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The beautiful and talented actress Kim Novak has no bigger fan than me, which is why I take no pleasure in pointing out the 78-year-old is patently wrong — factually and morally — to assert in a full-page ad in today’s Variety that the team behind The Artist did anything wrong or even unusual by using in their film — with credit — a bit of Bernard Herrmann‘s iconic score from Alfred Hitchcock‘s Vertigo (1958), in which Novak starred with Jimmy Stewart. (Hermann’s “Scene d’Amour” plays briefly during the protagonist’s lowest moment in The Artist.)
Novak is, of course, entitled to her opinion, but I find it to be over-the-top to suggest, as she did, that “my body — or at least my body of work — has been violated by the movie The Artist” and that the filmmakers behind The Artist “use[d] and abuse[d]” Herrmann’s score.
When one film features another film’s music without offering credit, that is wrong. But when one film features another film’s music with credit, as The Artist did, that is called an homage, and it is not; in fact, it is anything but unusual.
Many films feature, in their trailers and/or in their finished products, “samples” of older films’ scores. (Several even feature samples of Herrmann’s, just like The Artist.) Some go beyond even just samples — indeed, the soundtrack for Moulin Rouge!, a best picture Oscar nominee, is composed virtually entirely of non-original music!
The reality is that all art draws upon other art, to one extent or another, and there is nothing wrong with that. References of this nature are almost always intended — and seen — as a great tribute from one artist to another. They appear all the time in the work of contemporary artists like Martin Scorsese (most recently in Hugo) and Steven Spielberg (most recently in War Horse), just as they did in the work of previous generations of artists including John Ford, Howard Hawks, and, yes, Hitchcock himself. If anything, they lead younger people to check out older work, and in so doing help to keep it alive.
This evening, The Artist‘s writer-director Michel Hazanavicius issued a statement much to that effect: “The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema, and grew out of my (and all of my cast and crew’s) admiration and respect for movies throughout history. It was inspired by the work of Hitchcock, Lang, Ford, Lubitsch, Murnau and Wilder. I love Bernard Herrmann and his music has been used in many different films and I’m very pleased to have it in mine. I respect Kim Novak greatly and I’m sorry to hear she disagrees.”
Novak’s advertisement, which may have violated the rules that the Academy updated in September (“Any form of advertising that includes quotes or comments by Academy members is prohibited”) and that I wrote about in-depth just days ago, will not stop artists from engaging in this practice, nor should it. But it could harm the standing of The Artist in this year’s Oscar race — against all odds, it is currently the best picture frontrunner — and that would be terribly unfair.
I hope that Novak is not penalized for her comments, but also that she will reconsider them.
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