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Trying To Tell A Story Against a Family’s Wishes

Trying To Tell A Story Against a Family's Wishes

Making a film about a deceased person is always a challenge as one would hope to convey their story as accurately as possible without having to take too many dramatic liberties. This goal is even more difficult when the subject is an artist, as to explore this person’s life and not feature the person’s music, paintings, or writings makes the whole endeavor perhaps pointless.

Kimberly Brown (New York Times) reports on the attempts by filmmakers to make a biopic about the late great Jeff Buckley. When he passed away in 1997, the control of his work went to his mother, Mary Guibert, who has since been using a sort of “veto” power to keep films from being made about his life by not authorizing music rights. While it is understandable how she is using this to protect his image, with her blocking some screenplays (one featuring Buckley talking to the ghost of Judy Garland), you have to wonder if one person should have this sort of power over how another person’s life is portrayed.

D. T. Max (The New Yorker) reports a similiar predicament in an article about Stephen Joyce, who controls James Joyce’s estate and has wrecked havoc on any scholarly attempts to explore Joyce and his creative work by not allowing “permission to quote sizable passages or to reproduce manuscript pages from those works of Joyce’s that remain under copyright,” essentially stopping any work that he personally finds objectionable. While Ms. Guilbert is seemingly respectful of Buckley’s legacy and fans, Stephen Joyce exhibits a disdain for scholardom, even admitting to destroying family letters in an effort to keep some skeltons from getting out of the closet.

Family members want to protect their loved ones life stories from being exploited and misrepresented, but there is also a hunger by filmmakers to tell a story and a desire by fans to learn more about an artist they love. As Ms. Guibert notes about Buckley, “The great curiosity the world has about him should be fed somehow, but in the right ways.”

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