Saturday, November 30, 2013

Not Dead!

Hello my lovelies. I assure you, I have neither perished nor begun another long hiatus from blogging - it is merely the month of November, where a ramped up holiday work schedule and NaNoWriMo collide into me having very little free time, but writing very, very many words per day.

As I enter the final stretch, I popped on a piece of music - an opera - that I've been coming back to for years. I wrote a still unfinished NaNo novel to it back in 2006 and generally listen to whenever I'm feeling dried up and uninspired. But tonight as I listened to it, I was thinking about a little piece of trivia I'd heard about the opera some years ago: that one of the minor parts - in fact, my least favorite character in the opera - had been significantly rewritten and expanded when the composer met the woman that would be playing the part.

It has me thinking about the sort of puzzling difference between different types of theatrical performances. In their heyday, both operas and plays were more like movies: something you went to and saw once. Of course this isn't 100% true: many operas were performed exhaustively even in the lives of their composers. But most of Shakespear's plays were quickly written one-offs that merely survived to be performed and performed and performed. Plays that were explicitly written to be performed by a certain troupe.

Which makes me think: I will never hear this opera that I love as it was originally intended, nor will I ever see a true Shakespearean play, not only because, obviously, time and space, but because the singular vision with the intended group of players wasn't recorded for posterity. In a way, that makes movies a quintessentially different beast. If a part is written for a particular actor, well, that part is going to be played by that actor every time you hit play; the vision is permanently intact and unchanging (Lucas excepted, of course).

But then again, we're seeing this rash of remakes, reboots, and re-invisionings, of movies or franchises even as little as a decade old. And that makes me wonder if the permanence of film isn't necessarily always an asset. Some movies age better than others, but often I think any type of media ages more kindly in the mind than it does in actual preservation. People are Very Uptight about things like the RoboCop remake, but I think that stems almost entirely from nostalgia. The original movie, if we're all being totally honest, was a hot mess - but one that came at a formative age for many of the people who are now quite vocal on the internet.

Superhero movies are, obviously, among the most guilty of the remake mill, but honestly that's a facet of the source material. I'm more interested in things like the re-re-make of Carrie and other classic horror/monster/camp movies, the slew of shot for shot reproductions of successful foreign films, and maybe especially the growing trend toward recasting ultrawhite movies and media with PoC (Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, the upcoming Annie remake, the new Murder She Wrote, etc.).

Each of the three trends has everything to do with audience. Monster movies and campy movies, especially older ones, are being remade with - I assume - the notion that the same fans will want to see a "better" version of an old favorite with better/scarier/more intense special effects. In my experience, this is super hit and miss: I loved the Fright Night remake (though in a very different way from the original), which came out on the same weekend as The Most Tragically Disappointing Movie Of My Life, aka the Conan reboot. Here, I like the idea of giving new audiences a chance at oldie/goodies, but the problem is that often the essential spark is lost in translation - whether it's the writing, the casting, or just the camp factor, it's often really hard to bring a classic so-bad-it's-good movie back and make it qualitatively good, because that just isn't the point.

I'm much more interested in recasting/race flipping movies if only because it admits the fact of human diversity. I admit I was initially wary about the Annie remake (because boy did I ever grow up with THAT one), but I'm actually pretty excited to see where they go with it. It's a simple but unfortunately daring thing to do, and I think there's a lot of rich soil for retelling, remaking, and revisiting there. Moar PoC plz?

But the shot-for-shot remakes I just don't understand. It's usually a couple years turnaround at most, with virtually no innovation or variation. But again, audience: Americans want American star power and god forbid anyone try to make US read subtitles in a movie theater. But when you copy a film line for line and frame for frame, you're almost necessarily losing some of that essential spark. Even operas and plays (see how I brought it back there?) use costume or setting or casting to do something interesting and innovative with their "remake"

We're in an interesting time where media is both more prevalent and permanent than it's ever been, and also more fluid and dynamic than it's been since the middle ages. We're not just continually regurgitating the famous works of dead white men, but interacting with media in unprecedented ways, responding to and interacting with film and literature in real time, from I'm-totally-still-seeing-Inception-memes to creative and immediate reviews to, yes, even fan fiction of all stripes, from dirty stories and fanart to things like wizard rock or this stunning short film:

So while I'll never have the breathless awe of seeing my very favorite opera premier in the brand new Schauspielhaus in Berlin in 1821, and while I'm maybe more than occasionally irritated by news of yet another reboot/make/vision, I'm pretty pleased to live in an age of free, dynamic, and accessible media.