Remember how James Dean died in a car crash when he was 24-years-old, leaving only three starring roles in film to his name and the iconic image of a new breed of Hollywood star? Remember how you were taught in school about why grave-robbing is wrong? No? Just me? Well, it’s not a good thing to do, and yet here we are. James Dean is being dragged back into the land of the living for a new movie.
Of course, the directors Anton Ernst and Tati Golykh will not be using shovels to get the job done. Instead, they have acquired the rights to James Dean’s image from his family to use in a new movie called Finding Jack. His performance, according to The Hollywood Reporter, will be recreated with ‘full body’ CGI using real footage of Dean as well as photos, while his voice will be done by another actor.
So, this is mega ghoulish, right? It’s also depressingly unsurprising. Here’s some background.
CMG Worldwide is a company that deals in the branding and commodification of celebrities, mostly dead ones. Their ‘clients’ include Aaliyah, Ingrid Bergman, Lou Gehrig, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks. Jack Kerouac, and of course, James Dean. Their website notes their ‘four decades of experience in licensing intellectual property’, using a New York Times quote about O.J. Simpson’s post-trial value as a back-up. Essentially, if you want to make a TV advert for a whiskey brand and think, say, James Coburn would be the perfect face to sell it with, you go through CMG Worldwide to get their rights. Do you think there’s money to be made from a hologram concert with Aaliyah? You call these people.
Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, told The Hollywood Reporter that ‘this opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us.’ That’s technically true but would any of these people have wanted this? This isn’t something James Dean would have had to worry about in the ’50s. Hell, we’ve barely had this problem for a decade or so.
Movies have reconstructed dead actors for posthumous performances. It happened to Peter Cushing in Rogue One, much to the discomfort of many. It’s likely to become more prevalent as the technology gets better too. Imagine if the CGI gets 100% lifelike and how that’ll be used by blockbusters and such. Actors don’t need to worry about getting older or less fit, and studios could just CGI in the star instead of worrying if they’re able to do the stuntwork alone. I imagine this will create some interesting contractual issues for actors in the coming years, not to mention their wills. But what of those who are already dead? Unless they specifically stipulated that their image couldn’t be used in such a way, what’s to stop craven family members and vulture-like corporations swooping in to appropriate it for a new coffee commercial? The mere idea of your image and likeness being owned by a business sends shivers up my spine.
For those of you wondering: Yes, The Simpsons did it.