The Wednesday Debate – Stereoscopic Liberties

We haven’t done a Wednesday Debate for a while, alas, the news that a bunch of Charlie Chaplin films were being prepped for 3D re-release filtered out of Hollywood earlier this week, provoking many a diverse response ranging from anger to complacency. With that in mind, and following a recent discussion on the virtues of colorising classic films, we thought it apt to relaunch the Wednesday Debate to accommodate peoples thoughts on the subject.

For our money Orson Welles put it best, when, from his death bed, Welles told his friend and fellow filmmaker Henry Jaglom “Don’t let Ted Turner deface my movie with his crayons”. Indeed, Welles considered black and white film to be “the actor’s best friend”, and never actually finished a colour feature film. Yet Welles is a complicated figure when one begins to look at the posthumous treatment of his work, with Touch Of Evil famously reconstructed in the wake of his passing. Walter Murch famously headed up a team of researchers tasked with restructuring the famously studio-abused Touch Of Evil in 1998, for the films 40th anniversary, using Welles’ extensive notes on his original vision of the film to guide this inherited/interpreted vision. For our money, the 1998 cut of Touch Of Evil is the strongest version of that particular film.

This week a German media group announced that a title named Chaplin 3D – Little Tramp´s Adventure was in production, the resulting product of which will be a 90-minute long feature incorporating an array of Charlie Chaplin set pieces, post-converted in to 3D. While the idea alone is enough to make one flinch in disgust, if, and this is a pretty big “if”, done properly, it might not be that bad an idea. And I say this as someone who’s generally not a fan of 3D.

So, what are the pro’s and con’s for tinkering? Well, the first negative point, and probably the key one in the whole argument, for a figure or a group to come along and change a particular work following the death of the director at hand represents a gross abuse of artistic intent. This point applies to both Chaplin and Welles, although only the latter (as far as we can tell) ever expressed his wishes on the subject.

Yet on the other hand, a 3D redux of selected scenes from the career of Chaplin would arguably, or presumably result in a wider audience for the films said sequences are taken from (assuming an audience is engaged enough to seek out further viewing). Ultimately, and from a purely complacent position, any kind of re-interpretation of a particular film doesn’t replace the original, nor does it render the initial vision as obsolete, so why should we be so concerned? This particular argument is one that is reeled out in the defence of remakes, so why not apply it here too?

So, where do you stand on the posthumous tinkering of another artists work? Fire away in the comments below.

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  1. The way I see it, is if it’s an opportunity to see these films on the big screen then I’m all for it. More often than not, my local has a 2D alternative so I usually go for that.

  2. I am a huge huge fan of Charlie Chaplin, so because it is him it probably colours my feeling on it a little bit. Really, I think the main question is…why? Chaplin’s films are incredible pieces of work, and I don’t think 3D is going to make them better. I don’t think more people are going to see the films (Not that it is the films, it is a rather odd “collection of clips that might work in 3D” kind of a deal) with a gimmicky added dimension either – the audience for Chaplin are the ones that already are seeking out his work, I would imagine.

  3. I’m not enthusiastically supporting it, nor do I think it’ll ultimately work out all that well, but I don’t see the harm. Colorized films only reigned for a brief time before they were largely discarded and now mostly just appear as an extra option on some bargain dvds burried on a shelf in supermarkets. I don’t see why changing a film, any film, regarless of the notoriety of the person making it, is such a threat when the original form is still available. Especially Chaplin’s work, much of which is in the public domain meaning it can be found widely and freely. As for artisitic integrity, yes, I believe there is a point (lapsing into the public domain) where a work now belongs to the public and they have the right to play with it and do with it what they will, because they aren’t altering the original, just making their own form to exist alongside it. If they were replacing the original (Star Wars) that’s one thing, but the colorized, 3D converted versions of Chaplin’s classics will be in the minority when compared to the broad availability of the unaltered version. Chaplin is an artist, yes, but the time where he controlled his work has passed. People are free to make their own interpretations and revisions of Shakepseare or Austen (both of which now have versions containing zombies), so why must Chaplin’s work be free from such tinkering and experimentation? You can argue about whether or not each is right, but that doesn’t mean the people doing it don’t have a right to do so.

    • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies though, is a joke though isn’t it? A hilarious wouldn’t-it-be-funny-if kind of thing, Its not a serious retake on the work, which presumably this thing with Chappers is. I think the worrying thing is that the underlying assumption is that Colour/3D is better than Black and White/2D as much as anything.

  4. I just don’t see the point of this exercise of ripping up a previous work and trying to inject some life into the decaying corpse of the 3D medium. It’s not respectful. Lets all head down to the National Gallery tomorrow and modernise Leonardo’s pieces…

  5. This debate comes very aptly timed for me as I just got back from Paul Merton’s Silent Clowns at the Leeds Film Festival. We we treated to several shorts including Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Harold Lloyd. I must admit that before tonight I don’t think I’d ever seen a silent comedy in full but I’m now comparing box set prices on Amazon. I absolutely loved them for their charm and humour which remains funny almost a hundred years later – the crowds were laughing more tonight than in any recent multiplex screening I can think of.

    I can see both sides of the argument you outline above but I fall on the anti-update side of the fence. I really don’t think they need updating. I know this would never happen but if some big studio boss or multiplex owner put on, and promoted well, the originals I think they’d do fantastically.

    Without getting to marketing on your ass, in times of recession people lap up nostalgic and vintage media – it’s been proven without doubt. The economic climate gives a perfect opportunity for these films to enjoy the mainstream again. I know I’m dreaming but can you blame me after seeing 3 hours of this joyous era?

    Go on Mr. Vue, dare you.

    • With The Artist on the horizon the time is indeed right for a mainstream reevaluation of the silent era, and indeed I’m going to be teaching a semester inspired by Michel Hazanavicius’s film in the new year myself (http://www.derbyquad.co.uk/film-courses). There’s always been something of a brooding undercurrent of appreciation for the silent film, but it would be great if it did break through.

      Oh, and here are a couple of recommendations for you, seeing as you’re keen to explore silent film!

      Sunrise – The greatest of all the silent movies, and the Citizen Kane of its day. German director F. W. Murnau was given the keys to the Hollywood castle in return for his crossing the Atlantic. It’s the perfect introduction to the world of the silent movie. -http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sunrise-Format-Blu-ray-Masters-Cinema/dp/B005JCOBOU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320880888&sr=8-1

      If you like that, then check out the arguably superior City Girl. Or The Last Laugh, which was the first silent flick to go inter title-less, which was a major turning point in visual storytelling.

      As if by magic, a new Charlie Chaplin collection is available on DVD next week. It’s as complete a set as is on the market right now, and while some of the films are sound films, they’re all rather great. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chaplin-DVD-Box-Set-Collection/dp/B0052ROSLI/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1320881265&sr=8-6

      Buster Keaton – The Complete Short Films. It is what it is. http://www.eurekavideo.co.uk/offers/MoChome.html (scroll down for it)

      Diary Of A Lost Girl. Louise Brooks classic by G.W. Pabst. Available for cheap from the link above.

      The Holy Mountain. Classic german mountaineering film. Starring Leni Riefenstahl. Better than it sounds. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Holy-Mountain-Masters-Cinema-DVD/dp/B00023JHA4/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320881166&sr=8-1-spell

  6. Here is the thing – 3D existed in the time that Chaplin lived. It existed in the time he was making films. He did not choose to film or release these pieces in 3D. Much like when he could have made films in colour, but chose not to. We should respect those intentions.

  7. Now if someone wanted to use modern 3D to update Dial M for Murder I would not have much of a problem…

  8. It’s a tough one.
    Realistically, it is ridiculous to tamper with such cherised works and exploit them merely for financial gain, whislt if it meant a few more people were intrigued to watch a classic Chaplin film, then surely that’s positive.

    With ‘The Artist’ coming out & having done so well at festivals, it’s clear that people are excited by the past, but Hazanavicius’s feature feels, sounds and looks like a 20s film rather than actually being one. Great restoration, digital enhancement and projection would have to be achieved to make these pictures look even vaguely cinematic in accordance with today’s standards & then to slap 3D on top seems a little too much.

    Perhaps the best of both worlds would be for independent cinemas or the BFI to attach a restored version of a Chaplin/Wells feature to ‘The Artist’ upon it’s release & see how well it performs.

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