Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Regarding George Lucas, Episode II: How He Challenged Us

As I stated in my last post, George Lucas has lost a great deal of love.  At the same time, however, he's also challenged us in certain ways.  Many subscribe to the auteur theory - perhaps a bit too much.  There are critics who often specifically associate a movie to its director, for example, "Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver" instead of just "Taxi Driver."  There are some who believe that a director should get final say on "their" movie.  The term "Director's Cut" is a label often added to movies on home video and in re-release with the implication that this version is superior to what was originally released theatrically.  George Lucas is credited as having wrote and directed the first Star Wars movie from 1977, and is therefore credited with having created the franchise, a franchise he controlled for decades until he recently sold it to Disney.

With the Special Editions, Lucas has challenged us on whether or not it's okay for the "creator" to constantly alter what they created in order to bring it closer to what they claim they originally intended.  With the prequels, Lucas has challenged us on the notion of just how much control the director should be allowed to have on "their" movies.  After the prequels, there were those who claimed that Lucas worked better in the '70s specifically because he didn't have final say on everything.

In 1988, George Lucas had this to say about the colourization of black and white movies (quote taken from

"My name is George Lucas.  I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd., a multifaceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation.  I've come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage.  It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg.  American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined.  If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain.  American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.  The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as 'when life begins' or 'when it should be appropriately terminated,' but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart.  Creative expression is at the core of our humanness.  Art is a distinctly human endeavor.  We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning.  Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder.  Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with 'fresher faces,' or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match.  It will soon be possible to create a new 'original' negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires.  The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control.  In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be 'replaced' by new altered negatives.  This would be a great loss to our society.  Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.  I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public's interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests.  And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient.  That's an outrage!  It's not sufficient!  If it were sufficient, why would I be here?  Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of 'The Maltese Falcon?'  Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures.  Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art--as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities."

Considering what Lucas has done with Star Wars since then, the above statement is very ironic.  So is Lucas testing us?  Trying to see how many of us are true cinephiles?  When forcing the Special Editions on us, making them the only legal and commercial way to watch the Star Wars trilogy, would we collectively say "no" and refuse to buy these new "butchered" versions?  Or would we tell ourselves it's not that important, and vote with our wallets that what Lucas has done is okay?

Assuming the Special Editions are inferior to the original versions, have people who bought the Special Editions rationalized doing so by claiming that George Lucas isn't just a "copyright holder," but the "creator," and is therefore not only entitled, but right to alter "his" movies this way?  As a side note, Harry Knowles of Ain't it Cool News believed that Lucas was testing us, trying to find out how many of us really cared.  Of course, Knowles went ahead and bought the new Special Edition Blu-ray set anyway.  Also, of course, the Special Editions made a lot of money, both in theatres and on home video, indicating that if Lucas was indeed testing us, we have failed miserably.

Maybe Lucas really has stopped caring.  Or perhaps in his mind, Lucas is only preserving what he believes to be the "true" versions of Star Wars.

Can Lucas really be regarded as the one true "creator" of Star Wars?  Movies as big as Star Wars are actually created by many people.  How much input did performers like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, or Alec Guinness have in making those movies?  What about Gary Kurtz?  How would Return of the Jedi, or the prequels, have turned out had Kurtz stayed on as producer?  What about the cinematographer, not to mention the people who worked on the special effects, whose work is being overwritten with CGI?  Do they not fit in the role of "creator?"

And is Star Wars even worth defending?  These movies are traditionally regarded as children's films, so does caring about their preservation count as regressive and immature?  Apparently, at one point a fan asked Lucas why he wasn't willing to commercially release the original editions.  In response, Lucas supposedly rolled his eyes and replied, "Grow up.  These are my movies."  Is it out of line for fans to be outraged by this?  In the previous paragraph, I brought up the question of who does Star Wars really belong to.  George can say, "These are my movies," but if that's his attitude, then why did he bother releasing them in any form to the public at all, and why did he continue to do so?  He obviously cares about the commercial appeal of his work.  He clearly wouldn't enjoy the success he's had for over three-and-a-half decades without the fans, so what's our stake in this?

Are movies in general even worth all this?  If what was done with Star Wars was done with High Holy Works of Art like Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia, would it then be okay for us to collectively lose our shit?  Why are there people who claim to cherish this medium so much?  Yes, some are inspired to do great things by movies, but some are inspired to do terrible things too, and for most people, movies are just ephemeral entertainment.  If movies are so great, are most of us just too small-minded and/or dimwitted to see that greatness?  Or is that "greatness" just more overblown hype, like when some forgettable summer blockbuster is marketed as "the movie event of the year?"  Whether by accident or by design, these are some of the questions George Lucas has raised.

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