Pierre Huyghe makes art out of the rights of individuals. His work’s a romantic parry against what could be called the virtual slavery of copyright laws, under which your voice, your life story, and your identity can be bought and sold for their entertainment value. In two new videos, Huyghe reunites the disembodied voice of the French Snow White with its rightful owner and grants the last word to the bank robber played by Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. For an upcoming project–an animated manga–Huyghe bought the rights to a Japanese character named AnnLee, whom he plans to set free in the public domain.
In the three-minute, 17-second video Blanche Neige Lucie Huyghe champions the cause of French singer Lucie Dolene, who voiced the lines and sang the lyrics of the lead character in the 1962 French version of Walt Disney’s 1937 animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Huyghe films Dolene on a Paris soundstage as she sings and hums “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and places her account of dealing with Walt Disney–“a delightful man, very attentive”–in English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
After hearing her sing at the opening of a Hollywood hotel, Disney hired her to dub over the original voice of Snow White, Adriana Caselotti, for the French version. “Snow White’s voice is a light soprano, but not too lyrical. A small resonant voice–childlike, fresh without being too technical,” says Dolene. “When I gave my voice to that character, that beautiful little princess, graceful and innocent, I was Snow White….Yes, absolutely.”
Now the spell of “the most beautiful dubbing I’ve ever done” is broken. In the video a less enraptured Dolene observes, “Today when I watch the film I have a strange feeling. It’s my voice and yet it doesn’t seem to belong to me anymore.” After the film was rereleased, she sued Disney to “protect my rights for the use of my voice.” Huyghe ends his video reporting that in November 1996, Dolene “regained ownership of her voice.”
“It’s not about hating Disney,” says the 37-year-old Huyghe. “Disney is simply the symptom of cultural domination. The sign you see the most is the sign you react to or attack.” Huyghe doesn’t wish to be identified as one of those Gaullist “intellos” who rail against Mickey as an icon of Yankee imperialism.
In earlier projects, Huyghe deconstructed movies by dubbing dialogue and re-creating scenes. Poltergeist, An American Friend, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Rear Window are among the films he refashioned to explore issues of fractured identity and to play with the relationship of image to sound. In his 1999 split-screen video The Stand-Ins, he pairs 15 one-minute clips of people in Central Park with re-creations performed by actors.
Huyghe re-created a slice in the life of John Wojtowicz in The Third Memory, a ten-minute split-screen video coproduced by the Renaissance Society and the Centre Georges Pompidou. Wojtowicz is the would-be bank robber whose ill-fated Brooklyn bank holdup was the inspiration for Dog Day Afternoon. The tape begins with the obligatory FBI warnings about copyright infringement. “The FBI protects the image, but it’s a fake image,” says Huyghe, who brought Wojtowicz to a Paris stage to recount the hostage taking and media spectacle depicted in Sidney Lumet’s film. Al Pacino played a character based on Wojtowicz, but Huyghe had no luck tracking down the actor. “It’s more easy to meet Bill Clinton,” he says. Wojtowicz had watched Pacino in The Godfather the day he set out to steal the money for a sex-change operation for his male lover, and credits that movie with giving him a tip on criminal technique.
Directing American actors on a spare set, Wojtowicz runs through two scenes from Dog Day Afternoon as Huyghe displays their copyrighted counterparts from Lumet’s movie on a split screen. “It’s 28 years now that I’ve been fighting to get my movie money,” says Wojtowicz. “Instead they keep giving it to the hostages.” In his convoluted narration, the ex-felon refers to his version of events as the “real” movie. “In the real movie the cop stops right there, points the shotgun at me, and he tells me if I take a move ‘I’ll blow your fucking brains out.’ OK, say it.”
“If you make a move I’ll blow your fucking brains out,” repeats an actor.
Movie critic Janet Maslin called the character based on Wojtowicz a “complicatedly unhappy man” and Roger Ebert called him “one of the most interesting modern movie characters.” However, you won’t be able to see Wojtowicz as himself setting the record straight as he sees it–including his accusation that the FBI tried to kill him because live TV coverage of the bank robbery bumped Richard Nixon’s nomination speech at the Republican Convention in Miami off the air–until Warner Brothers’ vice president of licensing OKs the clips or Huyghe’s counsel can prove the minute and a half of footage qualifies as fair use. The Renaissance Society has postponed the debut of The Third Memory, originally scheduled to screen March 12 through April 23. Meanwhile, Lucie Dolene coos “Un jour mon prince viendra” as Blanche Neige Lucie plays in a continuous loop through June 25 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago. Call 312-280-2660.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Stamets.