Let me begin by explaining here that I am not a rabid Star Wars fan. I did love the original film as a kid. I was, in fact, quite obsessed with it. But I was also 13 at the time. Now, at the ripe old age of 47, my desire to go back and see the original Star Wars films is one of nostalgia more than need or great passion. I think they’re terrifically fun films. But the reason I choose to write about these films and what Lucas is doing is simply because I strongly believe in preservation. I believe that film represents our culture. A time and place. Emotionally, sociologically and technologically. Lucas’ much reviled attitude toward fans of his work and his insistence on erasing history is as worthy a topic for my blog as it is for the many, many forums out there voicing their opinions on the subject. Certainly as worthy as Lucas himself bringing this same argument before Congress in 1988.
In that fateful year, George Lucas stood before Congress –with many other filmmakers by his side– and protested the altering of films and the resulting altering of film history. Since then, he has become the poster-child for such alterations with his constant reworking of his Original Star Wars films (though he only directed one of the three) and his insistence that the original versions not be seen. He did, under protest, release the original cuts to DVD years ago in low-grade, non-anamorphic transfers. The result is these films will disappear forever in this hi-tech world. And this is, according to Lucas himself, exactly what he wants to see happen.
Here is the transcript of his plea to Congress. How is it that one so passionate could lose all sense of self and environment to become the greatest transgressor of what he so articulately argued against?
My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board ofLucasfilm Ltd., a multi-faceted 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.
I ask, most humbly, that George Lucas heed his own impassioned words and allow the original cuts of these immensely influential films to be restored to their original state so as to be seen by, as he so eloquently put it, “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.”