Yesterday, I re-published a piece that I had written about the true crime of the changes George Lucas has been making to his Star Wars films. My focus was not, as many have done, placed on the changes themselves, but on the fact that Lucas refuses to properly preserve, restore and release the original cuts. I said, in somewhat melodramatic terms, that George Lucas actions are synonymous with the destruction of art and that anyone who enables him at this point by purchasing the new Blu-ray release is contributing to that destruction.
Some of you would say that I was being a little bit more than somewhat melodramatic. You’d say that my statements went way too far and took the films and the medium way too seriously.
Luckily, I’ve found one person who does fully agree with my point of view. His name is 1988 George Lucas. Amidst all the hullaballoo over Lucas adding the worst part of Revenge of the Sith to the best part of Return of the Jedi, /Film published a transcript of George Lucas’ March 3rd, 1988 testimony to Congress regarding the importance of preserving films and preventing damaging alterations.
I think the whole speech is pretty damning, but there are a number of choice quotes that I’d like to highlight.
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.
So, here is the first wrinkle. It’s a big one. Lucas, in this speech, is not arguing against an author altering his own work, but of non-authorial copyright-holders making such alterations. Maybe Lucas thinks that authors are exempt from his criticisms, but I think the prescience of Lucas’ words in the rest of the speech are telling.
I will also point out that, whether you think Lucas is being hypocritical or not, 1988 George Lucas definitely had a passion for the importance of original works of art being of the utmost importance to our cultural heritage. This importance and responsibility is presumably there whether or not the author has control over his work.
Also, an argument could be made that if the artistic author of a film is its director, then in the case of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Lucas is simply a copyright-holder. He did not direct either of those films, and thus should not be allowed to alter them. But that’s really splitting hairs.
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.
And the big point #1 against 2011 George Lucas. This is a point that I have made and that many others have been making over the years. Copyright law is not there to give an artist full, unending control over his art. It’s there to allow control in the early stages, when the artwork’s place in culture is still tenuous, as well as allowing the author to profit from his work as best as possible in the initial stages. Just as drug patents eventually expire and become public domain for the good of humanity, so it is with art. 1988 George Lucas clearly understood this.
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.
You thought I was being melodramatic? 1988 George Lucas is calling out those who would destroy art and cultural legacy as “barbarians”! I completely agree, and I’m glad he agrees, as well. Lucas is making the argument that art is one of the great human endeavours, and as such must be protected from those who would damage it. It is a sad society which does not cherish and protect its artistic and cultural heritage.
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.
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.
What 1988 George Lucas says here so eloquently is precisely what I wrote about in my original piece. I am not opposed to alterations in principle, its the fact that it would be very easy for the altered versions to become the only versions. And notice, though Lucas doesn’t exempt authors from this. He is making a broad point about copyright holders altering their films and that creating a situation where the original negatives can be lost or destroyed. Of course, ten years later, George Lucas would be publicly claiming tht he had to go and make alterations directly to the “old” negatives of the original Star Wars films for the Special Editions. Some change of face there, George.
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.
Finally, 1988 George Lucas makes the ultimate point. A point which extends well beyond any possible exemption he could grant himself as the author of his work. George Lucas apparently had an understanding of the importance of legacy way back in 1988. He is railing, and rightly so, against the idea that future generations will only know classic works of art in their altered state.
He argues that future generations have the right to see the old generation as it saw itself, in this case through film.
What happened, George? Why the change of mind? I know you were never totally happy with your films, I get it. When is an artist ever truly finished, right? But at some point you forgot what you stood for. You forgot the passion you had for film as an art form. You forgot the importance of that cultural legacy.
George Lucas has become one of those barbarians he railed against, and if we, as 1988 George Lucas said, “continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.”
From the mouth of the man himself.