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Jean-Luc Godard’s First Film – Une Femme Coquette (1955)

Friday, February 17th, 2017

See Godard’s first film, shot in 1955 – with English subtitles! Click here, or on the image above!!

As Ignatiy Vishnevetsky writes on The AV Club Website, “Une Femme Coquette may not sound like anything special—a 9-minute no-budget short film, shot on a borrowed 16mm camera by a 24-year-old amateur with no formal film school training. But the short . . .  has for decades been a sought-after item for art-house buffs and rare movie fiends.

Filmed in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1955, it was the first attempt at a narrative film by the iconic French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard—a pivotal figure in the evolution of movie style, who would make his feature debut just five years later, with the hugely influential and perennially cool Breathless.

Never distributed, Une Femme Coquette has had less than half a dozen public screenings since the 1960s; we were able to track down the only known 16mm print to a national film archive in Europe, where it was being stored unlisted for a private owner, to be loaned out only with the personal permission of Jean-Luc Godard himself.

This makes it the holy grail of the game-changing New Wave era—a film so rare that it has often been listed as lost by biographies and film history books. And it might as well have been. No other surviving narrative film by a major, big-name director has been as difficult to see—until now.

Earlier this week, a copy of Une Femme Coquette surfaced on the digital back channels frequented by obscure movie enthusiasts. An enterprising user named David Heslin has uploaded this rarity of rarities to YouTube, complete with English subtitles.

Credited to ‘Hans Lucas,’ a German pseudonym that the Franco-Swiss Godard would sometimes employ during his brief career as a film critic, Une Femme Coquette was the budding director’s modern update of a Guy De Maupassant short story called ‘The Signal.’

Godard—who makes a cameo around the 2-minute mark, wearing his famous prescription sunglasses—would readapt the story as an Ingmar Bergman parody for the film-within-the-film portion of his 1966 feature Masculin Féminin.

While nothing is known about Une Femme Coquette’s lead actress, Maria Lysandre, the man on the park bench is played by Roland Tolmatchoff (credited as ‘Roland Tolma’), a cinephile and car dealer with whom Godard maintained a friendship for years, and who loaned many of the convertibles memorably featured in the director’s 1960s films.”

An amazing discovery – click here and see for yourself!

The Met Goes Digital!

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has more than 400,000 images free for download for non-commercial use.

As the museum’s website notes, “Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use—including in scholarly publications in any media—without permission from the Museum and without a fee. The number of available images will increase as new digital files are added on a regular basis.

In making the announcement, Campbell said: ‘Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain. I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection.’

The Metropolitan Museum’s initiative—called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC)—provides access to images of art in its collection that the Museum believes to be in the public domain and free of other known restrictions; these images are now available for scholarly use in any media. Works that are covered by the new policy are identified on the Museum’s website (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections) with the acronym OASC.

Certain works are not available through the initiative for one or more of the following reasons: the work is still under copyright, or the copyright status is unclear; privacy or publicity issues; the work is owned by a person or an institution other than the Metropolitan Museum; restrictions by the artist, donor, or lender; or lack of a digital image of suitable quality.

OASC was developed as a resource for students, educators, researchers, curators, academic publishers, non-commercial documentary filmmakers, and others involved in scholarly or cultural work. Prior to the establishment of OASC, the Metropolitan Museum provided images upon request, for a fee, and authorization was subject to terms and conditions.

A related blog post by Sree Sreenivasan, the Met’s Chief Digital Officer, about the Metropolitan Museum’s new OASC policy can be found at http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/museum-departments/office-of-the-director/digital-media-department/digital-underground/2014/image-use-policy. Additional information and instructions can also be found at http://www.metmuseum.org/research/image-resources/frequently-asked-questions.”

For more details, click here, or on the image above; an incredible free resource is now available to all.

New Video: Jacket

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

I have a new video in collaboration with artist Klaus Hausmann: click here, or above, to see it.

This is the sort of collaboration that could only happen in the digital era; Hausmann lives in Germany, and posted an 11 second version of this video on a video sharing website I sometimes visit. I expanded on the existing video, added the track, and voila – a collaboration that crosses borders, space and time with impunity.

As I wrote in the brief description for the video, “is it a jacket, or a straitjacket – it’s hard to tell.” Hausmann’s struggle to get the jacket on in the proper fashion – aided and sometimes thwarted by stop motion videography – is a metaphor for the knotty situations we sometimes find ourselves in, and triumph anyway.

If you like Jacket, check out some of my other videos by clicking here.

Pioneering Video Artist Lillian Schwartz

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Lillian Schwartz is a pioneering video artist, who is only now getting the attention she deserves.

As Wikipedia notes, “Lillian Schwartz (born 1927) is a 20th-century American artist considered a pioneer of computer-mediated art and one of the first artists notable for basing almost her entire oeuvre on computational media. Many of her ground-breaking projects were done in the 1960s and 1970s, well before the desktop computer revolution made computer hardware and software widely available to artists . . .

As a young girl during the Great Depression, Schwartz experimented with slate, mud, sticks, and chalk as free materials for making art. She studied to become a nurse under a World War II education program and later on found her training in anatomy, biology, and the use of plaster valuable in making art. Stationed in Japan during the postwar occupation in an area between Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she contracted polio, which paralyzed her for a time. As part of her rehabilitation, she studied calligraphy with the artist Tshiro . . .

By 1966, Schwartz had begun working with light boxes and mechanical devices like pumps, and she became a member of the Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) group that brought together artists and engineers as collaborators. In 1968 her kinetic sculpture Proxima Centauri was included in the important early show of machine art at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, entitled ‘The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age’ . . .

Schwartz was brought into Bell Labs in 1968 by Leon Harmon. While there, she worked with engineers John Vollaro and others, including extensive collaboration with Ken Knowlton, a software engineer and computer artist who had also had work in the 1968 Museum of Modern Art show. She began making paintings and films with a combination of hand painting, digital collaging, computer and other image processing, and optical post-processing . . .

Schwartz used the works of Leonardo da Vinci extensively in experiments with computers. One notable work she created is Mona/Leo, for which she compared the image of a Leonardo da Vinci self-portrait with the Mona Lisa, matching the two faces feature by feature to show their underlying structural similarity. Specifically, she replaced the right side of the Mona Lisa with the flipped left side of a red chalk self-portrait of Leonardo.

Superimposed lines drawn on the image showing the close alignments of the bottom of the eye, eyebrow, nose and chin prompted her to argue that the Mona Lisa is in part a cryptic self-portrait of the artist. In further experiments along these lines, she removed the gray tones in Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait and superimposed the Mona Lisa eye over it.

Schwartz has been called a pioneer in ‘establishing computers as a valid and fruitful artistic medium’ by physicist and Nobel laureate Arno Penzias and a trailblazer and virtuoso by the philosopher-artist Timothy Binkley.Her films have been included in the Venice Biennale and the Cannes Film Festival, among many others, and have received numerous awards. Among these is an Academy Award (with Ed Emshwiller) in 1980 for special effects on the film The Lathe of Heaven. In the 1980s, a computer-generated TV spot that she created for the newly renovated Museum of Modern Art in New York won an Emmy Award.

Schwartz’s artworks have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Moderna Museet (Stockholm), Centre Beauborg (Paris), Stedlijk Museum of Art (Amsterdam), the Grand Palais Museum (Paris), and at numerous galleries and festivals worldwide.

Schwartz has been a visiting member of the Computer Science Department at the University of Maryland; an adjunct professor at the Kean College, Fine Arts Department; an adjunct professor at Rutgers University’s Visual Arts Department; an adjunct professor at the Psychology Department of the School of Arts and Sciences, New York University; and a Member of the Graduate Faculty of The School of Visual Arts, NYC. She has also been an Artist in Residence at Channel 13, WNET, New York. She has been a fellow of the World Academy of Science and Art since 1988.”

This is just a brief overview of Schwartz’s work as an artist; still very active with a gallery show at the prestigious Capri Gallery in Germany running through the end of March, 2017 (click here for full details), she is also the subject of an excellent short documentary on her life and work, which can be found by clicking here, made just before her 87th birthday. Direct, unpretentious, and absolutely determined, Schwartz has too long labored in the shadows of the art world, when her prodigious accomplishments clearly place her in the absolute vanguard of computer and video art.

I thank Gwendolyn Audrey Foster for introducing me to Schwartz’s work; see more by clicking here.

Glenn Kenny: “Is Watching a Movie on a Phone Really So Bad?”

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

Glenn Kenny of The New York Times has an interesting take on cellphone film viewing.

As he writes, “‘People who watch movies on phones (especially if they think they can leave valid critical comments on imdb) should be shot,” the critic Anne Billson declared on Twitter in mid-December. I quote her not to scold her, or to hold her to her word, but to underscore that passions in the format-platform controversies run high.

I’ve already cited, in my first installment of this column, David Lynch’s condemnation — more than a decade old — of The Very Idea of Watching a Movie on a Phone. Over the century-plus of cinema, new ways of watching movies have made film folk antsy. In a sense, it’s the one thing that the money guys and the creatives have fretted over in more or less equal measure. Steven Spielberg was initially wary of having his works put on home video, grumbling about movie theaters being sacred spaces and such.

Martin Scorsese had more optimism, writing in 1989: ‘[H]aving instant access to movies, being able to pick something up and show it at the drop of a hat, is great.’ Much of the work of his nonprofit restoration and preservation concern the Film Foundation is made available on home video, with high-definition formats preferred.

Still, smartphone movie-watching is for many a kind of line in the sand, albeit one that streaming services are obliged to ignore. The whole point of a streaming service is that it makes content available to watch on a panoply of devices, from a big-screen display to a tablet or Nook or Kindle or Galaxy or iPhone. I recently got my first iPhone, largely to put a bunch of streaming services on it (also because I was getting sick of everybody asking me ‘Why do you still have a BlackBerry?’), and dove in.

I thought it would be interesting to watch some 100-year-old Charlie Chaplin pictures on the device. After all, when Chaplin was making his shorts for Keystone and Essanay in the early 20th century, they were not necessarily projected in the cathedrals Mr. Spielberg once spoke of but in intimate, barely appointed nickelodeon theaters and in shortened versions made for penny-in-the-slot single-viewer Mutoscope machines . . .

The Criterion Channel, a part of the new streaming service FilmStruck, offers Chaplin shorts in batches, each a feature-length compilation from a particular period, and nicely restored. They look great on an iPhone — their black-and-white and sometimes sepia tones are nice and crisp, and the action is more than coherent. At 14 or so minutes a short, they’re well-suited to the contracted attention span that holding an iPhone in one’s hand tends to encourage.”

It’s an interesting hypothesis, but I have to disagree, simply quoting the director Roy Ward Baker, who summed up the issue for me, and I think for many others, when he told me in an interview at his London home late one afternoon, shortly before his death, that “one can inspect a film on DVD, but you can’t experience it.” Baker, of course, directed the best movie about the Titanic disaster, A Night to Remember (1958), and had just come from a theatrical screening of the film, as part of a retrospective of his work.

“It just hit me with such impact” he told me. “I’ve seen it many times on television, and thought to myself, ‘that’s a good movie,’ but it didn’t really hit me with same impact as when I first made it until I saw it again in its proper aspect ratio, on a large screen, with an appreciative audience [another thing – and not a small matter either – that’s missing with the cellphone experience].” Of course, our conversation took place long before the advent of the cellphone and video streaming, but the basic concept is still the same – small screen vs. the real thing.

Want a quick viewing of a film? By all means, use a cellphone or whatever else is handy. Want to really see the film? There’s only one way; in a proper theatrical setting, with an audience, in the proper aspect ratio, on a big screen – the format that the movies were designed for. Thomas Edison, as Kenny points out elsewhere in his article, was against theatrical motion picture projection, but since the inception of the cinema, films have been made to be screened in large, theatrical format.

On a cellphone, you’re just getting a fraction of the actual experience.

The HearteartH 2016 International Videoart Project

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Here’s a great chance to see some bleeding edge video art- work you can’t see anyplace else.

Gwendolyn Audrey Foster and Wheeler Winston Dixon’s videos The Gaia Triptych and Human Scale are being screened as part of the HearteartH 2016 International Videoart Project, curated by Sonia Armaniaco and Maria Korporal, at the website <www.visualcontainer.tv>, January 13 – February 15, 2017. You can see the entire program – which runs several hours – by clicking here, or on the image above.

As the group’s website notes, “HearteartH is a collective project for artists and media makers ideated by video artists Sonia Armaniaco and Maria Korporal. The concept took life from these two interlocking words: HEART and EARTH. The strong symbolism of the two words, which are inevitably associated with life, has a strong pull. One is drawn into it. In the almost fateful dependence of these terms of one another, they seem inextricably linked together, even permanently, forever.

The assembly of Heart and Earth in the title, in one word, follows this substantive consequence. The nearly identical letters gives the impression of an anagram, and so the title gets something of a magic spell from which we cannot escape. Due to the large H at the beginning and end of the word, the title sounds as a breath. Heartearth is so an unlimited ongoing project, as well as the topic has no end, ‘life goes on’, ‘the earth continues to rotate.’ In this doubling of the word is a power that can give life.

As Life is always looking for additions and adjustments, Art as well has the force to open new viewpoints and new feelings about this peculiar theme; Art which is so close and yet so far away, and which can be so beautiful and at the same time frightening. Or Art could provide an opportunity to think about it.”

Videos In The Program:

Alessandra Arnò: Earth, 3:14
Alessandro Amaducci: Bloodstream, 7:15
Alessandro Amaducci: A Tell-Tale Heart, 3:31
Abdoul-Ganiou Dermani: “Ega” (Money), 1:36.
Aliénor Vallet: Horizon Vert Azur (Green Azure Horizon), 5:00.
Andrew Payne: Moon and cloud movements 3 , 1:00.
Angiola Bonanni: Love Woes, 12:05.
Annique Delphine: Plethora, 3:21.
Barbara Brugola: Lapse of View, 3:19.
Barbara Wolters: Intervention, 2:58.
Brian Kane: Being Human: Al Design, 2:42.
Bunker Media: Earth, 2:10
claRa apaRicio yoldi: Zoom in, 3:19.
Damira Piližota: Hurry, 1:03.
Daniel Ivan: Haiku, 5:05.
Eija Temisevä: Searching for Sense, 4:58.
Eija Temisevä: Vitality of a tree, 3:15.
Eleonora Manca: METAMOR(pH), 4:11.
Eleonora Manca: I Sing The Body Electric_Psyché, 1:26.
Erick Tapia: TERRITORIUM, 3:25.
Florent Texier: Les Vapeurs (The Steams), 2:11.
Fran Orallo: Vulcano, 4:08.
Fran Orallo: Beats, 4:30.
Gaetano Maria Mastrocinque: Argille, 5:48.
Gisela Weimann: Welt in Flammen – World in Flames – Monde en Flammes, 11:37.
Gwendolyn Audrey Foster: Virtual Gallery – The Gaia Triptych, 1:14.
Heli Ström: Refuge, 3:00.
Irina Gabiani: Neither a beginning nor an end, 1:40.
Irina Gabiani: I don’t think you can, 3:43.
Isabelle Hayeur: Pulse, 3:00.
JfR (Jean-Francois Réveillard): BREATH, 2:00.
Johanna Speidel: The Mirror, 5:26.
Jukka-Pekka Jalovaara: K.E.R.O.S.E.N.E poems from the planet, 7:08.
Kim Dotty Hachmann & Ginny Sykes: Healing Grounds, 3:38.
Larry Wang: All is Serene, 1:18.
Larry Wang: BARCODE, 2:17.
Laura Focarazzo: Hunting, 6:15.
Lino Strangis: Metaphysical Orogeny, 7:44.
Lotte Geeven: The sound of the earth, 1:14.
Maria Koehne: Standing Still, 5:44.
Maria (Felix) Korporal: Underwater Desert, 2:35.
Mariangela Ferraris aka MaryMee: .flow, 00:59.
Mariangela Ferraris aka MaryMee: 01.Hello World!, 01:49.
Mariel Gottwick: Meine Weltshow, 8:00.
Miriam Dessì: Fertilia, 4:59.
Mr. Armtone: Mistabishi – Druggers End (Mr. Armtone Video-Edit), 3:24.
Murat Sayginer: Volans, 2:33.
Myriam Thyes: Global Vulva, 6:20.
Paolo Bandinu: No Country, 2:21.
Pèninsolar: Under The Hanoi Monorail, 4:47.
s-ara (Sandra Araújo): Rio-me porque és da aldeia e vieste de burro ao baile, 2:53.
Sandra Becker 01: pachamama4.0, 3:11.
Reelvision: acqua vitae, 2:37.
Sarah Wölker: eNe mEne mIlchzahN, 5:22.
Shivkumar K V: one good cause…, 2:47.
Sonia Laura Armaniaco aka §vonica: GAIA, 3:49.
Sonia Laura Armaniaco aka §vonica: no more UPGRADE , 7:57.
Stephan Groß: Die Liebe in den Zeiten der EU (Love in the time of the EU), 5:57.
Susanne Kunjappu-Jellinek: Heart of RootsEarth of Fruits, 2:47.
Sylviatoyindustries (Sylvia Toy St. Louis): VOICE: A Fly-by on Lyssa’s Maiden Voyage (festival cutting 2), 0:42.
Takehito Etani: Transparent Footprints of Invisible Giants / San Francisco Chapter, 3:27.
TinyarVisuals (Tina Sulc): Illusion of Hydrosphere, 2:52.
Tiziano Bellomi: Winter 2015/2016, 0:51.
Tom Albrecht: Eivergrabung, 3:56.
Vladislav Solovjov: Home, 1:13.
Wheeler Winston Dixon: Human Scale, 4:21.
ydl (Yannick Dangin Leconte): Propagande, 4:44.

Read more about the collective and their work by clicking here: much better than average television!

“Poligrafo Bakarra” – Music Video by Joseba Elorza

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

Here’s a stunning new music video by the Spanish artist Joseba Elorza.

One of the great things about Vimeo is that it allows you to see work by cutting edge visual artists all over the world – not just in the United States and Europe. The image above is taken by from a music video by Joseba Elorza for the band Berri Txarrak (literally “Bad News”), a Spanish rock group that uses the Basque language for all their work. For more examples of Elorza’s work, check out his video demo here.

Elorza has done illustrations for Esquire, TV spots for National Geographic, and numerous video adverts as well, but the deep knowledge of pop culture in this video – check out the clips from such films as The Last Man on Earth, House on Haunted Hill, The Hitch-Hiker, Alias John Preston and others – really takes his work to another dimension. Playful, serious, and endlessly creative, Elorza is clearly a talent to watch – as you can see for yourself.

Check out the video by clicking here, or on the image above.

Everyone Wants To Be A Star!

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

According to an interesting study, everyone wants to be a star – no matter what.

In an intriguing article, “The Rise of Fame: An Historical Content Analysis” by Yalda T. Uhls and Patricia M. Greenfield in Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, the desire for instant fame in teenagers and “tweens” has grown by leaps and bounds since the late 1960s, to the point that notoriety is prized above almost any other value. As the authors write,

“[The] recent proliferation of TV programming for the tween audience is supported on the Internet with advertising, fan clubs, and other online communities. These Internet tools expand TV’s potential influence on human development. Yet little is known about the kinds of values these shows portray. To explore this issue, a new method for conducting content analysis was developed; it used personality indices to measure value priorities and desire for fame in TV programming.

The goal was to document historical change in the values communicated to tween audiences, age 9-11, who are major media consumers and whose values are still being formed. We analyzed the top two tween TV shows in the U.S. once a decade over a time span of 50 years, from 1967 through 2007. Greenfield’s theory of social change and human development served as the theoretical framework; it views technology, as well as urban residence, formal education, and wealth, as promoting individualistic values while diminishing communitarian or familistic ones.

Fame, an individualistic value, was judged the top value in the shows of 2007, up from number fifteen (out of sixteen) in most of the prior decades. In contrast, community feeling was eleventh in 2007, down from first or second place in all prior decades. According to the theory, a variety of sociodemographic shifts, manifest in census data, could be causing these changes; however, because social change in the U.S. between 1997 and 2007 centered on the expansion of communication technologies, we hypothesize that the sudden value shift in this period is technology driven.”

Read the rest of this fascinating article by clicking here, or on the image above.

Restoring Sir Laurence Olivier’s “Richard III” (1955)

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Film restoration is one of the essential tasks for the cinema in the 21st century.

In this brief video, Martin Scorsese takes the viewer through the restoration of Oliver’s classic film Richard III in 2013 for release as a Blu-ray disc from Criterion, one of the masterpieces of cinema, shot in gorgeous Technicolor in the VistaVision process in 1955.

As Scorsese demonstrates in the video, the process to bring the film back to its original splendor was long and painstaking, and not helped by the fact that the film was extensively cut during various re-releases from its original running time. This was all the more problematic since in the film, Olivier used a “long take” strategy that meant that any one shot excised from the film also cut significant sections of Shakespeare’s play.

Then, too, the film was shot on various color stocks, and processed at different labs during its initial production, making the task of restoration all the more difficult, and in the places were segments were cut, whole frames of the original negative were destroyed, and had to be recreated digitally during the scanning process.

One thinks – or at least some people think – that film has a sort of permanence, but nothing could be further from the truth. Without assiduous care and attention, films – even relatively recent films such as this – soon fade and eventually cease to exist.

The task was made easier by the fact that the British Film Institute was involved; as someone who has been to the BFI Film Archive, and had the privilege of seeing some of the classic films of there 20th century in their original 35mm format there, including some shot on nitrate film, I can only applaud both the BFI’s efforts to keep restoring “film forever” – that’s now their official motto – and Martin Scorsese, for having such a significant hand in the process.

You can see the video by clicking here, or on the image above; fascinating viewing.

Peter Cushing Resurrected for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

Peter Cushing, the renowned British actor who appeared in the first Star Wars, is back on the screen.

As Kristopher Tapley and Peter Debruge report in Variety, “when audiences flock to multiplexes this weekend to see Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, they’re in for a blast from the past.

The film, which takes place just before the events of George Lucas’ 1977 original installment, brings actor Peter Cushing back to cinematic life through the use of state-of-the-art visual effects wizardry to reprise the role of Grand Moff Tarkin.

A British actor — Guy Henry, star of BBC series Holby City — was employed to portray the character physically on set, while in post-production, his work was replaced with a rather impressive Cushing performance by the artists of Industrial Light & Magic.

It was so impressive, in fact, that Cushing’s former secretary — Joyce Broughton, who oversees his estate and attended the film’s London premiere with her grandchildren — was taken aback emotionally when she saw the creation on screen.

‘When you’re with somebody for 35 years, what do you expect?’ Broughton says. ‘I can’t say any more because I get very upset about it. He was the most beautiful man. He had his own private way of living.’ Broughton, who was bequeathed Cushing’s estate when he died without an heir in 1994, was reticent to go into details about the situation due to a confidentiality agreement she signed with Disney and Lucasfilm. But despite the emotions, she said she was dazzled by the experience of the new film.

‘I have to say, I’m not a Star Wars fanatic, but I did think whoever put it together were absolutely fantastic,’ she says. ‘It’s not just a silly sort of thing. It’s really good!’ Cushing’s digital resurrection was first reported in August of 2015.

A Lucasfilm rep tells Variety that the filmmakers will not be discussing the nuts and bolts of what went into the actor’s reprise until January, in order for audiences to see the film and enjoy it without being spoiled by those details. But the implications raised by the bold achievement, and others like it, are another thing entirely — and they’ve been ringing throughout the industry for decades.

Films like Zelig, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and Forrest Gump traded in re-creating personalities of yesteryear. On the heels of Gump in 1995, director Robert Zemeckis resurrected Humphrey Bogart with the help of ILM artists for an episode of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt . . .

More recently, in 2012, hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur was brought back to life via hologram for a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif. And just last year, Weta effects artists had to manifest much of actor Paul Walker’s performance in Furious 7 after the actor died midway through production in a fatal car accident.

‘We’ve been making photoreal people for quite some time in films,’ says Richard W. Taylor II, a Directors Guild member and former vice-chair of the Visual Effects Society . . . ‘There’s a whole new phenomenon where famous actors are getting themselves scanned in order to provide for their family and their family’s trust in perpetuity, so that they can be recreated in films in the future,’ Taylor says. ‘Or as insurance, if they were injured or if anything happened while they were in a production.’

This technology raises all sorts of fascinating questions for the industry: If an actor declines to appear in a sequel or project, can the filmmakers now find a way to include him or her anyway (the way Dawn of the Planet of the Apes brought back James Franco by recycling deleted scenes from Rise of the Planet of the Apes)? If an actress’ contract protects her from having to shoot a nude scene, could one be created virtually using virtual body doubles?

As for the deceased, California has led the way in protecting the right to control how an actor’s image is used after his or her death. The legislature passed a law in 1984 establishing the postmortem right of publicity and timing them out 50 years after the individual’s death.

The law was a response to a court ruling finding that Bela Lugosi’s heirs had no power to prevent the use of his image in Dracula merchandise. At the urging of the Screen Actors Guild, the legislature has since extended the right to 70 years.”

But as Tapley and Debruge point out, the use of “synthespians” opens up a whole host of ancillary issues. While it’s nice to see Cushing “back” on the screen – and a number of reviewers have noted that it’s odd that one of the best actors in the film died in 1994 – one has to say that despite the general enthusiasm, the technique still really doesn’t work – you can tell that the performer isn’t really there during the shooting, and that the entire performance is being created after the fact.

That said, the publicity factor here can’t be ignored, and of course the estates of actors will certainly welcome these developments, as scanned versions of deceased thespians become more and more prevalent in films. There are numerous other cases not cited in the Variety article; for one example, Oliver Reed being resurrected from the dead to complete Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000), when the actor died halfway through shooting from a heart attack. And the technology can only improve.

But still, there’s something chilling here, as the dead walk among us again, seemingly alive, yet actually no longer with us. Nostalgia fans will have a field day with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and the film is already a resounding commercial success, bringing in $140 million in its opening weekend. But what it portends for the future, we’ll have to wait and see. Technology is, of course, transforming everything.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now, so see for yourself.

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

In The National News

Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at http://news.unl.edu/news-releases/1/ for more details.

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