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… Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Your Swedish Post-Mortem Avatar

Swedish scientists believe artificial intelligence can be used to make “fully conscious copies” of dead people, so a Swedish funeral home is currently looking for volunteers who are willing let the scientists use their dead relatives in their experiments. The scientists want to build robot replicas, and to try to approximate their personalities and knowledge base in their artificial “brains.”

For those of you who are fans of the Netflix series “Black Mirror,” there was an episode closely on point in which  grieving woman bought an AI -installed mechanical clone of her dead boyfriend. (This did not work out too well.)

I was about to discard objections to such “progress” as based on ick rather than ethics, when I wondered about the issues we already discussed in the posts here about zombie actors in movies and advertising. Is it ethical for someone else to program a virtual clone of me after I’m dead that will be close enough in resemblance to blur what I did in my life with what Jack 2.0 does using an approximation of my abilities, memories and personality?

I think I’m forced to vote “Unethical” on this one as a matter of consistency. Heck, I’ve written that it’s unethical for movies and novels to intentionally misrepresent the character of historical figures to such an extent that future generations can’t extract the fiction from the fact. (Other examples are here and here.) Respect for an individual has to extend to their reputation and how they wanted to present themselves when they were alive. Absent express consent, individuals should not have to worry that greedy or needy relatives, loved ones, artists or entrepreneurs will allow something that looks like, sounds like and sort of thinks like them to show up and do tricks after the eulogy.

I am not quite so certain about this branch of the issue, however, and am willing to be convinced otherwise. After all, pseudo Jack could stay inside, and only be programmed to do a nude Macarena while wearing a bikini for my wife, while no one else would be the wiser. Or nauseous. And after all, I’m dead. Why should I care? Well, the fact is I do care. For me, this is a Golden Rule issue.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is this:

Will the Swedes who elect to allow scientists to try to perfect Dad-in-a-Box for nostalgia, amusement, companionship  and to take out the garbage be unethical, betraying their departed loved ones’ dignity?

 

The Slippery Slope: From Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing To Hologram Zombie Maria Callas

“We don’t have to pay her, and she can do a hundred shows a week!”

Thanks to the creation of a hologram clone, opera legend Maria Callas,  dead since 1977, appeared onstage at Lincoln Center last week. This is the continuation of a project that previously resurrected such departed stars as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, appeared after Callas. I wonder if he sang, “Pretty Hologram”?

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.

In the New York Times review of singing Zombie Callas, the little matter of ethics never was mentioned.  Times critic Anthony Tomassini was not very critical, writing in part,

…[T]here is an amazing video of [Callas]  in Act II of Puccini’s “Tosca” in 1964. But no full operas by one of the greatest singing actresses in history; this hologram performance can seem to fill in a bit of that gap. The operatic voice, and the art form itself, can feel so fragile. What better way to represent that fragility — while also reviving it, in a kind of séance — than a hologram?…In introductory comments, [the director] said that the project has tried to present Callas with “restraint, subtlety and delicacy.” The notion of a singing hologram might seem incompatible with such a goal. Yet moments during Sunday’s preview were surprisingly affecting…The problem, as it always has been in opera fandom, will be if this specter from the past prevents a full appreciation of the vitality of opera and singing today. 

That’s the problem, is it? No, the problem is the same ethical problem I had with regenerating the deceased actor Peter Cushing in “Rogue One”: Continue reading

George Michael’s “Trunk”

trunk

Performers are dropping dead left and right, and people are trying to find ways to keep their talents and names profitable without their consent so quickly that it’s hard to keep up. I just read that a CGI version of Debbie Reynolds will star in a sequel to “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Kidding!

So far, at least.

Pop singer George Michael died on Christmas day, and already there is a controversy over his unpublished songs, what Irving Berlin and his generation referred to as a songwriters’ “trunk.” The “trunk” was where composition deemed unfinished, unsatisfactory or just not quite right were stored, perhaps for future commercial use, perhaps for oblivion.

Fadi Fawaz, Michael’s partner, posted online a song from Michael’s unreleased and unfinished album “Trojan Souls.” The song, called “This Kind of Love,”includes the lyrics: “This empty house seems to get colder and colder. So won’t you stay here with me?”

Michael’s  fans immediately clamored for the song to get an official release, calling for it to be properly edited to share with the world in George’s  memory. Michael’s Wham! collaborator Andrew Ridgeley has disagreed strenuously.  In response to one fan who suggested that a previously-unheard track should be released to raise money for Michael’s preferred charities, Ridgeley tweeted:

“No, #GM [George Michael] controlled all his output. I, nor anyone else have the right to transgress that principle.”

The singer’s representatives have not confirmed plans for any future releases, but don’t be surprised if they do: now that he is dead,  Michael’s music is hot and flying up the charts. We can expect that the same rationalization regarding Michael we have heard regarding the “Star Wars” franchise using Peter Cushing’s cyber-zombie to reprise his original role despite the fact that he is long dead and never anticipated having post-mortem, computer controlled performances attributed to him: “I’m sure he would have wanted it this way,” or in the case of Cushing’s  heirs, “We’re sure he would want us to make money off of him.”

Maybe, maybe not. In the case of performances and songs an artist chose not to reveal to the public while he was alive, the ethical course is to presume he did so for a reason, and whatever that reason was, it should be respected now.  Andrew Ridgeley is right.

Keep that trunk closed.