycott of any film using this technology will appease the wrath of Raging Pride!

(This above image is a screenshot from a copyrighted film, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by the studio which produced the film, and possibly also by the actor appearing in the screenshot. It is believed that the use of a limited number of web-resolution screenshots for critical commentary and discussion of the film and its contents qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.)

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