"Our works in stone, in paint, in print, are spared, some of them, for a few decades or a millennium or two, but everything must finally fall in war, or wear away into the ultimate and universal ash - the triumphs, the frauds, the treasures and the fakes.
, from F for Fake
Today I would like to talk about the way that things fade.
As we grow old, we carry our youthful obsessions with us, but they are no longer shared with the majority of the population. There was a phenomenon in Britain a few years ago, whereby there was a proliferation of television nostalgia programmes, in which middle-aged talking heads tried to convince us that the fads and fashions of their youth were still relevant to the wider population. Nonetheless, as time progresses, the older generation becomes adrift from the thread of popular culture. It is not just Morecambe & Wise and black pudding that are transient, it is culture itself. A few cultural icons re-emerge to excite a new generation, such as flared trousers, but the majority wither and die unremarked, just as the majority of people wither and die unremarked. Only the very old come to realise that we are truly alone in the world, and that we carry everything about us in our heads, and that it will all be gone.
The Internet Movie Database lists a number of films that are known to exist, but are no longer with us. The prints were destroyed. Some films only survive in edited form, such as Erich von Stroheim's Greed, or almost everything by Orson Welles. Some films are planned but never started, such as Terry Gilliam's version of Watchmen. Some films are started but never finished. Dirty Harry does not belong to this band of romantic failures. It was directed by Don Siegel and therefore it was probably finished on time and on budget with very little wasted footage. It was produced by Warner Bros. It was released to cinemas all across the world in 1971 and made a lot of money. No doubt it the USA it helped to sell a lot of revolvers. It gave Clint Eastwood another string to his bow, outside the Western and war movie genres. It was the genre breakout that Sylvester Stallone never had and it remains a classic of 1970s Hollywood cinema, the action-packed flip-side of The French Connection. What do the children of the twenty-first century think of Dirty Harry? I was twenty four years old in 2000, and the last time I saw the film I thought it was slow and dull. It is a classic etc, but that will pass. Dirty Harry will pass. Clint Eastwood will pass. He will die, and years in the future he will be misremembered, and then he will be forgotten, and then he will really die.
I was brought to this mental path by an article I have recently read on a programme called The Nation's Health, that was broadcast in 1983 by Channel 4 television in Britain. It is not available in any format. It doesn't even have an IMDB entry, although most of the cast members went on to do other work. It starred Vivienne Ritchie and her beautiful long red hair. I can trace my love of long hair back to my childhood. I can also trace my love of jeans back to my childhood, specifically to Pam Dawber who played Mindy in Mork & Mindy which was popular when I was young. Pam Dawber will never love me as I love her. And it is hopeless, because I love the Pam Dawber of 1978, and she is gone. Fortunately, Mork & Mindy is available on DVD, and I can contemplate Pam Dawber at length in the privacy of my own bedroom. I realise now that I was also brought to this mention path by Mork's situation reports to his leader, Orson. This article was therefore brought to you by my fetishistic love of long hair. And it is love that I feel, not sexual desire, except in a loving context. My loins do not sing when I contemplate long hair. It is my heart that sings.
I digress. There will come a time when Dirty Harry will no longer exist. It would be interesting to draw a graph over time, showing its proliferation in the world. Dirty Harry was filmed in 1970, on 35mm film. For a short while Dirty Harry existed as a mass of film cans containing the raw footage, and some audio tape containing Lalo Schifrin's soundtrack and all the sound effects and dialogue. It would have been edited into a smaller set of film cans that contained the completed movie. And then it would have been duplicated for distribution, and eventually transferred to video tape for broadcast on television, and later on still for release to home video, albeit at a lower picture quality than the original 35mm. With DVD it multiplied still further at a much higher quality, and with DVD inevitably there came unauthorised distribution over the Internet. Today Dirty Harry is all over the place. No doubt the currently available DVD editions will be replaced by whatever replaces DVD, until there comes a time when digital media is no longer distributed in shops.
Dirty Harry now exists both physically and digitally. As history progresses there will no longer be a market for Dirty Harry, and it will cease to exist physically. The physical media will become worn out, scratched, discarded, burned, disassembled etc. Perhaps one day there will no longer be a way to play video cassettes or DVDs. The original film cans will rot or be destroyed by fire, or purged by religious purists, I do not know. It is entirely possible that the film will be deliberately destroyed by a future regime. It is not mentioned anywhere in Frank Herbert's Dune, even though that book is set in the future. There are all kinds of reasons why a purist regime might want to destroy Dirty Harry. The film is designed to make its audience feel good about the deaths of certain human beings. The main character is never seen to pray. The film does not carry a moral message about animal experimentation. As far as a totalitarian regime is concerned, a failure by omission is nonetheless a failure. There is so much that Dirty Harry omits. A future regime based on hatred of Peruvians might ban Dirty Harry on the grounds that the main character does not curse Peru. Perhaps this regime will dub over some of the dialogue, or have the film altered so that Clint Eastwood says "Do you feel lucky, Peruvian?". And then Clint will shoot the man on the floor, because he was a Peruvian. And the audience will cheer.
Eventually Dirty Harry will leave the physical world and it will become entire digital. There are doubtless thousands of copies of Dirty Harry on people's hard drives and floating around in the Internet. Perhaps one day all storage will be via the Internet, with every file in the world stored on every computer in the world. Given that the film exists in the digital domain it will theoretically live forever. The space required to store the highest-definition reproduction of Dirty Harry will eventually become so trivial that there will be no reason to ever delete it, or anything. Perhaps one day computers will no longer have a delete key.
Dirty Harry will still die. People will fill their hard drives with hundreds of thousands of films. It will no longer be possible to download Dirty Harry via Emule or via Warner Bros' official bittorrent; instead, a retro enthusiast will have to download Complete Clint Easywood Filmographie (mnj 30+) by Melaga (ENG). And perhaps one day the entire output of the American film industry from 1875 to some future date will be available as one big zip file. Who will then remember Dirty Harry? It will become valueless, lost in a mass of valueless films. People will only be interested in the nudity, because human beings will be interested in nudity long after they are no longer interested in Clint Eastwood. And Dirty Harry does not have much nudity. And nudity is not guarantee of persistence, because the bodies that excited my grandparents do nothing for me, and surely the bodies of today's stars will do nothing for future generations. And of course it might be that a future regime will prohibit nudity, or there will be some realignment of opinion that will render nudity obsolete. Perhaps one day we will all be nude all the time, and nudity will no longer have an effect.
My question therefore is this. Clint Eastwood, or nudity? Which will win?