Many of us won’t remember this, but back in the ’80s, Ted Turner purchased the rights to libraries of old classic movies with intent to add color to the black and white films and reâ€“release them to the masses.
This was considered an outrage by many, including some of the stillâ€“living directors of the films, but nothing could be done about it. So a group of spokesmen for Hollywood including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Stewart, Woody Allen, and John Huston took it to Congress in hopes on instilling laws against the alteration of films in order to preserve their heritage.
But it was Lucas who took the floor and made the speech that’s more relevant today than anyone would have thought it would be. A speech in 1988 that stood strong for the preservation of original films that he himself has broken many times over since that time by changing numerous parts of his classic Star Wars trilogy, including most recently on the Bluâ€“ray release.
Continue on to read the full speech from Lucas.
“My name is George Lucas. I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm 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. Tommorrow, 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.”
Also speaking on the issue, Spielberg said, “Let generations yet unborn see the films produced by our film artists as they were released.”
Screenwriter Bo Goldman also had a strong view, saying “I do know this, I want my children and their children to see my movies the way they were written. When the Indian finally speaks in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I want him to say “Juicy Fruit” and not “diet bubble gum.” On the long shot of the ward, I want to see the old hallucinator dancing in the back, and on the pan I don’t want it to stop before it reaches the poor, lobotomized soul behind the cage. Remember the first time you went with your parents to Snow White, with your girl to Singing in the Rain, with your children to E.T. You have the right to see it that way and only that way forever.”
What are your thoughts on Lucas’s speech from 1988 and the things he does with his films today?