Last month, film directors testified to a House committee on film colorization. The arguments against colorization took the following form: It is immoral to alter a work of art without the consent of the artist. A film is a work of art and the director is its artist. Therefore, it is immoral to alter, by colorization, a film, without the consent of the film's director.
Accepting the above argument as valid, do we now view the use of a work of art for purposes other than that which it could reasonably have been intended as an immoral alteration?
Specifically, is the use of an orchestral piece written 50 years ago immoral if used as background music in a 1987 film about the war in Vietnam? Is director Oliver Stone responsible for an immoral act in using Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" in the sound track of "Platoon"?
This is a question of appropriateness. Stone would say "Adagio" is appropriate for "Platoon." Would Barber say "Platoon" is appropriate for "Adagio"? The artist Stone has an unfair advantage over the artist Barber in deciding the appropriateness of the music's use. Barber died six years ago.
Is it fair that the strong images of "Platoon" get associated with the melodic lines of "Adagio"? An association that colors a music listener's impression of the piece?
If morality were established by force of tradition, Stone would be clear of guilt. There are many precedents for yoking music presumably intended to stand on its own to cinematic work: Woody Allen (whose spoke of the immorality of colorization in his testimony) used Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" in "Manhattan." Stanley Kubrick used a Handel suite in "Barry Lyndon," Richard Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarathustra" in "2001: A Space Odyssey" (deny it colored that piece of music in everyone's mind) and Rossini's "The Thieving Magpie" in "A Clockwork Orange."
But morality has to do with the way people should act, and not tradition. For a film director to use a piece of music composed as an artistic entity as background music is clearly as immoral as colorizing, say, the films of Preston Sturges.