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Mixed Feelings

February 3, 2005

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I dare say that it isn’t going to be the last.

Gene Kelly’s image is being used to sell Volkswagen cars. The new commercial features his face grafted onto a modern dancer doing modern dance moves. The re-creation of the ‘Singing in the Rain’ street set is flawless and the cgi grafting is pretty good, although still noticeable.

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Growing trend: Dead actors making new appearances

I have mixed feelings about using dead celebrities’ moving images to sell products. The incident that really raises my hackles is the set of Dirt Devil commercials using Fred Astaire’s image dancing with a vacuum cleaner. My main reason for those bad feelings is the fact that his widow will allow his image to be used to sell something, but won’t allow it to be used to honor someone, such as was the case with Ginger Rogers’ AFI salute. Mrs Astaire claims to be abiding by Fred’s wishes, but it seems that the more money that is thrown at her, the more willing she is to let his image be used.

That’s beside the point and something I could bitch about for days if someone would let me.

My post today is about my mixed feelings about using these images.

One side of me finds it appalling – those people are dead, let them stay dead. Watching their movies or television programs is fine – they made those works themselves. These new commercials and film appearances were not made by them and therefore can sometimes have a really creepy aura about them, especially if you are a fan of these people and know these images so well.

But another voice pops up in my head telling me that by doing this, new generations will be introduced to these actors and they might just become curious enough to start watching movies that are more than 10 years old. Sure, the Volkswagen commercial is a little tasteless, but what if some kid likes it and wants to watch the movie it’s based on. A new fan of classic films could be born as a result.

In other words, I guess I’m trying to figure out if the ends justifies the means. In the case of Fred Astaire especially, it might. Due to the tight-fisted nature of his widow, a man who was once one of the most revered figures in Hollywood is being forgotten. The cost of using his image in documentaries is pretty high so he is being left out. It’s not impossible to see a future where people will believe that Gene Kelly was the only premiere dancer of the golden era of Hollywood simply because Fred’s image isn’t being put out there anymore.

I do believe it could be done in a more tasteful way, however. In the recent film “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” Sir Laurence Olivier made an appearance playing a character named Totenkoff. He actually played a character, an important one, although he was seen very little. His apperances were not exploitive and his face was not grafted on someone else doing cartwheels down a street.

I guess I’m still of two minds on the subject. With the technology being what it is, I know that this is going to happen more and more often so I suppose I should just get used to it.

I just can’t decide if I’m going to be happy about it or bemoan the use of a dead celebrity’s image for commercial gain.

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