Today in Charade

21 July, 2015 at 9:10 am (charade, webjunk)

The AV Club is still plugging along, successfully bridging the gap between actual commentary and clickbait in a manner that The Dissolve quite mournfully was unable to do — with a strict reading of “successfully” as “commercially successful” only — and late last night I stumbled upon a headline for an article that claimed a “New search engine lets you quickly find your favorite movie quote’s source” accompanied by a photograph from Charade.

CHARADE: 'Good lord, where is he?'

But wait, I asked myself, how did the article know that was my favorite movie? And why on Earth would that be used as an example of being able to find film quotes, when the lines captured are amongst the least evocative of all time? A quick scrumble about Google Image Search revealed that the above pitcure has shown up in news articles when someone needs an example of movie subtitles or closed-captioning. Why? Because Wikimedia has it as a non-copyrighted image of an example of film subtitles and online journalism seems to use Wikipedia as its first and only stop for research. And why is it non-copyrighted? Because the film was published without a complete copyright notice.

Having read a little about this, my memory was that some prints of Charade — but not all! — were distributed without without copyright indicia, and I had previously gone on record that I simply couldn’t believe that Universal would endorse remakes of Charade if it didn’t actually control the copyright, that the gazillion chop-shop DVD releases of Charade had to be from prints that left off the copyright notice, that it was a loophole. This was an incorrect reading or understanding of events. Turns out, while it was a technicality, it wasn’t a some-prints-are-protected-some-aren’t glitch. It was much more along the lines of the single misplaced comma that cost Ed Stevens his job, as apparently Universal Pictures published a copyright notice on the film, but did so in a manner that only met two of the three required elements for a statement of copyright in 1963: the claimant, the year, and the word or symbol for copyright. All copies of Charade at the time lacked the last of those elements. And so, according to the copyright cheatsheet from Cornell University, it “fail[ed] to comply with required formalities” and instantly became a work in the public domain. Which was fine for twenty-five years, as most people couldn’t get their hands on an actual 33mm print of Charade to distribute or duplicate it, but the home video market changed that significantly.

So with this new understanding firmly in place, only two quibbles remain: if the soundtrack and script are maintained under separate copyrights, and Peter Stone had maintained his copyright on the screenplay to Charade (or, at least he registered copyright on its original short story version, “The Unsuspecting Wife” in 1961), surely the dialogue quoted in the subtitles is under copyright? Could a film be in the public domain, but the ability to reproduce its dialogue in print not be?

And secondly, am I an unredeemable, pretentious idiot for continually calling the film in question CharAHde instead of CharAIde? The obvious niche benefit of the website this AV Club article was about is that it could help in the production of certain supercuts. I have been slowly collecting a list of different pop-culture examples of the pronunciation of “charade”, (Pro-AHD: The Hour, The 39 Steps, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; pro-AID: The X-Files, NewsRadio, Agent Carter — I’m very disappointed in you, young Jarvis!), but an intital search of QuoDB provides me with more to go and listen to and add to this accounting.

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