5 Replies to “Let the Creators Decide”

  1. Working alongside content creators is one thing; enabling destructive monsters is another — I think that your post continues to illustrate the ‘balancing act’ aspect of digital preservation. Creative types aren’t always the best people to be put in charge of preservation activities.

    Star Wars is an interesting case because it perfectly encapsulates the dilemma of individual desires vs. social memory (there are a lot of caveats to this, but just roll with it for now). In the documentary film ‘The People vs. George Lucas,’ there is a lengthy discussion about the motivations and ethics behind George Lucas’ decisions to make changes to his films (see: http://peoplevsgeorge.com/). George Lucas’ actions regarding his films positively reflect many of the specifics of digital preservation, namely, format migration. Many preservationists and conservators would give Lucas their blessing to digitize deteriorating film, but one would be hard pressed to find an archivist who’d be okay with adding supplemental or additive content to an original or official digital surrogate (although, remastering a film seems to be an okay thing, right?). In fact, I recall hearing rumors (while standing in line to get my fancy first edition DVD box set of the original trilogy at a Sam Goody) that the original version of the film was destroyed during the remastering process. Granted, it seems unlikely this is the case, but it stands to reason that things will be lost when things are continuously altered without a clear preservation policy (especially when Lucas’ primary defense of his actions is that the Special Edition version of Star Wars is what he really wanted to make in 1977, but didn’t have the technology…).

    Another destroyer of childhoods is Steven Spielberg and his atrocious re-release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, which included previously unreleased material only available because of a CGI E.T., as well as updating the film to make it more in-line with contemporary political views by replacing all of the pistols with walkie-talkies.

    But, I digress.

    Working with content producers to ensure that their output matches acceptable digital preservation requirements is an excellent idea. I’ve witnessed first hand the dangers of poor decision making regarding born-digital content, particularly in the music world. Working with content creators to encourage the use of forward thinking practices is what we should be doing alongside other more ‘retroactive’ endeavors. And sometimes, in the case of George Lucas and Star Wars, sometimes it is the archivist’s duty to preserve what Lucas is actively destroying — which ventures into the realm on another unethical activity: illegal copying.

    1. Happy to hear that I’m not alone in my assessment, and I endorse the idea that George Lucas is a destructive monster. Thanks for the info on that documentary; looks like something I will enjoy. I really like the point you raised about social memory, as there is not one consistent version of the original Star Wars films that everyone knows. I grew up watching the versions of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi that my Dad got on VHS sometime during the 80s, but anyone born in the late 90s probably has only seen the version that was released in 2004 (not to mention the variations in between, the blu-ray versions, or if you recorded it on a VHS tape in the early 90s were scenes were cut to allow for commercials…) Anyway, these different variations of the original three Star Wars overtime conflict with a cohesive social memory for how we remember these films.

      Hopefully by working with content creators on preservation of their materials, it will allow archivists to create preservation plan that is both agreeable to the content creator as well as the archivist, and has the added benefit of making the archivists work a little easier when you can ask questions directly to the creator. It might be more work upfront, but I think it beats working retroactively and keeping your fingers crossed that what you preserved lives up to what the creator would have wanted.

      Ugh, I just realized I own the 30th anniversary remaster of E.T….I’m going to go cry over my lost childhood.

      1. The conflict of ‘cohesive social memory of how we remember these films’ is a really good point. My own personal Star Wars memories rely heavily upon the early 90’s VHS copy I had (I’ll be honest, *have*) and to some extent the world of ‘The Expanded Universe’ that came from authorized novels, comics, and video games. The announcement of a ‘new canon’ with the release of episode VII takes the conflict of social memory vs. intellectual property rights holders even further — entire worlds and characters, much like the peaceful denizens of Alderaan, “cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” While the majority of this comment may be met with muffled utterances of, *nerd, cough, cough,* this is an example of messy history, albeit a fictional one, with very real implications.

  2. I’ve been conflicted about the creators’ intentions and preservation since reading the introductory piece from Re-Collection about the work of Eva Hesse. I’m of two minds. I don’t think that there is anything tragic about the loss of ephemeral artwork or performance. In fact, I think that nowadays, ephemerality can be a crucial artistic decision. In an era where so much is being documented, often against our will, it is worth respecting an artist’s decision to have their work self-destruct or be essentially undocumentable. Live in the present for once! It is psychologically healthy.

    On the other hand, documentation and preservation are valuable for human culture, and I am absolutely on board with preserving performances as examples of cultural traditions – whether that is Bhutanese sacred dance or contemporary performance art. I think focusing on traditions rather than individuals helps clear up some of my ambivalence about artist’s intent. “Here is the 90th variation on Star Wars as an example of how 21st Century Hollywood cannibalizes itself.” “Here is an example of street performers playing go go beats on five-gallon buckets.” If an artist wants to opt out, that’s fine and possibly admirable. (Even so, after their death, I think it can be appropriate for archives and preservation groups to attempt to save works even against artists’ stated wishes.)

    Star Wars (aka “Episode IV”), since you bring it up, presents a pretty interesting case. In one sense, we REALLY don’t need to worry at all about preserving this movie. I’m pretty sure it will live on as long as humans have the capacity to watch a movie, even if we are just brains in a jar reacting to electrical impulses. But what will we preserve? What even is Star Wars? There are these interesting projects where people attempt to recreate the version of the film that came out in theaters in 1977, but there were different versions of THAT, too. Star Wars represents the beginning of a time when digital effects and computers began to make it possible for directors to fiddle around with their old works, but film preservation in general is full of minor editing variations, missing reels, censored copies. It’s kind of a mess. And much more of a mess for all the other movies that don’t have insanely dedicated fans doing amateur preservation/emulation work.

    1. You raised a really interesting point about not necessarily defaulting to documenting things. As you said, so much of our lives today are being documented, so it can be freeing to create something that is not meant to last. My choir director regularly mentions at rehearsals how we should enjoy these moments together singing, and how these choral moments will only be around in our memories. I generally roll my eyes at the earnestness, but there is some truth in that. I also really like the idea you raised where we should focus on traditions rather than individuals when it comes to preservation. That big picture thinking is a good way to wrap my brain around what’s important to preserve.

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