Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Remakes, References and Homages: The Slow Death of Creativity

It seems that unoriginality is the rule of the day in the film industry right now.   Everybody is scrambling to work with properties that have audience recognition, as well as are pre-manufactured and thus easier to do and are an opportunity for directors to homage the things they like.  It is not merely official remakes, but any movies that grossly copy other movies.  While unoriginality is inherently bad due to the redundancy, it creates other problems as well.  The remakes and copies nearly always end up being terrible, even on their own and not as remakes.  You can't aspire to be something else, yet manage to surpass that something else.  The original was spontaneously made in a spirit of genuine creativity and the remake has the exact opposite underpinnings.  It is merely superficially checking off the plot points and tropes.  Remakes play "telephone" with the reality that the original reflected on directly.  Sometimes movie lovers love other movies too much.  All artists must find their own voice and have the audacity to make an attempt at surpassing their predecessors.  Remakes, references and homages, while occasionally used in a good way, are most often the sign of a film industry that is in search of an easy buck and out of ideas.

The first problem of a true remake is that when you aspire to be something else, you will always come up short.  To surpass the original is a form of failure.  The goal is to be the original, therefore it can not be surpassed.  On the other hand, being as it is virtually impossible to copy something exactly, there is nowhere to go but down.  It is unlikely that something will be surpassed without an express effort to do so, but to come up short comes naturally.

Another problem is that the original was made in a spirit of genuine creativity.  An artist came up with their own original work from their own imagination.  It may lack the "polish" of its remakes, but it crackles with the spontaneity of a work made with artistic freedom and not burdened by having to fulfill expectations and pander to an audience.  Its "imperfections" are what make it great and what made it a hit in the first place.  Often something that was famous for being outside the box is tamed in a remake.  Most remakes are superficial, lacking the details that someone who really thought out the story and its universe would have put in, but instead briskly moving through the main plot points or playing up the things that we retrospectively know the audience likes most.  They miss the nuances because it is not their universe.

(Note how poster #1 says "This movie is scary," while poster #2 says "This movie has Freddy Krueger in it.")

The third problem with remakes is that they play telephone with basic reality that the original reflects upon.  Why are most of the greatest American westerns old?  This is because up through the fifties and even sixties, America had more of a connection with its rural heritage.  The earliest westerns were actually done within a lifetime of the old west.  We were reflecting on that reality directly.  Now it is hard for anyone to see the American West as anything but a movie genre.  New westerns do not always reflect on the West, but often endlessly homage a dead genre, thus taking us further away from the original reality.

Remakes, copies and endless referencing cause art and culture to stagnate.  I agree that we should respect the great ones that have come before us, but we should have the audacity to attempt to surpass them, not to acknowledge them as the apex and give up the fight and endlessly copy them.  Art thrives on the "arrogance" of people who thought they could surpass their forebears.  Even in failure, they still achieve greatness.

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