Remaking as industrial category

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As in some approaches to film genre, remakes can be understood as industrial products, located in 'the material conditions of commercial filmmaking, where plots are copied and formulas forever reiterated'.16 For film producers, remakes are consistently thought to provide suitable models, and something of a financial guarantee, for the development of studio-based projects. In a commercial context, remakes are 'pre-sold' to their audience because viewers are assumed to have some prior experience, or at least possess a 'narrative image',17 of the original story - an earlier film, literary or other property - before engaging in its particular retelling.18 Remakes of cult movies such as King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933; John Guillermin, 1976; Peter Jackson, 2005), Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954; Roland Emmerich, 1998) and Planet of the Apes (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1968; Tim Burton, 2001) are revived through massive production budgets as cultural juggernauts, with strong marketing campaigns and merchandising tie-ins. For instance, in the mid-1970s King Kong was seen as a 'natural' for remaking, not only because of the success of the original, its pioneering special effects and cult status, but for the opportunities it provided for promotional tie-ins, from Jim Beam King Kong cocktails to 7-11 store slurpy drinks in special Kong cups.19 In the case of recent cross-cultural remakes, such as Vanilla Sky (Cameron Crowe, 2001; Abre Los Ojos, Alejandro Amenabar, 1997), The Ring (Gore Verbinski, 2002; Ringu, Hideo Nakata, 1998) and Insomnia (Christopher Nolan, 2002; Erik Skjoldbjaerg, 1997), foreign films are dispossessed of 'local detail' and 'political content' to exploit new (English-language) markets.20 In these examples, remaking is not only evidence of Hollywood being an 'aesthetic copy-cat', but (worse) of 'cultural imperialism' and 'terroristic marketing practices' designed to block an original's competition in the US market.21

A number of commentators22 have observed that the remake, along with the sequel and series, has become typical of the defensive production and marketing strategies of a contemporary, or 'post-Jaws', Hollywood.23 For instance, Jim Hoberman says that:

The trickle of remakes that began . . . with Farewell, My Lovely in 1975 became a flood of recycled Jazz Singing Scarfaced King Kong 'landmarks', Roman numeral'd replays of old and recent mega-hits, and retired mixed-media figures [Flash Gordon, Popeye, Superman, and the like] pressed back into service.24

This 'great downpour' of sequels and remakes is perhaps more perceived than real. For instance, reviewing a sample of 3,490 films from between

1940 and 1979 Thomas Simonet concludes that far more 'recycled script' films appeared before the conglomerate takeovers of contemporary Hollywood in the 1970s, and perceptions that remaking has increased may be governed by comparisons with the 1960s only.25 Nevertheless remaking is often taken as a sign of Hollywood film having exhausted its creative potential, leading into 'conservative plot structures'26 and 'automatic self-cannibalisation'.27 A recent account of remaking in the popular film monthly Empire simply put the motivation for studio remakes down to 'lack of creativity [and] laziness'.28 Similarly, in previewing the television mini-series remake of On the Beach (Russell Mulcahy, 2000), The Age newspaper critic Simon Hughes found opportunity not only to express his antipathy toward remake practice in general, but to condemn both the mini-series and the earlier, feature film version, On the Beach (Stanley Kramer, 1959):

In the Dearth of Ideas, hard by the dire Lack of Imagination, dwell those alchemists of the entertainment industry who delight in turning gold into base metal. These are the remakers and their awful talent is to be feared. Not only will they not stop at buggering up a classic like Psycho . . . they will even transform the second rate - like the original On the Beach - into something completely forgettable.29

Film remaking is equally seen as a trend that is encouraged by the commercial orientation of the conglomerate ownership of Hollywood. In this approach, the Hollywood studios seek to duplicate past successes and minimise risk by emphasising the familiar - 'recreating with slight changes films that have proved successful in the past' - even if this leads to 'aesthetically inferior films'.30 Mark Kermode similarly reports that remakes, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Marcus Nispel, 2003; Tobe Hopper, 1974), are cynical 'rebranding exercises' and evidence of 'the entertainment industry's artistic laziness and penchant for pre-sold product'.31 Stern takes this further, pointing to the commercial 'paradox' of remaking:

Remakes reflect the conservative nature of the industry; they are motivated by an economic imperative to repeat proven successes. But in order to maintain economic viability . . . remakes are also compelled to register variation and difference (from the originals), to incorporate generic developments.32

As instantly recognisable properties, remakes (along with sequels and series) work then to satisfy the requirement that Hollywood deliver reliability (repetition) and novelty (innovation) in the same production package.33 Understood in this way, the remake becomes a particular instance not only of the repetition effects which characterise the narrative structure of Hollywood film,34 but also of a more general repetition - of exclusive stars, proprietary characters, patented processes, narrative patterns and generic elements - through which Hollywood develops its pre-sold audience.35 In a high-profile example like Planet of the Apes, the B-movie aesthetic of the original cult film (and series) becomes an opportunity to revive the franchise as mega-budget ($110 million) blockbuster, complete with stars, special effects and auteur themes (see Chapter 3).

In discussions of industry and commerce the surest arbiter of what counts as a film remake is an acknowledgement of copyright, but this limit is complicated by the flexibility of copyright law,36 and what are commonly referred to as 'unacknowledged remakes' and 'non-remakes'. In Make It Again, Sam, Druxman sets out 'to provide a comprehensive dissertation on the remake practice' by 'detailing the film life of [thirty-three] literary properties'.37 Druxman begins by electing to limit the category of remake 'to those theatrical films that were based on a common literary source (i.e., story, novel, play, poem, screenplay), but were not a sequel to that material'.38 This 'seemingly infallible signpost' is, however, complicated by those films that are 'obviously remakes [but] do not credit their origins'.39 In such cases Druxman adopts a heuristic device - a rule of thumb - which requires that a new film 'borrow more than just an element or two from its predecessor to qualify'.40 This in turn allows Druxman to distinguish between 'non-fiction films' of a single historical incident or biography of a historical figure (for example, the mutiny on the Bounty or the life of outlaw Jesse James) which differ because they are based around competing versions of the same incident; and those 'non-fiction films' of a like historical incident which are similar even though they are based upon diverse literary sources.41 As might be expected from an approximate rule which arbitrates according to whether a film's borrowings are 'significant' or only amount to 'an element or two', Druxman ultimately admits that 'there were many marginal situations ... [in which he] simply used [his] own discretion in deciding whether or not to embrace [a film as a remake]'.42

Although Druxman's recognition of 'unacknowledged' remakes introduces a number of methodological difficulties, he further grounds his discussion by viewing (pre-1975) Hollywood remaking practice as a function of industry pragmatism driven by three major factors. First, Druxman argues that the decision to remake an existing film is primarily a 'voluntary one' based on the perceived continuing viability of an original story. However, industry demand for additional material during the studio-dominated era of the 1930s and 1940s, and attempts to rationalise the often high costs of source acquisition prompted studios to consider previously filmed stories as sources for B-pictures, and even for top-of-the-bill productions.43 As Tino Balio points out, the Hollywood majors 'had story departments with large offices in New York, Hollywood, and Europe that systematically searched the literary marketplace and stage for suitable novels, plays, short stories, and original ideas'.44 Taking as an example story acquisitions at Warner Brothers between 1930 and 1949, Balio notes that 'the pattern of source acquisition demonstrates two often contradictory goals: [1] the desire to base films on pretested material, that is, low-risk material that was already well known and well received by the public and [2] the desire to acquire properties as inexpensively as possible, especially during declining or uncertain economic circumstances'.45 In practice this meant that while Warners often invested in expensive pre-sold properties, such as best-selling novels and Broadway hit plays, 'it offset the high costs of pretested properties by using original screenplays written in its screenwriting department and by relying heavily on "the cheapest pretested material of all" - earlier Warner pictures'.46

Druxman's second, related point is that the customary studio practice at the time of purchasing the rights to novels, plays and stories in perpetuity meant that a company was able to produce multiple versions of a particular property without making additional payments to the copyright holder.47 Canonised classics of literature, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers not only had pre-sold titles, but because they were in the public domain, had the added advantage of requiring no initial payment for their dramatic rights.48 While the majority of recycled, previously purchased source material (particularly from those films that had done fair to poorly at the box-office) made its way into B-unit production,49 high-profile titles were sometimes remade to take advantage of new technologies and practices. Accordingly, Druxman's third and final point relates to the profit potential of redoing established films in order to exploit new stars or screen techniques. For example, following the success of Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade (Michael Curtiz, 1935 and 1936) Curtiz's 1938 version of The Adventures of Robin Hood is not only a vehicle for co-stars Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, but also a sound and Technicolor update of the Douglas Fairbanks silent epic, Robin Hood (Allan Dwan, 1922).50 Expanding screen technologies, including 'the developing technological powers of film to create more convincing representations of reality',51 and the ongoing appeal of casting star performers in established roles continue to be cited as principal motivations for remaking films.

Druxman's initial definition, and the above factors of industry pragmatism, allow him to posit three general categories of Hollywood remake:

1. the disguised remake: a literary property is either updated with minimal change, or retitled and then disguised by new settings and original characters, but in either case the new film does not seek to draw attention to its earlier version(s), for example Colorado Territory (Raoul Walsh, 1949) is a disguised Western remake of the crime film High Sierra (Raoul Walsh, 1941); and High Society (Charles Walters, 1956) is a musical retelling of The Philadelphia Story (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1940);

2. the direct remake: a property may undergo some alterations or even adopt a new title, but the new film and its narrative image do not hide the fact that it is based upon an earlier production, for example William Wellman's 1939 remake of Beau Geste (Herbert Brenon, 1926), or Charles Vidor's 1957 remake of A Farewell to Arms (Frank Borzage, 1932);

3. the non-remake: a new film goes under the same title as a familiar property but there is an entirely new plot, for example Michael Curtiz's 1940 version of The Sea Hawk (part of the above-mentioned Errol Flynn swashbuckling cycle) is said to bear little relation to First National's 1924 adaptation of the Rafael Sabatini novel, and the 1961 remake of The Thief of Baghdad (Arthur Lubin and Bruno Vailati) is little like the 'definitive' 1940 version (directed by Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell and Tim Whelan).52

Not surprisingly, Druxman's three categories do not operate without the kind of overlap and exclusion that often attends taxonomism. For instance, an inspection of elements from the second half of James Cameron's Titanic (1997) - the band's decision to play on as the ship sinks; Benjamin Guggenheim's preference for his dinner jacket over a life jacket; designer Thomas Andrews's address to a young couple at the fireplace of the first-class lounge - suggest it is a 'direct' remake of the British-made account of the sinking, A Night to Remember (Roy Ward Baker, 1958). But the narrative drive of the first half of the film - the establishment of the romance between (fictional) characters Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslett) and Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) - suggests that it is not only a 'non-remake' of A Night to Remember, but perhaps a 'disguised' remake of both It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934) and An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957).53 In addition, any attempt to determine a single precursor text for Titanic (even Druxman's method for distinguishing between types of 'non-fiction' remakes) is further complicated not just by the film's 'inter art intertextuality' (references to paintings, operas and the like),54 but by various other reworkings of the Titanic disaster: film versions, such as Saved from the Titanic (Eclair Film Co., 1912), In Nacht und Eis (Kunstfilm, 1912), Titanic (Herbert Selpin, 1943) and Titanic (Jean Negulesco, 1953), and also books (Walter Lord's A Night to Remember), musicals (The Unsinkable Molly Brown), TV movies (S. O.S. Titanic) and historical accounts (Steven Biel's Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic). In addition to this, the commercial quality of Cameron's Titanic - one of the most expensive and profitable films ever made - requires that it also take as intertexts broader elements such as genre (teen romance, action adventure, heritage film), cycle (millennium disaster movie), stars (Winslett and DiCaprio) and auteur (Cameron).

Although the example of Titanic presents difficulties for Druxman's taxonomy it does, however, support his further claim that, in addition to industry pragmatism, remaking is located in a film maker's desire to repeatedly express (and modify) a particular aesthetic sensibility or world view in light of new developments and interests.55 In the case of Titanic, it is not only Cameron's 'devotion to and love for the ship at the bottom of the ocean',56 but his well-documented 'preoccupation with precision and historical accuracy'57 which motivates this particular retelling of the story. In the anthology Play It Again, Sam, Stuart McDougal takes up this type of approach, describing Alfred Hitchcock as a director who was continuously revising and remaking his own earlier film work.58 This results not only in the repetition of specific shots, sequences and themes, but in the case of Hitchcock's 1955 remake of his own earlier film, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), it provides the film maker with an opportunity to rethink 'the relations between texts, between characters (real and fictional), and between the work of a younger, more exuberant director and a mature craftsman'59 (see Chapter 2). In a similar way, Lloyd Michaels argues that while it is difficult to conceive of a more ' "faithful" remake' of Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (F. W. Murnau, 1922) than Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, the Vampyre (1979), the latter not only pays homage to Murnau's silent classic but simultaneously 'resurrects the ghost of Herzog', remaking in limited ways the director's signature themes and stylistic traits.60

Harvey Roy Greenberg takes this type of authorial approach to remaking a step further, modifying Druxman's commercially grounded remake categories to locate the motivation for remakes, 'well beyond the profit principle', in complex, highly personal reasons, based on various 'Oedipal inflections'.61 Following Druxman, Greenberg outlines three categories of remaking:

1. the acknowledged, close remake: the original film is replicated with little or no change to the narrative, for example Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959; Fred Niblo, 1925; Sidney Olcott, 1907);

2. the acknowledged, transformed remake: there are substantial transformations of character, time and setting, but the original film is variably acknowledged, ranging from a small screen credit to foregrounding in promotion, for example A Star Is Born (Frank Pierson, 1976; George Cukor, 1954; William A. Wellman, 1937), Heaven Can Wait (Warren Beatty and Buck Henry, 1978; Here Comes Mr Jordan, Alexander Hall, 1941) and Stella (John Erman, 1990; Stella Dallas, King Vidor, 1937; Stella Dallas, Henry King, 1925);

3. the unacknowledged, disguised remake: minor or major alterations (in character, time and setting) are undertaken but the audience is not informed of the original film version, for example studio-era remakes such as Warner Brothers' The Wagons Roll at Night (Ray Enright, 1941) remake of Kid Galahad (Michael Curtiz, 1937).62

Focusing on the example of Steven Spielberg's Always (1990) - an 'acknowledged, transformed' remake of the Second World War fantasy A Guy Named Joe (Victor Fleming, 1943) - Greenberg finds in 'the intensely rivalrous spirit inhabiting Spielberg's "homage" ... an unconscious Oedipally driven competitiveness [which] constitutes the dark side of Spielberg's intense admiration for the original [film] and its director [and father surrogate, Victor Fleming]'.63 Greenberg's 'symptomatic reading'64 of film remaking is itself an (acknowledged) elaboration of Harold Bloom's theory of influence (and the Freudian analogies that structure it),65 and a like attempt to shift the relationship between a text (remake) and its particular precursor (original) to that between an author and his major predeces-sor(s).66 In the case of Always, Spielberg, at once worshipful and envious of his predecessor (Fleming, and also Spielberg senior, a Second World War veteran), returns to his preferred Second World War locale (the historical setting for 1941 (1979), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Empire of the Sun (1987), and the later Schindler's List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998)) and enters into 'an ambiguous, anxiety ridden struggle with a film [A Guy Named Joe] he both wishes to honor and eclipse'.67

Timothy Corrigan argues that auteurs - 'star-directors', such as the above examples of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron - are especially important in contemporary Hollywood because they serve as a 'commercial strategy for organising [a type of] audience reception . . . [one which is] bound to distribution and marketing aims that identify and address the potential cult status of an auteur'.68 In the case of contemporary remakes, a pre-existing title is relayed and transformed through the 'individual vision' and 'personal perspective' of the film maker.69 Or, as Catherine Grant puts it, 'contemporary film auteurs. . . make aspects of [earlier] texts their own, overwriting them with their own traceable signatures, perhaps reconfiguring them by incorporating references to other (rewritten) inter-texts'.70 Accordingly, Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is not a remake but a 're-imagining' of Schaffner's film (and Pierre Boulle's novel); George A. Romero's zombie movie Dawn of the Dead (1979) is 're-envisioned' by Zack Snyder (2004); and Solaris, a 1972 film by Andrei Tarkovsky (from the novel by Stanislaw Lem) is 'revisited' by Steven Soderbergh (2002). In the latter instance, the original material is not only filtered through the perspective of the film maker, but the contemporary auteur remakes himself and his earlier remakes:

[Soderbergh's] Solaris is almost if not quite a rerun of Ocean's Eleven (out-of-towner invades hi-tech labyrinth in order to win back wife), The Underneath (out-of-towner pursues former wife for second chance), Traffic (stranger-in-town searches for lost daughter to reunite family), or The Limey (trouble-shooter from another continent arrives in town to avenge lost daughter).71

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