The Role of the Artist Relative to Society

  • Posted on: 16 September 2011
  • By: Jay Oyster

Star Wars Original Trilogy DVD box setYou know, I'm one of the few people who never bought the Star Wars movies on DVD. I don' t know, at the time they came out, I had seen them enough and didn't need to see them again. But now I have a 5 year old son, and it's getting on to the time when I need to introduce him to the cultural touchstones of this time and place. So I've been thinking of getting the Star Wars Blue Ray set (the original trilogy, why would ANYONE bother with the new trilogy?). But now the reviews are out, and George Lucas has schmucked it up again. The whole thing with Gredo and Han Solo, the digital creatures inserted for the DVDs, the lousy color correction and horrible black levels of the original digital transfer. Evidently, it's all still there, and now with more revisionistic crappola that only late-in-life George Lucas can get away with.

At some point, an artist's work no longer belongs to him. (This isn't about copyright, although Disney and his damned mouse have a lot to answer for there, too.) No, this is about the emotions of a work that's put out into the world, allowed to touch people on deep emotional levels, and then taken away. And when next you see it, it's been repainted. It's as if Leonardo Da Vinci came back today and gave the Mona Lisa a nice big grin, because the ambiguity of that smile didn't go over well with some focus groups.

I've had this same feeling about the rights of a director to 'redo' his film after the release ever since the re-release of Blade Runner in the 90s made it explicit that Decker was supposed to be a replicant. I wrote at the time, with some heat, that this was a TERRIBLE idea. The contrast of Decker to the replicant's hopes, strengths, and fears was what made that film soar. To turn what had been a really amazing philosophical meditation on what it is to be human into a stupid parlor trick of a film ("Oooo, guess who's actually a REPLICANT!") was artistically criminal.

But we live in the age where the rights of intellectual property trump all other rights. What ever happened to the idea that works must eventually pass into the public domain, not only so they can be available for free, but also so some copies can be protected from the meddling of the artist.