And Now It’s Zombie James Dean…

From The Hollywood Reporter:

James Dean, who died in a 1955 car crash at the age of 24, is making an unexpected return to the big screen. The cultural icon, known for Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden, has been posthumously cast in the Vietnam era action-drama Finding Jack.

Directed by Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh, the project comes from the filmmakers’ own recently launched production house Magic City Films, which obtained the rights to use Dean’s image from his family. Canadian VFX banner Imagine Engine will be working alongside South African VFX company MOI Worldwide to re-create what the filmmakers describe as “a realistic version of James Dean.”

We all saw this coming, didn’t we? Since this is about involuntarily resuscitating dead actors so greedy family members can put them to work doing whatever a director screenwriter wants them to do, I feel no need to write a new post, especially since my position hasn’t changed one bit from the other instances in which I looked at this issue. So here it is again, lightly edited…

I see where this is going, don’t you? We’re heading straight to “Looker,” the science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton (“Jurassic Park,”“Westworld,” Disclosure,” “ER,”—How I miss him!).  In that prescient 1981 movie, an evil  corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use then make the new CGI versions to do and say anything, and do so more effectively and attractively than the living models themselves, in television ads and even in live appearances via hologram. Then the company had the models killed.

OK, I think that’s unlikely. Still the problem is the same ethical problem I had with regenerating the deceased actor Peter Cushing in “Rogue One”:

This is, ultimately, a simple Golden Rule exercise. Would you, without your consent, want a computer-generated clone bearing your name being used in mass entertainment, with no limits on what it might be made to say or do—forever?”

This technology or ones like it  will soon be able, as in “Looker,” to make reconstructed images of past performers do and say whatever their masters choose, whether or not it enhances or undermines the image and reputation they constructed in life, and whether or not the late individual would have consented had he or she been given the chance. Living artists should take steps immediately to protect themselves from post mortem exploitation, or, if they don’t care, at least make certain that their heirs and offspring profit. When Carrie Fisher died and the prospect of Zombie Carrie continuing on in the “Star Wars” franchise loomed, Yahoo reported that other film stars were rapidly taking measures to protect their images:

“Celebrities are increasingly involved in making plans to protect their intellectual property rights,” said Mark Roesler, an attorney and chairman of CMG Worldwide, an agency representing celebrity estates. “They understand that their legacy will continue beyond their lifetime.”

Roesler said at least 25 of his clients are engaged in actively negotiating the use of their or their loved ones’ computer-generated images in movies, television or commercials. Employment contracts govern how they can be used in a particular film or commercial, while a performer’s will can address broader issues. Some actors or heirs worry that overexposure will tarnish a celebrity’s image, Roesler said. Some explicitly rule out posthumous depictions involving sex or violence, while others focus on drugs or alcohol. “We have seen people address marijuana,” he said. “We’ve seen liquor addressed.”

California law already gives heirs control over actors’ posthumous profits by requiring their permission for any of use of their likeness. As technology has improved, many living actors there are more focused on steering their legacy with stipulations on how their images are used – or by forbidding their use.

…It seems clear that more than film performers need to take action, if they don’t want to be remembered by future generations for doing a strip tease in Radio City Music Hall. I think a law protecting performers like Maria Callas, who didn’t see this coming (she died before “Looker”), would be fair and prudent. I would also endorse laws protecting all dead public figures from undignified future cyber- or hologram manipulation absent their consent.

Should living heirs be able to declare that, for the right price, their famous ancestor can become a digital TV huckster for condoms? Should Callas’s family be allowed to give permission for her hologram avatar to sing “Carmen” naked and in Klingon at the Hollywood Bowl?

An Ethics Alarm poll at the time surprised me: 70% answered the question, “Should laws prohibit technological exploitation of dead performers and celebrities without their consent?” in the affirmative.  Such a law would have blocked the exploitation of James Dean, who surely never considered the possibility of being made to play a transsexual serial child killer decades after his death if his family was a little short of cash.


Pointer: valkygrrl

16 thoughts on “And Now It’s Zombie James Dean…

  1. Fascinating. I suspect this may reach even further with just about anyone who has or has had videos or images of themselves on the internet. Whether with or without permission.

    I’m thinking of parents who plaster their kids faces all over social media before the child understands their image is publically and permanently up for grabs after posting. Or those taking videos of others at protests, events, and anyplace public. Just today I had people take photos of my dogs (hopefully without me in them) without asking.

    I’m also assuming technology at this point can already fake an image of someone living onto someone else, convincingly, on a moving video. I can already see the lawsuits.

      • And thanks to you and everyone else who has checked in today, Saturday, or what is apparently “Don’t Think About Ethics” Day in America. Five posts today—well, I think they are important and interesting—and EA will be lucky to crack 2500 views, which is pathetic. And my sock drawer could be completely organized…

        • I think it’s been said before, so, for renewed emphasis, your value and that of this blog do not depend on the number of visits nor comments, but on the quality of the blog posts and of those who do comment, both of which are consistently excellent.

      • Watched Looker this year. Great stuff but scary.

        I’m almost always here Saturdays. I think some of the best posts are then.

        I promise I’ll get a post for you soon.

    • Almost twenty years ago I had friend extra diligent about their kids online footprints. That seems to have been wise, even if joining FB seems to have reduced the value in that.

    • I’m also assuming technology at this point can already fake an image of someone living onto someone else, convincingly, on a moving video.

      Lady Q, I suggest you look up the ‘Deepfake’ phenomenon.

      This tech already exists, and is getting good enough to be used in court. Watch the video below, and read the article.

      Learning computer networks are pitted against each other to judge if the other’s content is real or fake. The systems learn from each other.

      This is frightening, and in production TODAY.

  2. Jack, don’t be disheartened by the small numbers posting. Likely there are more who like me read and if someone has already expressed a similar opinion don’t post. I’ve always thought that ‘Me too’ or “YES!” posts are pointless filler.

    • I think the actual point is that EAs has been electronically quarantined. Especially that for longer than a year FaceBook won’t allow links to EAs. ( I don’t use FB so I take it on other’s word).

      There are many reasons not only to be disheartened when ideas and views are suppressed, but extremely alarmed by what the implications are.

      All across YouTube (for one example) hundreds of relevant channels have been deleted. Or their videos are taken down, put into ‘limited’ status, demonetized. Some disfavored commentators and publishers can’t take CC payments because Visa chose to stop allowing them to process payments.

      Same principle in operation here on EAs. (I always thought this was California Chris’ doing because he never got his way here).

      There *should* be hundreds and thousands of more views and many more random commentators who pop in. There should be expansion, not contraction. Expansion is organic, contraction forced: engineered.

  3. I usually visit late in the day, just due to RL. While there does seem to be a general swell against using dead actor’s CGI likenesses like Cushing it is not yet clear to the studios. Disney/Lucasfilm pledged not to CGI Fisher for ep9, but are using unused footage to the same effect as they failed to do pickups in the year in between to give her a meaningful sendoff in TLJ. There’s this messed up situation where the twins’ actors and characters are not in the same life state- and they are more Skywalkers than darth angst.

    I really doubt the CGI will accomplish much for the story. People will take a look for curiosity, but its just plain dishonest and creepy. I doubt Dean would have chosen a B flick like this if he still lived… his family are the ghouls here. Dean-like would be fine, it coud male a breakout for a new actor like “I was a Teenage Werewolf.” But this cannot add to his repuation or legacy, and any children he might have had would be nearing social security. This is NOT the starving little children copyright was supposed to protect, but the vampires and zombies rotting front of our eyes, fed by greed.

    • THERE is a great ethical point to debate!

      Is it ethical to improve on an actor’s ability, or a singer’s range, when resurrecting them from the dead?

      Is it unethical to NOT (finally) make James Dean a decent actor? What about Carrie Fisher?

      What are the ethics of making a greatly respected Broadway or Film actor (Sir Alec Guinness? Paul Scofield?) act like Jerry Lewis at his goofiest? Making a respected singer’s (Frank Sinatra? Roy Orbison?) voice crack for comedic effect? Make Liberace advocate for the GOP? Make Stevie Wonder advocate for slavery?

      This rabbit hole goes deep, I tell you!

  4. I’m here too.
    . . . ten days later . . . .

    We’ve already seen Dean-after-death, as he should be seen, in “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” as Karen Black (especially), Sandy Dennis and Cher brought his spirit back to life in a widely unappreciated film (following an equally thankless set of brilliant performances on stage), except for some perceptive critics. Okay, it was a second-rate script but Robert Altman turned it into something fine and extraordinarily memorable.

    • I’m glad you said it was a second rate script, because it sure was. It lost me with the transsexual gimmick. There may have been more contrived faux Tennessee Williams knock-offs, but if so, I was lucky enough to miss them.

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