Tuesday, 17 December 2013
I am legend
Back in the old days there were three countries which presented problems over issues of intellectual property these were, in no particular order: The Soviet Union, West Germany and the United States. The reasons for the difficulties presented by the Soviet Union are obvious, they didn't recognise any copyright or patents, Germany and the US presented rather more subtle and complex problems, Germany because she was out of step with the rest of the world insisting on an extra twenty years of copyright protection, the problem with the US was even more difficult though. They had and probably still do have, a habit of granting property rights to native interests, i.e. corporate entities and private individuals, that they properly had no rights to. The main instance I cite of this practice involves a song that people of my age will recall with a certain discomfort, that song being: The Okey Cokey. Scarcely a wedding or any family event from earlier years passed by without descending a into demonstrably rumbustious rendition of this song, which came with actions all participants were expected to perform. Which was okay until I was about nine, at which age, engaging in such antics with your aunty Vi become the focus of some embarrassment when your focus of attention at such events is getting a dance with your elder cousin's girlfriend Mary. Hang on a second -- Mary ahhh, flaxen haired Irish girl with big, soft -- eyes. Anyway I digress, the point is some Herbert in the US decided to claim authorship of this song after he'd heard it here, it being unknown in the US at the time. Thing is, they granted it to him and he actually earned royalties from it by the simple expedient of changing the chorus from Okey Cokey to Okey Pokey -- unbelievable!
Anyway I've wandered a bit because there's another aspect of US copyright practice that needs addressing and that is their requirement that Films need to be catalogued with a copyright registry, something which incurs a not insubstantial fee. So not insubstantial, that it's common practice to let this registration slip when a film becomes unprofitable or in some instances not to bother with registration at all. When this happens, such films are considered to be in the public domain within US federal Jurisdiction, this is what I believe to be the case with the first adaptation of Richard Matheson's seminal novel, I am Legend. Called, The Last man on Earth and starring Vincent Price, it's a cheap Italian production, filmed entirely it seems without synchronised sound, common practice in a cinematic tradition that sees most of it's work dubbed in to other languages. There is one other striking clue to its origin outside the US, a shot that included a row parked cars, all of 'em Fiat 500's.
I always hesitate to recommend the novel because it's not everyone's cup of tea and that's especially true if you're not familiar with the pulp idiom but it has one of most choke inducing endings of any story. It's an ending that prompted me to immediately re-read the book because it casts the narrative in a completely different light. Of course, I am Legend was remade as the cult classic, The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and once again with the, not so classic, film starring Wil Smith in the lead role. While I do love the Omega man, The last man on Earth is much closer to the novel, it still doesn't quite do justice to the ending though. Still here it is, courtesy of the curious copyright practices of the US, that deem (I believe) this film to be in the public domain, at least in that country, which in practical terms means everywhere there's an internet connection. This particular version has been colourised, quite effectively I have to say and I it think works to enhance the film in this case.