Monday, 12 January 2009

Photoshop = Nazi Propaganda?

I don't really want to be excited about Valkyrie but it's hard not to be after all Bryan Singer is one of my favourite directors and the cast is a veritable who's who of excellent actors including Ken Branagh, Terence Stamp, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Christian Berkel (if you haven't seen Das Experiment you really ought to check it out), Kevin McNally, and err Eddie Izzard (last seen as a talking mouse). Not to mention Tom Cruise of course who I'm loathed to admit is a pretty good actor if you're prepared to over look the whole weirdy-evil-brainwash-psydo-religion-cult stuff!

The film centers around the attempted assassination of Hitler by his own people during the second world war. For obvious reasons this is a story close to the heart of many Germans and Claus von Stauffenberg is seen as something of a national hero due to the part he played in trying to kill Hitler and hopefully save Germany before it was too late.

Germany doesn't like Scientology and has not recognised it as a religion due to the fact that it has primarily economical interests and as such is a commercial enterprise. In fact the cult has been declared unconstitutional (way to go Germany!) I may be reading too much into this but I should think Germans are very aware of the dangers of cults and brainwashing... Anyway all this bad blood meant that when Tom Cruise was named as the actor to play Stauffenberg, Germany basically told the production company to naff off if they thought they were going to be allowed to film at key historical locations. Scientology 0, Germany 2!

Eventually after much negotiating and, lets hope, lots of money passing hands filming was allowed. This was not the end of the trouble of course - during filming 11 men were badly injured when the side of a truck fell open when cornering at speed and spilt them onto the road. Also a huge chunk of material had to be re-shot after reels of film were wiped!

But the latest and to my mind scariest controversy has not been widely reported. United Artist released a pair of promotional stills - one a profile of the original Claus Von Stauffenberg and the other Tom Cruise in costume and the same pose, and my word don't they look similar! Perhaps they are related some how? No, the original has been altered to look more like the Cruiser! Hopefully you can see for yourself that the image has been altered: its been stretched, making his head shape longer and narrower; the chin has been given the Cruise dip; the nose has been given a bit of a curve (the original Claus has a very straight nose); and finally it's been aged and degraded to my mind a forgivable crime but one which help disguise the other alterations.


I'm not going to go in to any technical detail but what interests me is the morality of it, as most of you know I'm a big fan of digital art, altering photographs, and of course photoshop. I've always seen it as fairly harmless but this seems to be actually altering our historical record and here we enter the territory of 1984's Ministry of Truth. My worry is that most people are not very aware of Von Stauffenberg, I for one knew little more than the fact he was involved in a plot to kill Hitler with a bomb in a briefcase, and we're naturally going to pick up more knowledge from Valkyrie and probably start to associate Tom with Claus anyway. It would be nice to think that the film will encourage people to learn more about the real history and perhaps people will wonder if Claus looked anything like Cruise - that's certainly the kind of thing I end up wondering about these kind of films - so after leaving the cinema we head home and tap "Claus Von Stauffenberg" into a Google image search - first result is Tom in a still from the film and the second is the two pictures released by United side by side! So all of a sudden the main reference picture for Claus is the one which has been doctored by United Artists (allegedly).

It worries me, photoshop is a very powerful tool and as Stan put it: with great power comes great responsibility! Just because we can do an alteration and get paid to perhaps we still have a duty to question whether its the right thing to do.

Of course these are just opinions I can't prove that doctoring has occurred but I don't feel the need to I would like to believe that (along with a number of others) I am wrong, after all Tom is an actor and really shouldn't need to look identical to the person he's portraying - Joaquin Pheonix did just fine as Johnny Cash despite not looking a great deal like him.

Interestingly this article now has a correction at the top which sounds suspiciously like something that has come as the result of legal bully from United Artists and basically states that the writer of the artical hadn't done their research properly and had overlooked the archive image that United Artists had found and released!
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