Friday Flix: Who Owns What
[I realized last night that Friday is Good Friday, which a lot of people (including me!) have off, so I’m going to post this early.]
Since I’d been reading a lot of Raymond Chandler recently, when I saw “The Long Goodbye” on my cable’s On Demand I decided to watch it. I didn’t think I’d like it because Robert Altman directed it and he’s one of those critic’s darlings I haven’t had much use for. Also, Elliott Gould seemed like a poor choice to play Philip Marlowe.
It didn’t take long to realize my instincts were right. Instead of setting it in the ’40s like Chandler’s novel, Altman sets it in “modern day” which was 1973. The idea as Ebert said in his review was to show the hardboiled PI Marlowe as an anachronism, a throwback from the ’40s-’50s who had no place in the modern world. He drives an old car, he still wears suits with ties, and smokes regular cigarettes, unlike everyone else.
Gradually I got annoyed by what I saw as making Marlowe–and the story itself–into a joke. I got thinking, “Where do you get off, Robert Altman? What right do you have to turn Chandler’s story into a joke?” Legally every right so long as they acquired the rights from Chandler’s estate–he had been dead for about 14 years–but morally it irked me.
The thing to me is that Philip Marlowe isn’t a corporate character like Batman, Superman, or James Bond that’s owned by a publisher/studio. I don’t think he’s really become part of the public collective consciousness either like Dracula, Frankenstein, or Santa Claus. Perhaps that type of character has entered the collective consciousness, but not Marlowe specifically. Still, the point is that Marlowe was Raymond Chandler’s creation, so where do you get off 14 years after his death making that into a parody?
That’s what bugs me because it brings the Golden Rule into play: how would I like it if someone did that to one of my characters? I would be pretty pissed off about it. In fact I’d be pissed if anyone did anything to any of my characters stories after my death: sequels, prequels, spinoffs, or whatever. I don’t have much to fear about that of course, but still, as writers I think we’re entitled to own our creations unless they do become so popular they transcend into that public collective consciousness.
BTW, the irony is that watching the movie in 2011 the “modern” parts are far more of an anachronism now than Marlowe’s character. Also, Altman got a little taste of his own medicine with M*A*S*H the TV show altering characters from his movie. Karma!
Monday I reveal Plan B (not From Outer Space)…(and Sunday is another stellar holiday entry!)