Some time ago I heard a comedian (I could have sworn it was Oswalt but apparently I was mistaken) go off on a tear about the unavailability of the ORIGINAL Original Trilogy. During the rant he mocked Lucas a little bit regarding his “It’s mine and I’m gonna do what I want with it” approach. It was funny enough, but, as someone who doesn’t really have a whole lot of use for Star Wars I ended up not being particularly invested in what he was saying (which is probably why I forgot who he was in the first place). Instead, what really struck me was what he said in response. I don’t have the actual quote, but it was something along the lines of “No, it’s not yours. Not anymore. It’s ours.”
And ya know? I agreed with him. How can you not? There came a point where Star Wars stopped belonging (in every sense other than legal) to any one person – not George Lucas, not anyone at 20th Century Fox. It belongs to you guys. But the question that immediately followed that, at least in my mind, was where is that line? When does ownership, for lack of a better word, change hands?
To take it away from Star Wars and to more recent things, Renn wrote a nice little ponder-piece on WB’s decision to excise certain scenes from Gangster Squad in light of recent events. We all sort of bristled at the news, for reasons Renn explains quite well, but when you get past those reasons (which admittedly, were the only ones that needed to be brought up on that particular day), you’re also left to consider artistic vision. Every film is a representation of its director’s vision (well, some films are more representations of a producer or studio’s vision, which is usually best represented by this) and one has to wonder how Ruben Fleischer feels about this. Deep down, I mean. Underneath any statement made out of respect. He included that scene because he felt it was important – that was his vision – and if this were a decision being made without the Aurora stigma attached to it, the compromising of artistic vision would most likely be the banner behind which we’d all speak up.
But what if you flip the timeline? What if the movie is released untouched, and Fleischer comes back later and says “No, ya know what? I should have cut that,” and he gets his hands on it before it hits home video and cuts it out? What’s the reaction? Is it still his vision that needs to be respected, or is it a case of him giving up control the moment he makes it public? I gotta be honest – I dunno. Obviously the knee-jerk is the latter. Once something is “given” to the public, it belongs to the public, sure. But still…
To go all out with the hypotheticals, let’s pretend da Vinci comes back from the dead and tells everyone “Guys, I know you love the Mona Lisa, but this has bugged me forever…” and he wants to change it. Ignore the fact that this is a batshit insane scenario – would whomever had possession of the ORIGINAL Mona Lisa have any obligation to give it back to him so he could fix what he wanted? If you owned it, would you? Part of me thinks I would, and if anyone’s given up any rights to their own work it’s a dude that’s been dead for 493 years.
But – assuming you hold firm on the “Publishing cuts you out of the loop” stand, let’s consider something else. On December 14th of last year, TCM premiered Stanley Kubrick’s Fear & Desire. It was his first film and the main reason why their premiering it was newsworthy is that Kubrick himself hated it and made every effort to buy up every single print to keep people from seeing it. Granted, it had a tiny little theatrical run in 1953, but it was extremely limited – surely not with even a fraction of a fraction of whatever it was that gave everyone ownership of Star Wars – so where does that leave it? At what point does the ownership change hands in such a way that our curiosity as art lovers outweigh his desires as an artist? Did that happen when he died? I’ll admit, if that’s the line in the sand in this situation it seems a little callous.
And, in fact, you can take it away from the art itself as a tangible thing. The big discussion of the summer has been The Dark Knight Rises and, by extension, Nolan’s entire trilogy. And with the internet being what it is, you don’t have to do a lot of clicking before you find someone taking whatever interpretation they have of the films’ allegorical properties and presenting them (unshakably in a lot of cases) as cemented intent. Granted, interpretation is the life’s blood of art criticism and Barthes’ “Death of the Author” is a very valid, very essential philosophy. But, at least from my perspective, when it’s taken as the be-all, end-all methodology for discussing art there’s a whole lot lost. If you take Polanski’s personal tragedies out of the discussion of Rosemary’s Baby, you’re going to miss out on a lot of insight and perspective. So where do you draw the line? At what point does interpretation and imagined intent become more important than context and actual intent?
There are a lot of questions here and I want to know what you think. At what point do you separate the art from the artist? Of the two, which is more valuable to you, personally, and how did you decide? Let us know in the comments and on the boards.