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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Writer’s Block: First and only 
Sunday, May 2nd, 2010 | 08:53 pm [film, writer's block]
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LiveJournal has this feature called Writer’s Block, which gives you a writing prompt submitted by a fellow user, in case you want to write a blog but you just have nothing to talk about. It’s a handy little service which I hardly ever use, because when I can’t think of what to write I usually just half-ass something, or put up a funny picture or something. Every once in awhile, though, the Writer’s Block question will be too good to pass up. Like this one from yesterday, for instance:

Is there a film that you think is perfect in its original form and should never be remade?

That’s a more complex question than it looks like at first glance.  Is there a film that is perfect in its original form?  Surely, there are many.  I’d call Sherlock Jr., 2001: A Space Odyssey, City Lights, and All Quiet on the Western Front all perfect films, and they’re just for starters.  Film lovers like me have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. There have been so very, very many great films made since the invention of the form a relative short time ago.

But are any of those so perfect that it would be foolish for anyone to even try to remake it?  “Yes” seems like the obvious answer, especially given how many shoddy, gratuitous remakes have hit cinemas these last few years.  Was the world really crying out for remakes of Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  George Romero had financial concerns that drove him to remake Night of the Living Dead, but that doesn’t make it any better of a movie.  And Gus Van Sant’s recreation of Psycho is still remembered as an interesting failure at best.

Why would anyone want to see a remake of a timeless Buster Keaton movie, or one of Stanley Kubrick’s haunting and mysterious meditations on the gulf between human nature and human potential?  Good question.  The suggestion that a classic film be remade, even by a director possessed of great artistic talent, seems asinine on its face.

What do we do with Herzog’s Nosferatu, then?  Murnau’s silent original is one of the most universally acclaimed films ever made.  People must have thought Herzog was insane to attempt a remake.  And yet he did attempt it, and his Nosferatu is the equal of Murnau’s.  They are very different films, true — where Murnau is moralistic, Herzog is mordant; and Herzog’s naturalism is a far cry from Murnau’s expressionism — but the latter is clearly the child of the former.

Given the example of the two Nosferatus, one an original, the other a remake, but both among the great films, how can we know that a remake of 2001 would not be worthwhile, if made by a director who knew what to do with it, and had something to say?

It’s still better, I think, for a filmmaker to tell his or her own stories than to re-tell someone else’s.  But remakes aren’t automatic losses.  Shit, Herzog knows that better than anyone.  Besides Nosferatu, he’s also remade (or at least riffed on) Bad Lieutenant, and even remade one of his own films, telling the story of Dieter Dengler first as a documentary (Little Dieter Needs to Fly), and then as a drama (Rescue Dawn), which I’d say gives him fair claim to the title of Master of the Remake.
Tuesday, May 4th, 2010 | 11:29 pm (UTC)
How do you feel about The Magnificent Seven or A Fistful of Dollars? Is a remake more worthwhile if they adapt it to a new setting?

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010 | 01:50 pm (UTC)
I think Magnificent Seven is a terrific western, but I wouldn't even put it in the same league as Seven Samurai, which is one of my very favorite movies ever. Fistful of Dollars, on the other hand, I'd put right on par with Yojimbo. They're about equally great.

Adapting the remake to a new setting can make it more innately compelling, I think, but it doesn't necessarily result in a better film. It's like when they re-stage a Greek drama or a work of Shakespeare in a contemporary setting. Is it automatically better than a more originalist production? No, but the change in setting can give it a little something more from the start, a little bit of a push.

Though I think Kurosawa found the perfect way to remake Shakespeare: don't just change the setting — make all the characters samurai, and have them cut each others' heads off.
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