Peter Cushing Just Changed the World

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin

Peter Cushing died in 1981, which makes it a world-changing event that he reprised his role as Grand Moff TarkinĀ from Star Wars: Episode IV (the first Star Wars movie), in the recently released Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I hear he was very good, for a dead man.

Did everyone feel the shift as the world changed? Now that digital technology, with sufficient sample size, can create new performances for dead actors, a lot of questions open up. First of all, who owns Peter Cushing?

In the print media, stories, novels, poems, etc., are under copyright under 75 years after the author is dead. But if the author can go on writing stories after death (we’re not there yet, thankfully), then what does that do to copyright?

Whom did they ask, to use Peter Cushing’s previous performance to create a new performance? And more importantly, whom did they pay, and at what rate?

An actor’s work used to last for his or her lifetime. But now that Peter Cushing has played a part after his death, that has changed. So when do I get to see the new Humphery Bogart movie? A part written for that actor in his prime, and played by a digitized configuration of his best trade-mark work, would certainly sell tickets. So who owns Humphery Bogart now?

If no one owns Humphery Bogart after his death, then anyone can cast him in anything. In fact, every actor who reaches the status of becoming a name actor, a star, could go on starring in films for as long as human civilization lasts. And we would see them, forever, in their prime. James Dean could have the career his untimely death denied him. Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Maron Brandon, and dozens of other great actors who have stepped off the mortal set could bring back star-studded casts in new and yet-to-be-imagined films, and they don’t even have to be period pieces.

But if no one owns these peoples’ aggregates, which can be digitized into new performances, then who gets to say to what use they can be put? In this age when capitalism declares that anything that makes money is inherently good, who is going to say that you can’t make porn film of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy doing road trips and boinking in famous locations? If you can a dead star in a new movie, who’s to say you can use her naked? And all his or her parts, real or imagined, as well?

Entertainment lawyers, SAG, Actor’s Equity, and all the great actors of the present have a whole lot of new contractual parameters to work out, one of which is, of course, what rate do you get when you’re not breathing anymore, and who gets to collect? Digital artists will be using samples from the whole of these artists’ working lives: not only their acting, but their physiques, their charisma, their voices and mannerisms. Five hundred years from now, when Bruce Willis stars in his nine thousandth film, opening as a box office smash over sixteen continents (we will have new continents that we have built in the great oceans by then), dozens of space stations (why live down a gravity well), and the colonies on the Moon, Mars, and several of Jupiter’s moons (for those traditional souls who do want to live down a gravity well), should he not get his usual billing? In the unkindest cut of all, Peter Cushing reprised his role from the first Star Wars movie, but he did not get credit.

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