Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy


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Filmmaker William Friedkin was recently interviewed for a piece in The Telegraph titled “Superhero movies are ruining cinema, says Exorcist director William Friedkin.”

I agree with Friedkin’s sentiment and I would take it one step further and say that it’s not “Superhero movies” that are ruining cinema, but that those films are a product of what has so dramatically changed since the 70’s.

The corporate greed and the paint-by-numbers mentality that has now driven cinema for many decades is, in itself, a product of a state of mind that has been vigorously taught, conditioned, indoctrinated and embraced in the U.S. Its impact is reflected in all aspects of our lives socially, culturally, politically and, yes, artistically…

Continue reading “Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy”

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Observations on Cinema vs. the Capitalist Feeding Frenzy

Tackling My Oscar Blues While Celebrating “BIRDMAN”


87th Annual Academy Awards - Show For anyone who has read my posts here for any length of time, you know that I have some serious issues with the Oscars. It wasn’t always that way and, perhaps, that is part of my struggle.

Like many cinephiles out there, the Academy Awards were, as a kid, a big draw for me. I never missed watching it on TV. From start to finish. I hung on every word, every sound, every clip. As I got older, started working at film festivals, moved to Hollywood, started working in the industry itself, sold screenplays, directed two features, wrote for the studios, worked over 2 decades in casting, and have been represented by UTA, ICM and Gersh, my outlook on both this town, this business and the Academy Awards changed quite dramatically. Peeling back that curtain can be a scary thing. Like when one of my friends told me “Be careful of meeting your heroes. There’s a good chance you’ll be disappointed.” Of course, this is not always true. But I think the idea he was trying to get across was that, oftentimes, people, places and ideas exist in our mind in a somewhat more “perfect” or fanciful way than they may in actuality.

Continue reading “Tackling My Oscar Blues While Celebrating “BIRDMAN””

Tackling My Oscar Blues While Celebrating “BIRDMAN”

Returning To OZ: Or When Storytellers No Longer Know How To Tell Stories


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There was a time when American cinema and Hollywood meant something. That time is long gone and empty films like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL are the hard proof. These types of films have, sadly, become the norm. They also, as it turns out, show us yet another example of how when James Franco is cast in films where he is given nothing to do — no real script, nothing of substance to latch on to — he simply cannot fake it. Like his bored and boring performance in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (read my post on that film HERE). Compare these to the recent SPRING BREAKERS which, like the film or not, shows Franco actually giving a performance. He’s capable of it. But offer him a role in a Hollywood film and he accurately reflects the project’s entirely insipid nature. In many ways, he’s our best barometer for showcasing just how empty Hollywood has become.

More and more of my friends and acquaintances are confessing to no longer being able to conjure the desire to go to the cinema any more; it’s no longer a satisfying experience for so many of us. In fact, it has become, on far too many occasions, a downright depressing experience. Not handing over your hard-earned cash to see these grand and elaborate wastes of time is one of the most powerful statements you can make in opposition to this spiraling trend. Every time you pay to see a film like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, you support the creation of more just like it. Which you may be fine with if you like this sort of fare and are enjoying America’s current fling with all things dimensionless.

In conversing the other day with a screenwriting friend who has been taking pitch meetings around town, it seems things have gotten even worse than when I was taking those exact same meetings years ago. Conversations about character no longer have a place; they are fleeting asides to conversations about how many digital teeth a monster might have or how many tentacles. The “people” in the story have become nothing more than catalysts for effects. It used to be the other way around.

Is it that I’ve just become an old man complaining about how much better things were “back in my day?” Perhaps, but I don’t believe that’s truly the issue at hand. It seems to me the Hollywood film industry has fallen victim to the same raging disease that has swept this entire country into a catatonic inability to accomplish almost anything of value. We have fallen behind the rest of the world in so many areas where we once lead the way. The Daily Kos recent comparison of TIME magazine covers in America and abroad is the perfect highlight of our cultural infancy; we are still children in this relatively new country of ours. But it seems the freedoms that once invigorated our countrymen and fed our desire to explore and express ourselves, to stand out and carve new paths, has given way to a capitalist agenda that speaks to the weakest, least developed parts of our psyches. It has literally divided our country. Hopefully, it’s all just a phase, the one step backwards before the two steps forward. Certainly, future historians are going to have a field day with us. Unless, of course, this one step backwards leads to a complete tumble down the stairwell for the entire human race.

I’ve mentioned this little anecdote before, but it bears mentioning yet again here: not too long ago I took a meeting with a producer who had recently produced a major Hollywood action/thriller. It was a film I actively did not like and had been shocked by the sheer lack of logic and basic storytelling qualities inherent in the film. When asked about this, the producer confessed to me that everyone involved with the film was fully aware that the script had no inner logic and oftentimes blatantly broke the rules of the world it had set up. His justification for such blatant storytelling disregard was that they had shown a cut of the film to a test audience and the audience didn’t seem to notice any of these things, so the filmmakers decided that it simply “didn’t matter.” And maybe they were right. Have we bred and raised new generations of Americans for whom the dollar sign is the be-all and end-all of our journey here on earth? Are we systematically eliminating our desire to connect with one another in meaningful and revealing ways?

History shows us that storytelling has always been a profound and integral part of the human experience. So what does it say when our most beloved storytellers no longer know how to tell stories? Or even care?

Returning To OZ: Or When Storytellers No Longer Know How To Tell Stories

Soderbergh, The State Of Contemporary Cinema, & Questions From A Young Filmmaker


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This is a daring and insightful speech given by Steven Soderbergh last week at SFIFF. It is one of the most perceptive and articulate commentaries on the state of cinema today and the difference between “cinema” and “movies.” For me, personally, it encapsulates so much of what I have been writing about for years and captures the very essence of why I started Off Leash Films and what I hope to achieve.

This speech comes at a perfect time for me as I have been engaged in conversation with a young filmmaker who recently commented on one of my older posts. The following is a response to several of his questions to me regarding editing choices I made on THE PLAGUE: WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT and my approach and attitude toward making films and whether or not I consider the audience ahead of time:

Question: Hal, one question my friend, did you make the film for you or for the audience? That is what all filmmakers need to ask themselves. I agree with you, I need to see both films from beginning to end to judge and compare, also I’m sure the producers have taken away your characters and their emotions and made it all prokat – a recipe that works generally. I’m only saying I preferred the points where the film cut. The tightness of the shots and the fact that when it didn’t intercut it rounded up my emotional tension which is what I needed.

…I ‘m only young and learning and grown up with the fast cutting generation and think films like Amour are nerve wracking and should be respectful to the current audience and include editing – what is your view of films like Amour or Angelopoulos’s style? I love Fincher, hate Tarantino, love Attenborough, Altman, Nolan, Bergman… I love a good film, I don’t like self-indulgence and auteurs that do film only for themselves and just happen to have a good pr company behind them. I met Lars Von trier and he was horrible to us young students , full of pretentiousness and up his own. But I met Scorsese as well and he was amazing and helpful. It’s truth that I have learned from your site and take on board what you say about the intention. How do you know your intention? You shoot A and you edit B and on the way you might like C… is it always defined? Should it? If you were to do Plague again what would you do differently?

Answer: My answer is very simple: I don’t have an audience that is specific or makes any demands. I make films for myself WITH the knowledge that I am not so unique or unusual that I am going to alienate most or all of the human race. My audience are the people who will be moved and/or effected by my films and want to see more. Plain and simple. I am not a director for hire. If I were, then I would have to consider what the audience is that the producers want to reach if that is their goal. If I direct a pre-existing comic book or a James Bond film, then, yes, I must consider the audience. But if I’m making films that are an expression of who I am and tell the stories I have a need to tell and offer the experience that I want to put out there, then considering some non-existent audience makes no sense. The last thing I want to do is second-guess other people and decide what they might or might not like, what they might or might not “get.” Then I am not honoring anyone, least of all myself.

Hollywood has trained many filmmakers to think in terms of audience (males 16-25, for example). This has nothing to do with filmmaking for me. That is marketing and when marketing dictates what kind of films you make and how you are going to make them, the work itself becomes that much less personal and, as a result, that much less daring. Vittorio De Sica once said, “Art has to be severe. It cannot be commercial. It cannot be for the producer or even for the public. It has to be for oneself.” So I guess the question you need to ask is are you a director for hire or someone who has a vision they want/need to explore and share? Both are completely valid approaches. But they are not the same.

As for the directors you mentioned, AMOUR was one of my favorite films from last year. I love Haneke. I wouldn’t have changed a frame, not a beat. My other favorite from last year was the 3-hour cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET. The year before that TREE OF LIFE and MELANCHOLIA. So yes, I love Von Trier. And I don’t care whether he is a nice guy or not. That has no bearing on the effectiveness of his work for me. And you used the term “self-indulgence” negatively. Yet I think it’s a requirement for making any kind of art. Who are we supposed to indulge in making art if not ourselves? An audience? The audience finds the art, not the other way around. At least as I see it. Coppola is still one of my heroes and his approach to filmmaking now is absolutely thrilling to me. My favorite Coppola is still THE CONVERSATION. You like Bergman. He is one of my favorite filmmakers. He did NOT make films for an audience. An audience found his films. For him, it was about him and his actors telling stories. In a way that moved and excited them.

I think Theo Angelopolis’ LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST is one of the most beautiful and moving films I’ve ever seen. Yes, I get why some people find his films too slow, same with Tarkovsky films, but I adore them. They “speak” to me. They move me to tears, excite me in their artistry, in their ability to express and touch me. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, bores me now. He made 3 amazing films early on and the rest feel very empty to me. That does not mean they are empty, only empty to me. His recutting of ALIEN removed the very thing I found to be most effective and daring about his original cut. But several years ago he went back and “picked up the pace.” Shame. He didn’t even see what he had done and why it was considered so amazing by so many. He is a filmmaker whose instincts I no longer trust. I have met the man. I have had story meetings with him. He’s very nice. I enjoyed his company. But his ideas bore me, as do most of his films.

For me, THE PLAGUE needed to linger on the moments that resonated for me. That is the experience that I wanted to share. What happens in those moments and the feelings that come up for people experiencing that. However, it will not be the same experience for everyone. Another reason I do not consider the audience or allow them to dictate my creative decisions. I have no control over what individuals bring into the screening room with them. To try and second-guess that I see as a futile mission and one that has no appeal to me.

My desire, as well, with the editing of THE PLAGUE was to juxtapose certain images and themes, to suggest directly and subconsciously the connection between the kids and the adults. Every cut is made with purpose. Each has something to say, something that is nonexistent in the producers’ cut, which ONLY wanted to make a film with action and bloodshed. A killer-kid film. They wanted to answer as many questions as quickly as possible which, for me, reduces tension. That is something that I have no desire to be a part of. Nor do I find that to be effective in any meaningful way. I believe my cut is more frightening because of what it conjures up under the surface, those feelings that we don’t initially understand, but that rise to the surface nonetheless. I also believe that allows my cut to linger with its audience far longer than the other cut. But that is, as you know, also dependent on who is watching and what kind of experience they are open to. Again, something I have no control over nor do I have a desire to control.

You asked me what I would change if I could do THE PLAGUE again. Ironically, I would think less about audience reaction and more about what moved me personally. I would not have wasted precious energy on worrying about what others might think or how it fit into genre expectations. I would have made the film even more visceral, more abstract. I would have also trusted my instincts about the people I was working with and not talked myself out of taking the project elsewhere when I had the opportunity. And I would have never allowed myself to be talked (threatened) into miscasting the leads which, no matter how I cut the film, will always bog it down and dramatically lessen its impact. The film can never rise above the fact that they were miscast, that they were there to appease Sony’s marketing department despite the fact that they were not who or what we imagined in those roles, nor were they capable of pulling it off to the level that the film and story required in order to be what we intended and hoped the film would be.

There are so many quotes by so many artists that speak to me personally. They mirror my own feelings and articulate my own personal discoveries. They are also full of lessons and instigate thought. I want more from my films, both those I make and those I watch, than perhaps some others out there. That seems to be the case. But I also know that I am not “special.” There are so many people out there yearning and searching for the same artistic storytelling experiences that I am. Now maybe that’s not the majority of male 16-25 year olds (though it might be as so many films supposedly geared toward that audience still bomb), but I trust that what I want to say and how I want to say it has an audience. All I need do is be true to myself and follow my instincts and my passions. I feel no need to attract the largest audience possible. I am also not looking to make films for the studios or work with a budget of $200 million. So I have the luxury of not having to worry about such distracting things as what others might think and that someone might not like or respond positively to something I do. There are more than enough people who will have the opposite reaction, or simply their own complex reaction. I know what moves and effects me and that’s what drives me. I’ve written a fair amount about all this. You can find some of it at my production company site:

http://offleashfilms.com

I suggest reading the list of quotes there as I have personally found so many of them to be inspiring and deeply insightful.

And some other blog posts I’ve written that may or may not be of interest to you. Either way, they do articulate in more detail what I have been trying to say above. And probably more accurately. If you want to read them, they are here:

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/irving-thalberg-and-the-fearful-producers-wilderness/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/facing-the-unknown-the-organic-art-of-storytelling/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/eating-julie-taymor-when-artists-devour-their-own/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/eyes-wide-in-memory-of-stanley-kubrick/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/alas-more-wisdom-from-coppola/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/francis-ford-coppola-and-business-of-movies/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/hollywood-and-the-golden-arches-of-mediocrity/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/favorite-quotes-martha-graham-the-quickening-of-unique-expression/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/accusing-filmmakers-of-self-indulgence-other-storytelling-obstacles/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/great-american-films-still-get-made-theyre-just-hard-to-find-lonergans-3-hr-margaret/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/raymond-chandler-the-monkey-business-of-hollywood/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/desires-lessons-articulating-a-filmmaking-experience/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/rise-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-or-the-descent-of-american-intelligence/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/sharing-coppola/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/why-fight-for-a-directors-cut-of-a-low-budget-horror-flick/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/11/22/articulating-bergman/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/how-dare-you-edit-your-own-film-and-other-creative-alienations/

https://halmasonberg.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/where-the-wild-things-are-a-love-song-to-boys/

Soderbergh, The State Of Contemporary Cinema, & Questions From A Young Filmmaker

Facing The Unknown: The Organic Art Of Storytelling


This is an excerpt from a longer piece I wrote exploring my reasons for not answering particular questions I raise in many of my screenplays and why I choose to tell the stories I do in the manner I do. Perhaps some of these thoughts will resonate for others as well while on their own storytelling journeys. 

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How do we react when faced with the unknown? When we don’t get the answers we want? Those feelings that stir within us in those moments and the reasons why we feel we need these answers –any answer– even if it’s not a satisfying answer, is of endless fascination to me. Films that traverse a landscape of ambiguity, those which prefer to ask questions they have no intention of answering, these films are often misunderstood but are, in my opinion, a powerfully organic form of storytelling. Perhaps the most organic form of storytelling as they, quite often, are blessed with the capacity to stir our subconscious and set in motion a meaningful journey of discovery.

Of course, there is no singular answer outside of the thoughts, concerns and fears of each audience member themselves. Yet some people will accuse films –those that choose not to answer all posed questions– of robbing the audience, of “withholding” information that they want, that they feel they deserve or need (they, of course, don’t need it at all). Some will denounce these films as cop-outs and turn to accusations of weakness and unfairness, or go so far as to claim that such films are not actually “about” anything at all; they will point fingers and turn outward. Others will embrace this unknown. They will understand that emotionally and spiritually not all stories are about their plot machinations, but the human beings effected by the mere existence of such machinations.

It is exactly the different reactions a film can elicit from its audience that makes a film and its story so powerful, so memorable, and so individually personal. Remember, we can tell all the stories we want, believe a million different things about the world, the universe, but it does not make any of them so. And while our existence is oftentimes wonderful, exciting and joyous, it can also be scary, confusing and seemingly impossible to grasp. So we react in different ways. Some constructive, many destructive. Even if the intent is good. Sometimes we do more damage to one another in reaction to the unknown than the unknown itself could ever do. This is why it is essential to certain stories that particular questions NEVER be answered. The audience MUST take that unknown out with them into the world. To answer those questions would be to betray everything these stories are about, everything they explore. It would be the true meaning of ripping the audience off, of not giving them the opportunity or credit they deserve. It may not be the experience all audience members outwardly or consciously desire, but neither are the emotions and reactions that questions regarding the nature of existence, the vastness of the universe, conjure in us. And yet here we are. We continue to seek answers, to explore both internally and externally. It is what makes us human, what keeps us moving forward, growing, learning.

It is essential.

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Henry David Thoreau

I have no desire to make a film whose experience ends when the final credits roll. The film, the story, is a jumping off point, not the be-all and end-all. There’s a quote by Henry David Thoreau that sums up my feelings on this subject perfectly:

“A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.”

The same applies to film. Take the questions asked and discuss them, ponder them, come up with your own answers or decide it’s okay not to know. Look inward, be open to whatever thoughts and feelings have been triggered in you and take them out into the world.

I have always felt that a need for answers without a willingness to go on the journey of discovery results in a lack of growth, a lack of true understanding. One can be religious and not be spiritual if one takes the answers given them when they are a child and accepts them as true without asking the necessary questions required in order to understand those answers. We see this not only in religion, but in politics, in race-relations, in our social systems and interactions. It’s everywhere we look, everywhere we turn. And whether it is innate or learned, there are millions of people who simply do not have the desire or willingness to explore for themselves. It is very likely that any film that refuses to wrap itself up in a ribbon of answered questions is not going to be a film for this particular group of people. Unless it elicits a desire heretofore unrealized. However, this type of film will most immediately appeal to those already engaged in the act of exploration, both internal and external. And that is no small part of the human race, I assure you.

There is a saying that bad films are about the A-story and good films are about the B-story. What this means is that it is not the outward “plot machinations” that make a great story, but how the characters within that story are effected by such machinations. Today’s Hollywood, in my opinion, places far too much emphasis –if not all the emphasis– on plot, on the A-story. Character, metaphor and meaning take a backseat or are eliminated altogether. For me, this is the antithesis of great and effective storytelling. It is my belief that the most organic, the most genuine form of storytelling works on the subconscious.

url-4It is a fact that every conscious creature dreams. And as humans, our dreams play the role of working out our fears and concerns, our doubts, questions, joys and desires. But they are never direct. Dreams have their own logic, their own vocabulary, their own essence. They are oftentimes abstract, surreal. They ask to be interpreted. When we don’t understand our dreams, when we can’t remember every moment, every detail, we can still “feel” them; they linger in our guts for days, weeks, years, lifetimes. And there is no single interpretation of any one dream. Yet these dreams are not delivered to us from some outside force attempting to confuse us, alienate us, dissatisfy us. No, they come from within, from our own subconscious, when we sleep, when we are most vulnerable and least-likely to resist. The movie-watching experience is very similar. In a theater, we go so far as to share in a kind of “group-dream.” At home alone, if we give ourselves over to the film, we can be transported from our couches to experience places, people and emotional stimuli as if it were as real to us in that moment as our dreams are when we are dreaming. And each person’s experience and interpretation of that story and its characters are filtered through each participant’s own personal set of experiences, needs, desires, etc. Our subconscious plays a part even when stories come from without. We take them in, internalize them, add them to our collective dream experiences.

A filmmaker’s job is never to mirror reality but to express reality. Films are not made to look real, to lure us into thinking that what we are watching is taking place in the real world, that we are looking through a window at something outside or in the next room. No, we go willingly to a world that has its own rules, its own language, ever-changing and otherworldly, no matter how much we may convince ourselves that it “feels’ real. “Feeling” real and “being” real are two very different animals. Again, dreams are proof enough of that. More times than not, the most profound, most authentic feelings are triggered by the subconscious via abstraction and/or metaphor. How infinitely and gloriously creative our dreams are. Whether one is a great storyteller or a great thinker in life or not, their inner world is as complex and as expressive as any other’s.

At their best, films, like all great art, tap directly into that subconscious. They do this best when they are created out of the subconscious of another. This is why so many films made by committee are often so dissatisfying, so infinitely forgettable. In our deepest recesses, we are natural storytellers. And we receive stories with equal ease. Storytelling has been with us since the dawn of mankind. It is in our DNA. If we embrace the notion that there are truths within our dreams, that our minds and bodies turn naturally and organically toward storytelling, regardless of conscious intent, then we can begin to see why great works of art exist, why film is such a massively popular art form, and why our most cherished works touch us in ways that words often cannot. Music is a perfect example. Often abstract, poetic, sometimes improvisational, almost always, in its best form, deriving more from a feeling than being an intellectual exercise. Why is Salieri so profoundly moved by the works of his contemporary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? It is not the mere mathematical perfection of the notes, but his deep sense and understanding –his feeling— that the music derives from someplace far more penetrating, more enigmatic, more organic. For Salieri, Amadeus is, quite simply, channeling God. And what Salieri felt lo those many years ago, is still being felt today by millions the world over each and every time they allow themselves to embrace and be embraced by Mozart’s works.

So it is with film.

Film can effect us on a level beyond logic. A person must have a need to share an experience with others before forming the words with which to tell it. The emotion, the desire, comes first, before articulation. Any good actor knows this.

url-1From an early age, we seek out storytelling experiences, ask our parents to read us stories, to tell us far-off tales. We yearn for these. We do so because they effect us, they tap into us. Children’s stories are often quite abstract and rich in metaphor. L. Frank Baum’s book THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ has captured the hearts and imaginations of children –and adults– for generations. It does this long before any desire to break it down, to take apart its pieces and study its meaning and power over us, comes into play. The film version of THE WIZARD OF OZ works on the same level. What is it about that film that keeps children and adults coming back? It is rich with metaphor, it finds us through our subconscious and taps into something deeper than words alone could convey. It is, in so many ways, dreamlike.

As adults, our subconscious has no less need for such storytelling, yet we find ourselves searching for the kinds of stories that reflect our lives now, our adult fears and longings. And yet, too many films today are not willing to engage the adult subconscious from an adult perspective.

At the end of the day, for me, success as a writer and filmmaker comes from eliciting a response as a result of stirring the subconscious –before the conscious mind steps in and enacts its need to decipher, to find an articulated meaning. I see my job as the former. And I see the audience’s job as the latter. Quite simply put, as an artist, any film I make or script I write must be in the service of that experience.

Facing The Unknown: The Organic Art Of Storytelling

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage


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.”

Self-Proclaimed Barbarian: The Altering Of Our Cultural & Artistic Heritage

Favorite Quotes: David Gordon Green on Kevin Smith


Back in 2001, then first-time feature film director David Gordon Green made a comment about fellow filmmaker Kevin Smith:

“He kind of created a Special Olympics for film. They just kind of lowered the standard. I’m sure their parents are proud; it’s just nothing I care to buy a ticket for.”

I have to admit, the quote made me laugh. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love the fact that Kevin Smith opened the door for young filmmakers to pick up a camera and tell a story they felt represented them with virtually no money with which to do it. And clearly Smith has proven that his films have an audience. A pretty rabid one at that! I, myself, have never been a fan. The films don’t speak to me. And what’s more, I don’t think Smith has much of an understanding of the language of film. And he’s been quoted as saying that he doesn’t need to study film or watch the old “masters” to know how to make a movie. Well, let’s just say I think perhaps Smith’s films may have benefited in some artistic way from a basic sensibility of filmmaking that goes beyond point and shoot. If anything, I’ve always felt Smith’s scripts were undermined by his own direction (or lack thereof).

But either way, his films say something to a group of people and I wouldn’t dare attempt to deny its value to those who get something out of it. But while I love that he has found a form of expression in cinema, he has also created a monster of sorts in that there is a whole slew of young filmmakers who have absolutely no skills in (or sensibility for) visual storytelling whatsoever. They appear, at times, like people who may have something to say, but don’t know how to use their tongues yet, haven’t bothered to learn sign language, and so thus attempt to communicate through a series of grunts and groans that only occasionally resemble language.

Then, of course, there are those artists who appear to have a built-in sense of cinema; not something learned in a classroom nor via the viewing of other films, but something innate. And though Kevin Smith himself has referenced some of these filmmakers –like Jim Jarmusch– as excuses why he need not bother to actually study the craft in which he makes his living, he, himself, has not yet displayed any such natural disposition toward visual storytelling. Perhaps this is why I found David Gordon Green’s comment to be rather amusing and not without merit. At least for me.

Perhaps Smith will grow into being a filmmaker with a basic grasp of the medium. I look forward to that happening. In the meantime, he shows a bit more talent as a writer than as a director (though I must confess only a vague, passing amusement with certain passages in his scripts. I cannot claim fandom). But I would never deny Smith his right to make films. Or his fans their right to adore them. And while David Gordon Green has not proven himself to be a “master” director himself (particularly with his current foray into stoner-comedies which, ironically, compete for attention with Kevin Smith’s films), you have to admit, the Special Olympics for Film? That’s funny…

Favorite Quotes: David Gordon Green on Kevin Smith