October 17, 2012

Leave Well Enough Alone

Following on my last post, this post is going to attack creators and the people who view them as divine figures whose judgement may not be questioned.

I've read columns by a number of people claiming that once someone has created an artistic work, that work belongs completely and utterly to that person. These people are idiots and should not be allowed to breed. They say the creator is free to do whatever she wants with the work, everyone else be damned. If she wants to come back to a completed work and "fix" it--not make something new, mind, or continue the story, but actually change the original--not only can we say nothing about that, we shouldn't say anything about it. It's her creation, after all. These are the sort of people who not only defend George Lucas's legal right to change the original Star Wars films (which I don't know that anybody disputes) but claim that if I'm unhappy with the changes, I shouldn't say so, to the creator or to anyone else. I don't even have the right to take umbrage at her actively making the original hard to obtain. It belongs to her, right? We don't have any right to say anything about it.


Now, I have a number of issues with this regardless of the medium, but I find myself utterly appalled to when people say this about films. Frankly, the idea that a film belongs to any one person is ludicrous. That that person is the director doesn't make it any more absurd. You could possibly argue the case with certain directors like James Cameron or (especially) Stanley Kubrick, those who write, produce, edit, shoot, and direct their films. But even if I grant the handful of true auteurs out there (and even Kubrick didn't act in or score his films), with 95% of directors, it isn't even close. A major film is a collaborative project involving literally hundreds of people. Why does one person gets complete say over what happens to it? And who decides who this one person is?

As I noted in my review of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, apparently unfazed by his being laughably wrong, is on record that Deckard is a replicant. Harrison Ford, being of sound mind, is just as adamant that Deckard is not, and maintains that he and Scott agreed on this during filming. Now, why is Scott's word good and Ford's isn't? Who made Scott the final arbiter? Nobody, that's who. Films belong to everyone who made them and everyone who appreciates them, and nobody gets to descend from Mount Olympus and tell us what to think or say about them.

Because who's to say the original creator is in any better position to talk about what's right or wrong with their work anyway? Especially when the "original" creator is talking about something she created two decades ago? Artists--or should that be artistes?--are quick to complain when a work is taken from its "creator" and given to someone else. But isn't that exactly what we're doing when we let somebody work on something she created 30 years ago? Isn't that person a very different person from the one who created the original work? I don't know about you, but I've changed quite a bit in the last decade, and two decades from now I'm not sure I'll even recognise myself. If people change a lot in 25 years--and God knows I hope they do--then isn't it just as unfair to Young You to let Old You take over and muck up your work without any input from you, Young You having effectively ceased to exist?

The answer is yes. It's unfair, it's disgraceful, and it has to stop.

Case in point: The Gunslinger, the first part of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I won't even get into how this series took a cataclysmic nosedive so incredible that the evil part of me wishes the car had killed him before he could ruin what had been a real contender for the title of Greatest Dark Fantasy of All Time. I just want to talk about how Old King, decades after Young King completed The Gunslinger, decided to go back and, that's right, fix it. How, you may ask? Sure, he corrected a number of continuity errors with later Dark Tower books (sometimes for the better, often for the worse since the later books suck harder than the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy), but he also removed ambiguity from a key scene. Early in the novel, the titular gunslinger guns down another character in what may or may not be cold blood. This sets up a scene at the climax, in which the gunslinger has to choose between rescuing a child and allowing the villain to escape or letting the child die so he can stop the villain. What will he do? Because of that earlier shooting, the reader is in genuine suspense as to what will happen. It isn't a foregone conclusion that he'll make the "right" decision.

Old King, though, doesn't like ambiguity. Old King doesn't want his reader to, like, think about stuff. Old King doesn't want his hero to do something bad, because he's the good guy, see? Children can't understand things like a good person doing something bad. So Old King changes it. Old King makes it clear that his hero had to kill that character. It wasn't in cold blood. In fact, that character asked to be killed. The hero isn't bad, little tykes. He's the good guy. Look, he's wearing a white hat and everything!

In short, Old King fucked up Young King's story. And Young King didn't have a hand in it. I'll bet you all the souls Sandra Bullock has sacrificed on her pagan altar to keep herself looking young that Young King would never have agreed to this change. He'd wonder who the hell thought he could just come along and change my story. Your older self, Young King, that's who, a man with no more right to change your work than I have, because he's no more you than I am. Young King wrote this novel, and Young King is gone. It's no different than if I came along and changed one of King's books after his death. I'm not King, and King isn't who he was then. When he wrote that scene in The Gunslinger, he was a struggling teacher with no kids living in a shithole barely making ends meet. The man who re-wrote that scene lives in a mansion, has a family, and wipes his ass with more money than I'll ever see in my life. These two men are not the same. I don't care what names they have.

What about George Lucas and his butchering of the original Star Wars? Remember Han and Greedo in Mos Eisley? Now, I'm sure I don't need to say this, but Han shot first, and if you don't agree, then you're a cinematic troglodyte and you can get the hell off my blog. I don't need any drooling mongoloids scratching their thick monkey craniums trying to comprehend the three-syllable words that flow from my fingertips like the word of God.

When Han shot first, there was real ambiguity to his character. But no, George Lucas caught Stephen Spielburg-itis and decided that even the slightest bit of actual characterisation somehow warps the minds of the cute suburban moppets he makes films for and turns them into the most depraved gun-wielding maniacs since Cho Seung-hui. Won't somebody please think about the children? So now Han has to be shot at first (fortunately Greedo only hits Han's white hat), and in that one moment Han's growth as a character (sloughing off his cynical shell and finding something to truly care about) is completely and utterly ruined. Oh, and it also means it will surprise exactly no-one when he shows up out of nowhere to save Luke at the end. (Oops, sorry to blow the ending for you. Oh wait, George Lucas already has.)

Spielburg, Lucas, and King were once young, hungry, and talented, and they produced something truly great. Then they got old, rich, and boring and decided they're older and wiser now and so they'll go back and fix what their younger selves got wrong.

They didn't get it wrong, you old fucks. You're getting it wrong. And the fact that you carry the same name as that young, hungry talent from 25 years ago doesn't give you license to fiddle around with his work. If you're so much wiser and more skilled now, go make something new and interesting. Let the young guy have his day. And maybe, just maybe, you won't take a giant dump all over his legacy.

Or, go ahead with your "improved" version and rake in the cash. Whichever.

1 comment:

  1. I.am not a fan of remake at all. To me, you either liked the first one or you didn't . Either way, that ship has sailed. Plus, I want to see/watch something new not look for the changes made. Agree with ya about once its out there it belongs to all of us. Agree too none of us are the same, as we age and hopefully mature hwe see things differently . But it doesn't erase what we did in the pass. You can't "fix" the past anyway