Tuesday, November 08, 2005


This just in from the If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It department:

Anne Thompson reported yesterday on her Risky Biz blog what sounds like the most convincing evidence yet that Hollywood is officially bereft of ideas. Consider the plans of screenwriter-director David Ayer (he wrote Training Day and Ron Shelton’s unjustly overlooked Dark Blue and has written and directed the upcoming Harsh Times, which was recently quite well received at the Toronto Film Festival)-- he has decided to remake The Wild Bunch.

The subtext underlying any suggestion of tinkering with a film that means so much to so many people is that, of course, it’s just a story, a commodity-- why not bring to it a fresh vision and put it out there to be consumed all over again? After all, can there be too many versions of Romeo and Juliet? (Of course, Baz Luhrmann’s version suggests that, yes, there can…) But what’s being ignored here is the aspect of a great director catching lightning in a bottle-- The Wild Bunch is great for many reasons, not the least of which, as Thompson suggests, is that it was the result (I don’t want to use the word “product”) of a confluence of just the right elements in exactly the right social and political climate, powered by the vision of a driven cinematic artist who was interested in a lot more than watching things blow up real good. I’m not suggesting that it isn’t possible that Ayer won’t make an interesting film. But again Thompson asks exactly the right question, from the director’s point of view—why remake a film that casts such a long, intimidating and definitive shadow? Why set yourself up for almost certain failure to even approach the qualities of the original that have made it, in many people’s eyes, a masterpiece? Why remake a film that betrays absolutely no reason, no need to be remade?


8763 Wonderland said...

And yet it damn near fails every time, Dennis. Look what happened when Paramount made an ill-advised remake of Billy Wilder's "Sabrina."

By the way, did you know that the two-disc DVD of "Once Upon A Time in the West" is available at the Tower Records on Brand for a mere $12.99?

It's next on m purchase list but I've been spending a lot on DVDs lately (they are my crack):

Castle Keep (Widescreen)
The Aviator
The Big Red One
Sunset Boulevard
Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Inserts (It's finally on DVD but alas no extras)
The Machinist

Peet said...

I'm with you on Hollywood's lack of ideas, Dennis. Cinematical is saying they're even remaking RoboCop, for heaven's sake!

On the other hand, The Wild Bunch was itself a remake of an untouchable Kurosawa classic: Seven Samurai...

Dennis Cozzalio said...

8763: That Once Upon A Time in the West DVD is worth every penny, too. (It'd better be-- it cost me $20 when I bought it!) I have the restored Big Red One but have yet to find the time to see it, and when I do seem to find the time to throw in a DVD at night something else usually happens. (No reflection on Michelangelo Antonioni, but last night I made it through the first 10 minutes of Blow Up, and the next thing I knew I opened my eyes, it was two hours and 15 minutes later and I was staring at David Hemmings on the menu.) I was also happy to read about your 1941 purchase-- I have a big soft spot for that movie. And if you punch up the captioning and/or English subtitles on 1941 and/or Sunset Boulevard, you'll get a look at some of the work I do for a living. And let me know what you think of The Machinist, will you? I haven't seen it yet, and I'm kinda on the fence...

Peet: RoboCop?! I haven't read anything about it, but can there be any other reason to remake it than the fact that special effects have "improved" so much in the 17-or-so years since it was released? That would have to be one of the closest turnarounds in terms of remaking a movie that is not very old to begin with that I've ever heard. I'll have to get over to Cinematical today and catch up.

Oh, and as far as I know, The Wild Bunch was an original screenplay by Walon Green, Roy Sickner and Peckinpah. I think you may be thinking of John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven. Those kinds of cross-cultural remakes-- Ford to Kurosawa to Sturges (or Leone)-- seem to me a diffferent beast, because in the adaptation of the story to different cultural climates and traditions and moral codes (or lack thereof), something original was being grafted onto the framework of the story. And they weren't created in anything like the Hollywood climate of greed and drought of imagination that exists today.

A friend suggested to me the other day that this Wild Bunch remake idea didn't bother him too much because, in addition to the possibility that the film might at least be interesting on some level, he thinks that a side result might be that younger viewers who have never heard of the movie or of Sam Peckinpah might be encouraged to check it out. I can understand that, but only up to a point. When Peter Jackson remakes KIng Kong, nobody's worried about the original version being desecrated, mainly because it's such a primal story and it's been remade enough times (at least 10-20 different versions that I can think of, by Americans and the Japanese monster movie industry) that it has proved its elasticity and its solidity in the firmament of film history. And it's also easier for younger viewers to check out the original when Warner Home Video is ponying up for a spectacular DVD release of the original (the very first) to coincide with the new version. But The Wild Bunch has been on DVD since near the beginning of the format's inception, with some pretty nice extras included (like Paul Seydor and Nick Redman's Oscar-nominated short documentary The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage). So whether Warner will do up another synergistic release for the original when the remake comes out is up in the air. But even if it does, I wish I could shake the feeling that, to appease the demographic (18-25 males) that the remake will undoubtedly target, bigger, louder and gorier will be the mantra for the filmmakers, and Peckinpah's masterpiece will be positioned as a quaint relic that needed to be spruced up for the more "sophisticated" audiences of today.

blaaagh said...

Sort-of related lowbrow comment: a young friend mentioned to me the other day, with some outrage, that Cedric the Entertainer is planning to remake the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield movie "Back to School." Evidently my friend considers the original some sort of comedy classic.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

C the E was amazing in Barbershop. But I would have hoped that he would have learned his lesson trying to fill Jackie Gleason's shoes last year. Now Rodney Dangerfield's? Back to School is an okay comedy, and it certainly doesn't occupy the same space in people's hearts (not necessarily mine) as does The Honeymooners. But still, as someone near and dear to me might have said, what the figgetty?!

blaaagh said...

Yeah, I agree: I told my friend that "Back to School" with C the E might be really funny--and I also thought the original was pretty damned funny.

Peet said...

Of course, Dennis, you do realize I was only saying that to check if you were paying attention?

Yeah, right.

Well then... I'll be in the corner if you need me, feeling very, very ashamed of myself.