If you keep tabs on critic Matt Zoller Seitz, you were looking forward to the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray of Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” in part to get your hands on Seitz’s video essay, the latest in a series of canny and incisive uses of the form. And if you bought the Blu-ray without checking the details, you might have been disappointed to discover that Seitz’s “Fosse Time” was nowhere to be found. In a blog post at RogerEbert.com, he explains why:
The reason has to do with rights clearances. I was told going into writing/editing that the piece would be assembled according to principles of Fair Use. This approach holds that you do not have to ask permission of copyright holders to use intellectual property for purposes of education, criticism, comedy, satire or parody, as long as the use is judicious and reasonable, and doesn’t deploy the material for any other purpose except to augment the point you’re trying to make.Criterion wanted to be extra careful about that last part on the “All that Jazz” disc, even though in theory they were working by Fair Use principles. The last time I did a video essay for them — back in 2010, for the Blu-ray of “The Darjeeling Limited” — they nixed my idea to do a Fair Use-style essay incorporating a lot of different clips, a la my Wes Anderson series “The Substance of Style,” because they preferred to officially clear each and every clip; this was, they believed, the only way to guard against getting pressed by lawyers into having to recall discs and re-edit or delete he supplement.
A lot of filmmakers and distributors have that concern: that even if you’re legally in the right regarding Fair Use-appropriated clips, intellectual property rights-holders might still come after you, and try to bully you into removing clips rather than spend money defending your legal right to use them. That’s a hill pretty much nobody wants to die on.
Criterion has long had a cautious (or, if you like, conservative) approach to copyright, often cutting out the clips of past films in the great filmmaker-on-filmmaker documentaries from the French “Cinéastes de notre temps” series, but they also specialize in resolving the rights issues that have kept movies like “Two-Lane Blacktop,” whose soundtrack includes a costly Doors track, off the market. Smaller companies like Cinema Guild, who next month will release Thom Andersen’s “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” which is composed entirely of footage from movies like “L.A. Confidential” and “The Exiles,” take a more aggressive approach, but they’re smaller targets; if “Los Angeles Plays Itself” were to be forced off the market, they’d have fewer copies to recall.
Criterion, at least, was fine with Seitz placing “Fosse Time” on YouTube, which is also home to Kevin Lee’s “Transformers: The Premake” — although, perhaps as a compromised, it’s unlisted, meaning it can be directly linked to but not found through a YouTube search. Here it is in all its fair-use-enabled glory: