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Play It Again and Again, Sam

By HENRY P. RALEIGH
ART TIMES April, 2005

IT DOES SEEM to be an unquestioned given by Hollywood filmmakers that a film that had once a proven record of success is surely bound to repeat that success if made all over again — especially if up-dated with a generous bounty of hi-tech effects not available to the original. Better yet, try to squeeze in a Nicole Kidman or a Denzel Washington or a Jude Law and you've got a guarantee, right?  I mean how can you go wrong and look, if you can't think of anything else give it a shot. So why doesn't it work as expected? See what happened in 2004 to "The Manchurian Candidate", "The Alamo", "Stepford Wives", "Alfie", "Around the World in 80 Days" and "Walking Tall" — all remakes, all big let-downs. Only "The Italian Job" and "Dawn of the Dead" managed to hold their own. Now you might think filmmakers would learn something from this. Weren't there enough past remake mistakes to advise caution when rooting among old box-office hits? Try "Mr. Deeds", "Breathless", "The Thing", "Village of the Damned" — need one go on? Even turning "Nights of Cabiria" into a musical for "Sweet Charity" couldn't help. Yet here we go into 2005 with "Assault on Precinct 13", "War of the Worlds", "The Pink Panther", "The Legend of Zorro", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Fun With Dick and Jane", and "King Kong" — can you believe it, the last remake of a remake and, are they serious, Steve Martin replacing Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau? Alan Arkin had a better chance back in 1968 with his "Inspector Clouseau". In an act of desperation, no doubt, even the 60's sit-com "Bewitched" is being reworked for film. You know, it's getting like the cable movie channels which own five or six films and endlessly recycle them back and forth. Of course, Hollywood does change the actors save maybe for Kidman and Matt Damon.

The thing I figure, is that filmmakers think about remakes all wrong. It's pretty plain to me that a film that was either a cult classic or was really good to begin with is something to be left alone. Fool around with it and you unavoidably invite comparison and the odds don't favor a remake to come out on top. Take "War of the Worlds" for example. To my mind that film belongs forever to the 50's It has the jingly noises that all scary films of the period had plus those strangely bright primary colors that marked the technicolor process back then — and it’s a cherished memory of my youth in the nicest decade of the century. Do you want a grinning Tom Cruise, ten inches shorter than Gene Barry, the hero of the genuine "War of the Worlds", destroying all that? And how about "Alfie" — Michael Caine was a man of the 60's through and through, a man that we of similar age could easily identify with. Jude Law is a postmodern man, cute and cuddly and doesn't mind showing his feminine side. A remake, after all, can disappoint not because it's a poor film, which it probably is, but because no matter how you jigger it around it remains the creature of another time and I say, leave it there.

Now, one way filmmakers who can't think of anything else to do can beat the curse of remakes is to never remake a film more than five years old or, and this is important advice that I offer absolutely free: remake only clunkers, preferably unknown or long forgotten clunkers that had never gotten any further than a matinee or two at some sleazy movie house in East Texas. Give a whirl at what can be done with a 1971 film called "The Erotic Adventures of Heidi" — a perfect vehicle for, maybe, Meg Ryan, as would certainly be "Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS" and its sequel of topical interest, "Ilsa: Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks". Clint Eastwood could surely produce a winner from any of the 40's Lash LaRue films. Come to think of it his ""The Unforgiven" was a lot like "Law of the Lash". And for that gaggle of younger actresses like Kirsten Dunst, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman just stick them together in remakes of the 70's risque cheerleader films. I'd suggest "Revenge of the Cheerleaders" followed by "Satan's Cheerleaders" — and for that international touch, "Six Swedes on a Campus" shouldn't be overlooked either.

Once Hollywood catches on to this I'll bet plenty of those independent filmmakers will want to get into the challenging arty and existential possibilities of remaking instructional shorts as "How to Benefit from Tax Reform" or "Just What is a Computer, Anyway?" The beauty is that these old losers had never earned any critical reviews that could be held up to the remakes and with the possible exception of a few ancient film geeks, no one will have ever seen them — or if they had, will never admit it.

… And by the way, all of the above sold on 16mm. and at a very reasonable price.

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