Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali’s Images Are Up For Sale, And ‘The Congress’ Offers A Cautionary Tale

In a move that speaks to the extent to which famous people stop being individuals and start being part of a conglomerated project that includes their images, Deadline notes that Elvis Presley Enterprises and Muhammad Ali Enterprises, which include the rights to the images of both men, may be headed to the market. If still images of Presley and Ali could generate $60 million a year, it’s intriguing to think what they could generate with technology that could bring them back to life as shadows. What would nostalgia concerts featuring Presley rake in? What about technology that lets a promoter put on a fight between Ali and Manny Pacquiao?

The company that resurrected Tupac Shakur in the form of a hologram for a memorable 2011 concert, Digital Domain Media Group, actually planned to create a similar digital replica of Presley before it filed for bankruptcy in 2012. And bringing the dead back to reclaim their former glory, with all the profits going to the corporations that own their images, isn’t the only way that this sort of technology could be valuable–and very disconcerting.

If the prospect of someone owning your likeness, your expressions, your voice, and the ability to manipulate those images and audio to make you do or say anything, is odd enough when you aren’t around to see it, or to verify whether or not your image is doing or saying something you’d actually do or say, it’s even more unsettling to consider what it would be like for someone to be able to do those things when you were still alive. That scenario’s precisely what’s at issue in a new movie making its debut at Cannes, The Congress, which combines live-action and animation to follow a fictionalized version of Robin Wright as, on advice from her agent, who believes she’s wasted her career, she allows herself to be digitized and manipulated, in part so she can afford to spend time with her son, who appears to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Even without the trippy animation, the trailer gets at how disconcerting it must be to see someone, apparently yourself, do things that you haven’t done–and that you’d never do: