Friday, 19 April 2013

Blip: On Remakes

My journey of opinions on film/book/music remakes has been a rocky one at best. The immediate reaction of the fundamentalist puritans (among whose ranks I once found distinctional comfort) is to scoff at the idea of re-packaging another’s ideas in a new, shiny format to impress people with thoughts, themes aND narratives that aren’t your own. The hands of supporters raise to demand the next sequel and the new remake of the old film that, quite frankly, didn’t need changing and in perfect unison, the puritans raise their fists in angered, misdirected protest.

I say misdirected as an introduction to a minor digression. Don’t aim that anger at the film-makers (hard as that is to say when the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg still claim the title ‘film-maker); all they’re doing is supplying a demand, which is what all good (and most bad) business folk do. Aim the anger towards the mindless hordes of idiots lapping up the endless sequels and mild rehashing of old material. They’re the pillocks creating the demand for Rocky 17 and Die Hard 42.

But anyway, as I said, I once counted myself among the groups vehemently opposing the reusing and re-packaging ideas into new formats, opposing remakes wherever I saw them. Now, however, I’ve taken a more sensible opinion. Not, as you may presume, a more funky, modern opinion of slavering consumption of whatever flavourless tripe the so-called film-makers place in front of me but a more logical one. One that draws heavily on the study, both directed by my studies at University and my home study that Pop and I spend so much time engrossed in.

While many people are out drinking at the weekends, rendering themselves stupid and dumb (in the proper senses of the word, if you’re unsure, feel free to consult a dictionary) for the ‘rest days’ of the week and at least the first half of the new week’s lectures and seminars, Blippop is/are (we haven’t decided yet whether the collective term Blippop should be singular or plural) at home happily busying ourselves with study and discussion of all sorts. I say this because of the misconception that people have when I come out with thoughts or facts, particularly in my English seminars, that other people find bemusing and that seem relevant to the text aren’t, contrary to popular belief, absorbed by some osmotic process and are actually hard-earned intellectual bites that are the product of never-ceasing study.

Not to say that we do it to show off or that we sacrifice a social life, in the traditional sense that we would prefer to have one but are resisting, rather that we sacrifice an external social life because it holds no interest for us. On a day off, we watch a film or two, read our current books, play our current games, ban English in favour of German for the day, get a Thai take-out for dinner and simply broaden our study areas to our more fringe subjects, such as the study of identifiable tropes in various media.

Anyway, second digression aside, if you consider that any piece of text (by which, as always, I mean anything readable in the form of a work of writing, a play, a computer game, a film etc.) has its roots in the language and culture from which it was born and through which is was borne, then any text is derivative of others. In other words, every book ever written uses words (for the most part) that have been used before, many of which in similar or identical orders and groupings. Themes too, repeat all the time. As a creator of a piece of art, you can’t help but be influenced by your life, by your experiences, by your opinions and thoughts. In fact, if you’re an author, I defy you to not to inspired by other authors. Can you imagine a film-maker who doesn’t like films or a poet that never reads poetry?

What this brings to the metaphorical table is that all works are remakes in a kind of way. Now, I’m fully aware that when a film is re-made with the same exact title and story and such, it is a remake in the more obvious sense. The personal touches that the creator puts on its own bits of creation are what shapes out the lay of said piece of work. Studying and analysing where a piece of work may or may not have been inspired is interesting and well worth the time it takes but it isn’t the end of things to think about. New authors being new voices to the work after all. Disney’s Lion King is a re-telling amalgamation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth, does that mean it had no worth? Of course not.

If a remake or re-telling can bring interesting new directions to a piece of art then I concluded that I must seek to find comfort in these new thoughts and not seek to venerate my self-righteous rage (a phrase that’s as fun to type as it is to say). At the end of the day (another, slightly less satisfying phrase), spending time being mindlessly annoyed about something like a remake just leads you down an awkward and ill-informed path. I say ill-informed because not only does that rage detract from your enjoyment of the subject matter and distract from the pleasure of the original subject matter but it also prevents cogent and truly engaging arguments about the differences, similarities and perceived superiorities/inferiorities between the two instances of a work.

Yet another reason to drop any prejudice against remakes is contained in the track record of remakes. John Carpenter’s The Thing, that venerable masterpiece of a film, is a remake. Enough said really. Funny Games DE was remade very well, nearly shot-for-shot, into Funny Games US (admittedly by the same director).

Having said all that, I’m not saying we should accept and love all utterances of an art form equally. Far from it, I’m actively encouraging you to go and find your own preferences. But they should come with an acceptance of other people’s preferences and the demand that they create (along with the subsequent and inevitable supply, i.e. some people want a remake and it isn’t down to a group of stuffy people to deny them it). Instead of consuming yourself in hatred for the new model, or for the supporters of the old model for that matter, try learning about both. Not only do you gain many arguments to make far more important and intriguing things to point out, but you just generally learn and enjoy the whole process more. You can even enjoy people’s attacks on your preferences; by enjoying and analysing them, you defuse them entirely.

Case in point. Cape Fear. A wonderful film, many people would say. Though the more correct people would say a pair of wonderful films. J. Lee Thompson’s 1962 version, which Martin Scorsese remade for the 1991 version, is almost identical and radically different. There are countless differences to judge and form opinion on. I happen to prefer one of them, slightly, though I won’t say which one here because it’s irrelevant. What is relevant though is that I recently wrote a graded essay on these films for one of my University modules and by doing so, I gained knowledge of the inner workings of both films and regardless of the exactities of what I found and regardless of the overall breadth and direction of opinion, critical or otherwise, that I unearthed, my opinion was strengthened. I revel in my preference’s shortcomings as much as I do in its triumphs.   

As if to undermine (or perhaps strengthen, if you’ve been listening, or reading, properly) this entire line of reasoning. I present to you two major examples that contradict my general hippie ideals of free artistic creation. The first is foreign films being dubbed or made anew in a different language. The concept isn’t inherently flawed, if you’re remaking it in a new way. But if all your doing is appealing to your ignorant, lazy, racist fans (cough, cough, America I’m looking at you, cough) then hand in your camera at the desk and lock yourself in a sealed room until you run out of such terrible, destructive ambitions or until you run out of air, whichever comes first. Oldboy does not need to be remade, get out of that trapped, cosy little headspace of yours and read some subtitles, it will do you some good to use that neglected brain and experience a film-maker and a culture that knows how to do it well. ‘Låt den rätte komma in’ did not need to be remade into the pitiful ‘Let Me In’, it just didn’t. Despite my appreciation of Kiefer Sutherland, 거울 속으로 (Into the mirror) did not need to be remade into the insensitively copied ‘Mirrors’.

Please leave 친절한 금자씨 (sympathy for lady vengeance) alone. Charlize Theron, I still haven’t forgiven you for The Italian Job, leave Geum-Ja shi alone damn you! You peaked at The Devil’s Advocate and muddled through Prometheus; it’s time for you to bow out now.

As for REC and Quarantine, I just don’t know what to say. A shot-for-shot remake and they still managed to Americanise it. How do you sap the life out of a film making so few changes.

The Experiment, with Adrien Brody (a very good actor, such a great performance in Wrecked) lost all degrees of subtlety present in Das Experiment, the original.

Finally, my second example:

Leave Star Wars the hell alone you money-sucking vampires! It’s gone, it’s over, it’s died. Just let it die in peace, you don’t have to dig up and sodomise the corpse to get your kicks, you don’t have to squeeze it down to get every last inch of sweet, sweet currency out of it. Yoda doesn’t need a backstory, he simply doesn’t. Where does a characters intrigue lie if not in their mystery and implied history; if you just show it all, you’ll be putting mindless, pointless, empty, hollow action scenes on screen for the sake of showing what’s already implied in the already drained-dry franchise. You embarrassed yourself with your boring depiction of a angst-ridden teenage Anakin; you willingly whored yourself out with soulless merchandise: cardboard masks, lunch boxes, action figures and key-rings; and you simply shamed us all with Jar Jar Binks. It’s time to stop. Do not pass Go. Do not collect anything.  


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