Roy Lichtenstein is seen as one of the leaders of the "Pop Art" movement. His iconic paintings, based on comic book art, have sold for over $100 million. Hy Eisman and Russ Heath are practically destitute. Yet they are the artists whose original work Lichtenstein was inspired by--or rather, copied. David Barsalou (from my home town of Chicopee, Massachusetts) is the creator of the "Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein" project, which displays the original panels beside the Lichtenstein copies.
WHAAM! BLAM! ROY LICHTENSTEIN AND THE ART OF APPROPRIATION (2022) is a documentary about Lichtenstein, Eisman, Heath, Barsalou, and others, covering both the history of comic book art as both low and high art, and Lichtenstein use of it.
It is fairly clear that one can match up Lichtenstein's paintings with their originals, and that in many cases they are apparently merely tracings of the originals, with some changes in coloring. The question is whether what Lichtenstein did was "transformative", maing his paintings new works, or plagiarism.
This is complicated by the copyright law of the 1950s and 1960s, when the original comic book artists worked. At the time, their work was considered "work for hire" and the copyrights were owned by the publishers. And the publishers had no interest at the time in going after Lichtenstein, since that was well before his paintings started selling for millions. But the documentary looks at the moral issues as well as the legal ones. (One might suggest that the Lichtenstein estate should pay some money to the original artists. However, that might lead to the artists claiming that this was in some way an admission of guilt. Perhaps a contribution to a fund for all comic book artists in need, in recognition of their "inspiration"?)
What is revealing is how, for example, a museum curator who has a Lichtenstein hanging in their museum had no idea of the original source, or the original artist, and no interest in changing the information about the painting which hangs next to it.
This is a documentary of interest to those interested in art, in the history of comic books, and the legal and moral issues of intellectual property.
Released at a festival 9 December 2022. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4), or 9/10.
Film Credits: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt22774294/reference
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/whaam_blam_roy_lichtenstein_and_the_art_of_appropriation
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2023 Mark R. Leeper