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Should cinema bring stars back from dead?

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  • Should cinema bring stars back from dead?

    First Carrie Fisher, now James Dean: why Hollywood keeps bringing stars back from the dead

    ​J
    James Dean, who will shortly star in a new war movie – despite having been dead for 64 years
    CREDIT: CORBIS

    Robbie Collin, film critic
    TELEGRAPH - 6 NOVEMBER 2019

    James Dean is about star in a new film – 64 years after his death. Why can't movie stars rest in peace? asks Robbie Collin

    Few Hollywood icons are more famously dead than James Dean, who perished in a car crash at 24 years old with just three films under his belt. Yet next year – the 65th anniversary of his death – he’ll be back in a fourth. The Vietnam war drama Finding Jack will co-star a computer-generated version of Dean, after a deal was brokered between the actor’s estate and the production company Magic House Films. His ‘performance’ will be built from old footage and photos digitally mapped onto a CGI avatar, while another actor will supply his voice.

    "This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,” said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, a management company that controls the rights to a number of late actors’ images, including Dean’s. (The estates of Burt Reynolds, Ingrid Bergman, Jane Russell and Christopher Reeve are also on their books.)

    It all sounds very futuristic, bordering on dystopian. But in fact the age of cinematic resurrection is already upon us. The other week at the Tokyo Film Festival, for instance, I saw a new Japanese production whose star has been dead since 1996.

    Tora-san, Wish You Were Here is the by-all-accounts unexpected new entry in the venerable Tora-san series of comedies, which began in 1969 and ran until its beloved leading man Kiyoshi Atsumi died of lung cancer in 1996, at the age of 68. At the peak of its popularity, Atsumi was churning out two Tora-san films every year, all of which stuck to a tried-and-true formula.

    His wandering salesman character – a self-styled “free-spirited fool” with a trademark checked jacket and battered suitcase – would fall in love with a beautiful woman on his travels, then bring her back to his family’s sweet shop in Tokyo, where gentle domestic farce would ensue. All but two of the 48 instalments were directed by Yoji Yamada, the 88-year-old filmmaker best known in Britain for his 2004 Oscar contender The Twilight Samurai, who decided to bring back Tora-san for his half-centenary using footage shot during the series’ original 26-year run.

    The film follows Tora-san’s nephew Mitsuo – last seen in the series in his early 20s, but now a middle-aged widower – who returns to his now-deceased uncle’s old home town for a romantic misadventure of his own. Throughout, the spirit of his uncle playfully watches over him, both in flashbacks to classic moments from the series that chime with Mitsuo’s own plight, and the occasional ghostly visitation.

    In order to smooth over the joins, Yamada and his cast and crew have painstakingly recreated the vintage Technicolour look and broadly comic performance style of the original series – and the script, co-written by Yamada and Yuzo Asahara, has obviously been shaped around the sequences of Atsumi as Tora-san they had to work with. But with 48 entire features to pillage, the results never feel contrived, and mesh more elegantly than you might think,


    Carrie Fisher in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

    Having an entire career’s-worth of raw material to work with was not a luxury enjoyed by the producers of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – which, like Tora-san, is also resurrecting a key cast member this year for one final appearance. When Carrie Fisher died aged 60 in December 2016, filming had yet to commence on the ninth and final episode of the Star Wars franchise’s so-called Skywalker Saga, in which her character, the princess-turned-resistance general Leia Organa, was due to play an instrumental part.

    Yet rather than writing her out, or bringing her back in the form of a computerised avatar – as Lucasfilm had done with the late Peter Cushing in 2016’s Rogue One – director JJ Abrams has repurposed unused shots of Fisher from the seventh and eighth episodes, digitally grafting those performances into new scenes with the rest of the cast.

    Both Star Wars and Tora-san pose a potentially thorny ethical question: how should we feel about actors appearing in films they didn’t realise they were making? But Fisher’s family, at least, have deemed the solution a respectful one. “Carrie’s Princess Leia is forever entrenched in the franchise and her indelible presence is fundamental to the film,” her brother Todd said after Lucasfilm announced their intention to use the leftover material last year. “JJ Abrams understood Carrie’s iconic role, and he has masterfully re-crafted this final entry to include this unused and very last footage of Carrie ever taken, without resorting to CGI or animatronics.”

    Digital resurrection can be tasteful, as the Tora-san and Fisher cases attest. It can frequently also be lucrative. An estimated £2.3 billion is paid in dead celebrities’ appearance fees every year: most goes to the star’s estate, but the rights holders of any source footage will also take a cut.

    Archival clips and unused takes have long been vital components of the cinematic resurrection ritual. After Oliver Reed died of a heart attack three weeks before filming wrapped on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in 1999, his remaining scenes were pared back then completed with a body double whose face was later overlaid with a CG version of Reed’s own, and his voice replaced with audio from rehearsal tapes.

    And after the Fast & Furious star Paul Walker perished in a car crash during production of the franchise’s seventh segment in 2013, the heartthrob’s remaining scenes were completed by his brothers Cody and Caleb, again with facial replacement deployed where required.

    The results were undeniably impressive – yet perhaps more impressive still was director Francis Lawrence’s decision not to use a synthetic Philip Seymour Hoffman in the final part of the Hunger Games pentalogy, which was mid-production when the actor died of a drug overdose in 2014. One pivotal scene, a consolatory speech, had yet to be shot – so Lawrence rewrote it as a letter from Hoffman’s character that would be read aloud by Woody Harrelson’s instead. Resurrection was an option – and in choosing not to use it, Lawrence made his audience feel Hoffman’s absence instead.

    Such technology was a long way off during the making of 1982’s Trail of the Pink Panther, which went into production more than a year after Peter Sellers’ death. But nor was it required: the actor’s entire performance as Inspector Clouseau in that film was constructed from the offcuts of 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Again, vast tracts of which had ended up on the floor of the editing suite in a feud over its length.

    Continued...
    Last edited by Maurice; 8th November 2019, 12:21 AM.

  • #2
    Telegraph article continued...


    Paul Walker, digitally resurrected in Furious 7

    A similar technique was used for Marlon Brando’s posthumous cameo in 2006’s Superman Returns, which was assembled from discarded parts of his performance in Superman II, released 26 years previously. The source footage needn’t even be relevant: in the 2004 science-fiction adventure Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Laurence Olivier (d. 1989) briefly appeared as the holographic villain Dr Totenkopf – or rather his likeness did, culled from old BBC tapes, while another (uncredited) actor delivered the character’s dialogue.

    This appearance was signed off by the Olivier estate, as these things should be. But such approvals don’t necessarily dispel broader concerns over taste, as evinced by the queasy craze a few years back for advertising campaigns featuring digitally exhumed celebrities. Audrey Hepburn plugged Galaxy chocolate, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich endorsed Dior perfume, while Bruce Lee, a famous teetotaller, shilled for Johnnie Walker whisky.

    The latter campaign, decried as a disgrace by Lee’s fans, was produced in consultation with the martial arts star’s daughter Shannon – which casts her recent complaints over the “disrespectful” portrayal of her father in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in an interesting light.


    Marilyn Monroe's posthumous ad for Dior
    CREDIT: YOUTUBE

    Of course, filmmakers who plan ahead can simply shoot their time-defying footage in advance. That’s the idea behind Richard Linklater’s forthcoming screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, which started shooting this year ahead of its planned release in 2040 – just in time for its now-59-year-old director’s 80th birthday. The original Sondheim show tracks three friends over 23 years, but tells their story backwards, moving from a place of burnt-out midlife cynicism to retrospectively ironic youthful buoyancy and hope.

    On Broadway in 1981, Merrily was a notorious flop, and no stage revival to date has quite made sense of it. But Linklater is a seasoned cinematic time traveller: his 2014 drama Boyhood was shot over 12 years and his Before trilogy with two nine-year intervals, in order to best capture the bittersweetly unstoppable flow of their characters’ lives.

    Will pulling the same trick in reverse be the pin that finally unpicks Merrily’s complex existential ideas? We’ve just two decades to wait to find out.

    Comment


    • #3
      Presenting an Oscar could become a whole new experience !!!

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      • #4
        Unless it's for a Frankenstein or zombie movie the answer is NO!

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        • #5
          Originally posted by cassidy View Post
          Presenting an Oscar could become a whole new experience !!!
          "The Oscar for Best Corpse (in a supporting role) goes to..."

          Comment


          • #6
            Who are these nameless, faceless people behind the "estates" which give the approval and how much do they get out of it? It's all about money and nothing about respect. The stars can't speak for themselves and give permission, so in that sense it's not unlike interfering with a corpse. I think it's bizarre.

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            • #7
              It's horrible and should be banned.
              I remember when they did something similar with the late great Les Dawson on one of those Audience With shows and also a ghostly Bob Monkhouse walking around a cemetery, creepy...

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              • #8
                Originally posted by cassidy View Post
                Presenting an Oscar could become a whole new experience !!!
                The acceptance speech would be an eye opener!

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                • #9
                  The treatment of Sean Connery, that caused him to quit films, shows which way the wind was blowing - just 'faces' paid to make bad parodies of themselves.

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                  • #10
                    ^ I would have thought Sean Connery had the funds to start his own production company.

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                    • #11
                      As is so often the case with modern media , just because something can be done, that doesn’t always mean that it should be done.

                      Likewise, modern technology makes it fairly easy for anyone to make a film. But should everyone make a film? Many people have nothing special to say

                      Steve

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                      • #12
                        There may be a million robots re-painting over a trillion recycled pixels but the painted robot in this advertisement looks fake to me.

                        Click image for larger version  Name:	B.png Views:	1 Size:	349.4 KB ID:	80074

                        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUajJiGatDU

                        I know that I was prejudiced against the fakery of painted 'animation' movies.

                        But I have very slowly adjusted to accept the fakery of cartoons and those painted mountains in Black Narcissus.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Steve Crook View Post
                          As is so often the case with modern media , just because something can be done, that doesn’t always mean that it should be done.

                          Likewise, modern technology makes it fairly easy for anyone to make a film. But should everyone make a film? Many people have nothing special to say

                          Steve
                          Many movies have nothing special to say!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Paxton Milk View Post

                            Many movies have nothing special to say!
                            Just like some internet discussion forums ... but that doesn't stop some contributors.

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                            • #15
                              Ones I can think of.......Peter Crushing - Rouge One, Oliver Reed - Parts of Gladiator, Steve McQueen - Ford Mustang TV advert.
                              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KsuvXHGCVXE
                              With CGI technology advancing year by year it will become more and more realistic. There already seems to be a growing problem market in skin flick deep fakes of living people.
                              As for banning it, I'm not sure if that could be done, I would expect the estates where the money ran out long ago of the dead actor would only be too happy to sell the rights of their long dead great-grandfather or great-grandmother if there was a market for it.
                              Last edited by Christine; 9th November 2019, 12:27 PM.

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