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Why Digitally Resurrecting James Dean for New Movie Is a Contemptible Idea (Column)

James Dean American Film Actor 1931
Historia/Shutterstock

I want to weigh in on the controversy over last week’s announced plans to digitally resurrect James Dean for a new war movie. This is one of the most contemptible ideas I’ve heard in a long time. I am in full agreement with those celebs — including Chris Evans, Bette Midler and Elijah Wood — who’ve taken to social media to lambaste the move. “I’m sure he’d be thrilled,” Evans sarcastically remarked in his tweet, referring to Dean, who died in a car crash in 1955 at age 24.

Producer and former casting director Wallis Nicita emailed me her thoughts on the issue: “Does RIP mean resurrected individual performance? That’s way too zombie for me. Actors not only have to compete with the living, but now also with the dead. The digital infusion of the CGI James Dean into ‘Finding Jack’ is grotesque, undignified and exploitive.”

I also spoke with SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris to get her take. “I do understand those who have a viscerally negative reaction to these kinds of re-creations,” she said. “From the perspective of the actor, it subverts the creative process, reduces opportunities to work and is an attack on creativity. I also challenge those who say this is the only way the creator’s vision can be realized.”

Carteris noted that while the guild embraces “how the continued evolution of technology can help filmmakers tell their stories,” the James Dean example is ripe for potential abuse. She said it was important that Dean’s family was given the chance to approve his image use, and gave its blessing. “We have continuously fought for strong protections against unauthorized digital performances in both commercial and expressive works for a decade,” she added.

Carteris also said SAG continues to fight for digital image rights in the law that “guarantee our members and their families have control over their artistic performances.” In the past, images of deceased actors, including Fred Astaire, Marilyn Monroe and Gene Kelly, appeared in commercials; others, such as Lawrence Olivier and Marlon Brando, appeared in short scenes in movies; and CGI versions of actors who died during production, like Paul Walker and Philip Seymour Hoffman, materialized in certain movie scenes.

Creepy, if you ask me.