NEXT OF KIN:
REMAKES AND HOLLYWOOD
Remakes and Cultural Studies
In this essay I propose a suggestion, based on an application of aspects of cultural studies, that is designed to provide a methodologically coherent approach to thinking about various kinds of remakes. I urge a re -contextualization of the original and its remake, achieved by an analysis of conditions of spectatorship.
It is difficult to know where to begin in theorizing remakes. It seems that many of the studies of remakes do not go much beyond a superficial point-by-point, pluses-and-minuses kind of analysis. Often this kind of discussion employs a common strategy: the critic treats the original and its meaning for its contemporary audience as a fixity, against which the remake is measured and evaluated. And, in one sense, the original is a fixed entity.
But in another sense it is not. Viewed from the fuller perspective of cultural analysis over time, the original can—I am arguing that it must—be seen as still in process in regard to the impact it had or may have had for its contemporary audience and, even more, that it has for its current audience. A remake is a kind of reading or rereading of the original. To follow this reading or rereading, we have to interrogate not only our own conditions of reception but also to return to the original and reopen the question of its reception. Please understand that I am not arguing that a return to the original will necessarily yield a "new" meaning in the film that has hitherto been missed by shortsighted critics. Rather, I am arguing that a fresh return to the period may help us understand more about the conditions of reception at the time and, hence, offer us a fuller range of information for comparing the original and its audience with the remake and its audience. To demonstrate the point, I will use as my particular focus the original and remake of Invasion of the Body Snathchers (Don Siegel, 1956; Phil Kaufman, 1978). I have chosen this film largely because it has been remade
again by Abel Ferrara. I am sure that the most recent remake will evoke stimulating commentaries on the relation between itself and its predecessors, but I doubt that anyone writing about the new film will be able to position it fully in terms of its contemporary reception. And that is because a contemporary audience is fixed by its spatiotemporal restrictions. We are inside a particular historical and cultural moment that may in fact account for certain aspects of the film Ferrara made recently. It will remain for later critics to look back and speculate on the conditions of reception for the film in a way that I am convinced we really can't since we are inside the historical and cultural moment.
In a recent essay in Framework on Caribbean cinema, Stuart Hall makes some telling points that can serve to introduce the argument I want to make about our investigations of remakes as these both posit and depend on certain assumptions about audience reception. Specifically he addresses the concept of cultural identity as a construct emerging from the Caribbean cinema. But the applicability of his comments to assumptions about a shared cultural identity is pertinent to consideration of any cinema assumed to "reflect" the culture in which it is produced. According to Hall: "The practices of representation always implicate the positions from which we speak or write—the positions of enunciation . What recent theories of enunciation suggest is that, though we speak, so to say 'in our own name,' of ourselves and from our own experience, nevertheless who speaks, and the subject who is spoken of, are never exactly in the same place. Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps . . . we should think . . . of identity as a 'production,' which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation" (68). Cultural identity "is not a fixed essence at all, lying unchanged outside history and culture" (71).
I am appropriating Hall's view of cultural identity and considering it in relation to the way we posit culturally inflected unity in originals and remakes. As you can tell, one of my basic concerns here is whether we can talk about remakes as if they and their audience were "lying unchanged, outside history and culture"—as if, in other words, interpretation can assume a fixed timeless cultural identity.
Some comments on the original and remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers will illustrate the point. Nora Sayre, for example, writes: "(In the Fifties, many believed that Communist governments turned their citizens into robots.) So the political forebodings of the period spilled over into science fiction, where subservience to alien powers and the loss of free will were so often depicted, and the terror of being turned into 'something evil' became a ruling passion. The amusing 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers did not perpetuate the social overtones—instead it concentrated on conformity and surrendering the capacity to feel, and few of the scenes
had the impact of Kevin McCarthy's climax in the original, when he stood on a highway, screaming at passing trucks and cars, 'You fools, you're in danger . . .! They're after us! You're next! You're next!'" (184).
Richard Schickel's comment on the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is equally relevant: "In its day, Invasion made a moving and exciting film. Among other things, it was a metaphorical assault on the times when, under the impress of McCarthyism and two barbecues in every backyard, the entire Lonely Crowd seemed to be turning into pod people. (See figure 1.) The remakers have missed that point, failing to update the metaphor so that it effectively attacks the noisier, more self-absorbed conformity of the '70s" (82).
Both Sayre and Schickel make what seem for a variety of reasons to be unwarrantable assumptions about audiences and reception that then become the basis of interpretive judgments. Each treats the original as having completed the acts of reflecting its culture and conveying its meanings once and for all. But this is a problematic position to maintain, particularly as a ground of critical judgment, because the position elides two questions: what
do we know of the specific audience for the first film? and what do we know of its multiple audiences over time? The position supposes that within a homogeneous audience locked in its own time and space—the time and space of the film's release—there had been cultural agreement and unanimity about interpretive questions when the film appeared.
Any film that survives will have audiences over time. A film that is remade encounters new audiences, individuals who might not have encountered the original if someone hadn't decided to remake the older film. The question of why later filmmakers appropriate earlier films is an issue deserving at least a brief digression at this point. Various suggestions have been made to account for the existence of remakes. These explanations range from the purely economic to the highly personal. For example, it is a critical commonplace that Hollywood studios have recycled films as a way of saving money by using properties to which they already hold the rights—hence remakes of older films. On one level, this explanation could be applied universally to account for all remakes, since no film is made in order to lose money.
But there are at least a couple of reasons why this explanation is too simple or at least incomplete. First, we have evidence that some directors with sufficient clout and economic support may remake a film for personal reasons. For example, Frank Capra explains why he remade Lady for a Day: "I wanted to experiment with retelling Damon Runyon's fairy tale with rock-hard non-hero-gangsters"—hence A Pocketful of Miracles (Silverman, 26). In addition, Franco Zeffirelli claims he remade The Champ (King Vidor, 1931; 1979) because he identified strongly with the family problems figured in the older film. He had seen it as a child and been moved. Having seen it more recently, he says: "'[T]he whole trauma came back, the whole syndrome of anguish.' He remembered that Richard Shepherd, an MGM executive, had invited him to make a movie in this country. 'I called him and said I wanted to do a remake to The Champ '" (Chase, 28).
Second, Harvey Greenberg has suggested even more complex reasons possible for wishing to remake a film, various forms of "Oedipal inflections" evident in different kinds of relationships between older and newer filmmakers: first, "unwavering idealization" in the faithful remake; second, "the remaker, analogous to a creative resolution of childhood and adolescent Oedipal conflict, eschews destructive competition with the maker, taking the original as a point of useful, unconflicted departure"; third, "the original, as signet of paternal potency and maternal unavailability/refusal, incites the remaker's unalloyed negativity"; and, fourth, "the remaker, simultaneously worshipful and envious of the maker, enters into an ambiguous, anxiety-ridden struggle with a film he both wishes to honor and eclipse." The latter is the "contested homage" Greenberg sees at work in Steven Spielberg's Always (115ff.).
In addition, we can think of one remake that is the product of neither economics nor psychoanalytic conflict. As Lea Jacobs has explained, Universal had hoped to re-release Back Street (John Stahl, 1932) in 1938, but, because it ran afoul of the Production Code Administration, headed by Joe Breen, the studio ended up having to remake the film (Robert Stevenson, 1941): "[T]he film had been . . . criticised by the reform forces at the time of its original release; in particular, it had been attacked by Catholics connected with the Legion of Decency. The story . . . was said to generate sympathy for adulterers and to undermine the normative ideal of marriage as monogamous. When Breen argued against a re-release of the 1932 version, Universal agreed to do a remake" (107).
It is useful to consider Phil Kaufman's stated reasons for wanting to remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers in light of this information:
In 1956, the science-fiction consciousness of the public was limited, and now it's greatly expanded, so you could deal with certain things in different ways. . . . There were a lot of articles coming to my attention about how we were being bombarded from outer space, saying that diseases are coming from outer space. . . . There were political overtones to the original film, and there are two sides on this. What was the original saying? Was it anti-Communist? Was it anti-anti-Communist? I don't know the answer to that. It's interesting to examine the original film both ways, because both theories seem to make sense. Obviously those political overtones don't apply to our film. . . . I also feel that paranoia or fear is a very important thing. I don't think this film would have been worthy of a remake during the period of the Vietnam war, because at that time there was a high consciousness about where we were. The fears hanging over everyone's heads—particularly young people's—gave them a sense of mortality. . . . I think that in the last couple of years, we've been losing that sense of mortality. Fear is very valuable in a time of complacency (Farber, 27).
In addition, Kaufman says, "It seems to me . . . that this is a perfect time to restate the message of Body Snatchers . . . . We were all asleep in a lot of ways in the Fifties, living conforming, other-directed types of lives. Maybe we woke up a little in the Sixties, but now we've gone back to sleep again. We've taken some of the things that were expressed about the original film—that modern life is turning people into unfeeling, conforming pods who resist getting involved with each other on any level—and we're putting them directly into the script" (Freund, 23). (See figure 2.)
Interestingly, in none of Kaufman's comments, or in the reviews cited above, do we get anything that addresses the historical-cultural moment when the original film actually appeared. It was released without any acknowledgment in the New York Times (advertising or reviews) at the end of February 1956. There are very few reviews that Albert LaValley has been able to assemble in his invaluable edition of the script and commentary. In
subsequent years, as far as I have been able to determine, no one has fully come to terms with the moment of the film's release in regard to the audience and the country receiving it. But, as George Lipsitz, one of the major American proponents of cultural studies, reminds us in a discussion of other works, any film "responds to tensions exposed by the social moment of its creation, but each also enters a dialogue already in progress, repositioning the audience in regard to dominant myths" (169). Equally pertinent is Michael Ryan's observation: "The 'meaning' of popular film, its political and ideological significance, does not reside in the screen-to-subject phenomenology of viewing alone. That dimension is merely one moment in a circuit, one effect of larger chains of determination. Film representations are one subset of wider systems of social representation (images, narratives, beliefs, etc.) that determine how people live and that are closely bound up with the systems of social valorization or differentiation along class, race and sex lines" (480).
I want to talk about the dialogue already in progress when the original emerged, with the hope of putting us in closer contact with the audience that experienced the film. First, I want to clarify somewhat more fully
the question of the communist menace. By the time the film appeared, Senator Joseph McCarthy, whose attack on communists is consistently used to interpret the film's meaning (anti-communist? anti-anti-communist?), had already started to lose power. Joseph Welch's stinging condemnation of him had occurred in 1954. In 1955, the year that Invasion of the Body Snatchers was being made, while there continued to be investigations of communists, some of them proceeding from McCarthy, news accounts reveal a partial unraveling of the charges and sentences that had resulted from the activities of McCarthy and Roy Cohn. As a matter of fact, in the very months that the film was being made (March 23 to April 18, 1955), the convictions of two men were reversed on the grounds that one Harvey M. Matusow had admitted to lying when he said they were communists. Matusow claimed he had been coached by Roy Cohn. The latter was exonerated of that charge. Still, in the context of a year when other convicted communists were being released (some to be retried) and when, according to Facts on File , "the Eisenhower administration, reacting to criticism of its employee security program, revised its procedure to insure that accused Govt. workers received 'fair & impartial treatment' at the hands of Govt.," it is clear that the overwhelming period of paranoia and the domination of McCarthy and Cohn had started to ease significantly (Facts on File , March 3–9, 1955: 75. Also February 24–March 2; March 10–16; April 21–27). Thus, we need to be careful about the extent to which we: 1) attribute a particular mind-set to a contemporary audience confronting a film supposedly illustrating the communist menace (whether from the left or the right); 2) use this mind-set to fix the film's meaning; and 3) criticize a remake for failing to reproduce it.
There are two historically relevant matters that can be advanced as having more than a casual relevance to the contemporary audience. The first involves what for want of a better term I will call the discourse of medicine. Peter Biskind talks about the treatment of doctors generally in right-wing films but hasn't fully explored the following with reference to Invasion (60–61). In 1954, Dr. Jonas Salk had discovered a vaccine that would apparently stop polio. The vaccine was tested in 1955 and put to use that year. On February 6, 1956 (a few weeks before the release of Invasion ), Salk and his predecessors who worked to develop the vaccine were honored by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The citation is worth quoting, particularly in light of cold-war rhetoric: "A community needed a bell tower to warn its people against attack. Everyone helped to build it, and the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. When it was finished, the feeling of gratitude of each man for his neighbor, for what each had contributed, was showered upon but one—and he was among the last to contribute. But all knew that the end could not have come without the beginning and without all that had transpired in between" ("Salk Award," 74). Jonas
Salk was one of two doctors whose status approached that of the venerated. The other was Paul Dudley White, President's Dwight Eisenhower's personal physician and the person honored not only for helping Eisenhower pull through his heart attack but also for having started to change the health habits of Americans. Dr. White's status as personal physician and as national spokesperson for health was of particular significance at the moment the film was being released, because the nation was poised to hear whether Eisenhower would run again for election. There had already been considerable campaign activity among Democratic candidates, particularly between Estes Kefauver and Adlai Stevenson, who were seeking the nomination. It was assumed that Eisenhower's decision, when it came, would be predicated on Dr. White's estimate of his health and fitness to run. The week before the film opened, White and the medical advisers had said he was "able"; the title of an article in Life for February 27, 1956, on the matter was: "Doctors Say He's Able—Is He Willing?" (38–39).
Thus at the point of the film's appearance, one can see a valorization almost approaching the hagiographic of two doctors: Salk, who had saved the children from attack; and White, who had saved the president and was helping to change physical behavior in the nation's citizens. The latter's work had an inescapably political dimension, given his association with administrative and hence political stability.
In addition, there was evidently strong support for the medical profession in general. Time reported on a survey done by the American Medical Association: "To no one's surprise, the A.M.A. concluded that doctors stand comfortingly high in public esteem. Only 82% of the 3,000 people polled have a regular family physician, but of those who do, 96% think well of him" ("Patients Diagnose Doctors," 46). That same week, the magazine reported on a training program developed at the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, in which the Menninger brothers counseled various business leaders and managers in ways of using "psychology and psychiatry . . . to help them with their problems" in the workplace ("Psychiatry for Industry," 45).
In such a historical and cultural context, it is worthwhile to consider the possible impact of Invasion of the Body Snatchers , specifically the impotency of those associated with the medical discourse in the film. The psychiatrist Danny Kaufman (Larry Gates), the family doctor Ed Pursey (Everett Glass) who delivered Becky, and the nurse Sally (Jean Willes) are all taken over by the pods. It is Sally who is conducting the transformation of her own baby when Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) spies on her home. Only in the narrative frame added after previews of the film is Miles restored to viability within the medical community; this occurs when Dr. Bassett (Richard Deacon) and Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell), another psychiatrist, begin to believe his story after hearing of the truck accident and the cargo
of pods. My point is that such a unilateral and comprehensive presentation of medicine as succumbing to an alien force (involving nursing, general practice, and psychiatry) can be imagined to have had some resonance with the audience, but in a way that doesn't involve conformity or conspiracy.
An even more significant historical-cultural consideration I want to point out has to do with the events of February 1956 as they pertained to civil rights. Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, and a subsequent ruling in 1955 in which the phrase "with all due deliberate speed" was used in reference to public education, were very much on the collective minds of the citizens in 1956. Early in February, Miss Autherine Lucy had entered the University of Alabama in Montgomery under court order. After two calm nights (she was not permitted to stay in the dormitory), various demonstrations erupted, including cross burnings. She was dismissed from the institution by the trustees in order to insure harmony. This action occasioned different kinds of agitated reactions. Some students protested the trustees' action. Democrats campaigning for the presidential nomination were asked what they would do to enforce the court decree if they were president. At the same time, on February 21, "115 persons were indicted by a county grand jury . . . in Montgomery, Ala. . . . on charges of instigating a Negro mass boycott of City Line buses. . . . The boycott began Dec. 5, 1955, after Mrs. Rosa Parks, a Negro, was fined $14 for refusing to give up her seat" (Facts on File , February 15–21: 61). The following week, a Gallup poll reported that "Southern whites disapproved the Supreme Court's school desegregation ruling by a 80%–16% majority" (Facts on File , February 22–28, 1956: 68). In the first week of the film's release, Life carried an essay by Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner, "A Letter to the North," in which he defends the position of going slowly in the integration process. Although he says segregation is an "evil," "I must go on record as opposing the forces outside the South which would use legal or police compulsion to eradicate that evil overnight" (51). He concludes by asserting "that 1) Nobody is going to force integration on [the Southerner] from the outside; 2) [t]hat he himself faces an obsolescence in his own land which only he can cure: a moral condition which not only must be cured but a physical condition which has got to be cured if he, the white Southerner, is to have any peace, is not to be faced with another legal process or maneuver, every year, year after year, for the rest of his life" (52).
The use of language couched in reference to cures and illness is significant. A month earlier, in an article entitled "South Rises Again in Campaign to Delay Integration," Life had run a picture of a Pontiac automobile carrying a Confederate flag and a banner taped to the side: "Save Our Children from the Black Plague" (22–23). And the previous year, according to William J. Harvie, in testimony before the Supreme Court, a Virginia attorney working for delay in integration said: "Negroes constitute 22 percent of
the population of Virginia . . . but 78 percent of all cases of syphilis and 83 percent of all cases of gonorrhea occur among the Negroes. . . . Of course the incidence of disease and illegitimacy is just a drop in the bucket compared to the promiscuity[;] . . . the white parents at this time will not appropriate the money to put their children among other children with that sort of background" (63).
In addition, according to the New York Times , during that month there were renewed instances of states such as Georgia and Mississippi introducing "nullifying" bills and "interposition" bills. The former type of bill simply denies the application of federal rulings to an individual state; the latter involves states enacting laws to defend their own jurisdictions by countering federal legislation ("Miss Lucy v. Alabama," 1; "Georgia Adopts 'Nullifying' Bill," 16). In addition, there was movement to "abolish public schools, create gerrymandered school districts and set up special entrance requirements" ("School Integration Report," 7).
All this is offered not to say that Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains a previously undiscovered allegory about racism but, rather, to suggest that we ought to remember that the film entered a dialogue, to use Lipsitz's phrase, of considerable tension. In this regard, it is interesting to consider several scenes from the original in which the action and language seem pertinent.
In the first of these scenes, Miles, suspecting that a gas station attendant who had earlier serviced his car may be one of the invaders, stops his car and discovers two pods hidden in the trunk. He pulls them out and sets them on fire. The camera lingers on the flames as they envelop the pods. Burning of alien forces at night in a way that emphasizes the flames against the darkness might well have reminded contemporary audiences of the cross burnings that had recently occurred.
Second, as Miles and Becky (Dana Wynter) watch unobserved from his office, townspeople gather in the square while the pods are being distributed to trucks that will carry them to various communities beyond Santa Mira. As he sees the full implication of the spread of the pods and the infiltration of the aliens into neighboring communities, Miles describes the situation to Becky in terms of a "malignant disease spreading throughout the country."
Third, during the frenzied sequence on the highway, Miles tries to stop motorists and warn them. Specifically (in a shot in which he virtually addresses the camera) he warns: "Those people are coming after us. They're not human. You fools, you're in danger. They're after you, they're after all of us. Your wives. Your children." It is hard not to see a connection between the film's depiction of a threatening, destabilizing force from within the society, characterized in terms of disease, taking over lives, and threatening wives and children, and the current discourse going on in the country in
which individual states tried to avoid what was perceived as a similarly destabilizing force, one characterized as a disease.
I make no claim that this information about the context of reception for the 1956 Invasion will help us understand the 1978 film any better. But it may help to define the differences between the two films somewhat more finely and in a way that goes beyond what I submit has not been sufficiently complete. What's at issue is a cultural version of Michel Foucault's episteme or what in another context Ann Kaplan has called the "semiotic field" of a work (41). As scholars and critics making comparative evaluations, we enrich our work to the extent that our positioning of the original in relation to the remake comes to terms with the forces and dialogues that shaped the works as well as those into which it entered. In fact, with this kind of comparative approach, we may find ourselves better positioned to comment on the relation between original and remake.
The remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released December 22, 197.. Within the month, events occurred that could not have been anticipated in any way by the filmmakers but that provide a grim background for its reception. First was the discovery of the mass suicides led by Jim Jones at the People's Temple of Jonestown, Guyana. Pictures of the more than nine hundred suicides appeared in newspapers and, in color, in magazines like Time and Newsweek . Reports of the suicide made it clear that some of the victims were forced to participate. According to Facts on File, "As for the dissenters, some appeared to have been browbeaten into drinking the poison and others appeared to have been murdered by zealous cult members. Guyanese sources told the New York Times Dec. 11 that at least 70 of the bodies found at Jonestown bore fresh injection marks on their upper arms. The marks presumably showed that the poison had been injected into these victims by others, since it was very difficult for a person to inject himself in that part of the body" (Facts on File, December 15, 1978: 955).
Such information and pictures must have resonated in those members of the audience aware of it who were watching the weirdly charismatic psychiatrist Dr. David Kibner (Leonard Nimoy) inject Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) and Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams) with a "light sedative" that would cause them to sleep and, subsequently, to die as they were taken over by the aliens. The international reaction to the horribly disturbing mass suicide had its counterpart in the national response to the news that, within a few weeks, two teenagers committed suicide in a suburb in New Jersey; they were "the third and fourth Ridgewood, N.J., youngsters to die by their own hands in the past 18 months." One explanation offered was that attention paid to the Jonestown disaster may have triggered the recent suicides, but others, according to Time, "[saw] a deeper malaise," including school pressures and family difficulties ("Trouble in Affluent Suburb," 60).
Ironically, the December 4 story about Jonestown included a quotation from San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who, according to Time, "received important help from Jones in his close 1975 election [and had] appointed him to the city's housing authority in 1976. (Said the mayor about last week's horror: 'I proceeded to vomit and cry.')" ("Messiah from the Midwest," 27). Within the week, Moscone was dead, having been shot along with Harvey Milk by Dan White. In a creepy coincidence, the film is set in San Francisco and includes a scene in which Matthew seeks Kibner's help in reaching the mayor by phone. As far as I have been able to determine, the association of the suicides and murders, of Jones, Moscone, and Milk, and San Francisco, and the turbulent atmosphere of death in the month of December seem not to have entered into contemporary reviews of the film. Indeed, the opposite seems to be the case if Pauline Kael's laudatory review is examined. She notes: "The story is set in San Francisco, which is the ideally right setting because of the city's traditional hospitality to artists and eccentrics. . . . San Franciscans often look shell-shocked. . . . The hipidyllic city, with its ginger-bread houses and its jagged geometric profile of hills covered with little triangles and rectangles, is such a pretty plaything that it's the central character" (48).
Our own period has recently seen a revival of interest in conspiracy theories in regard to the assassination of John F. Kennedy because of the interest generated in conjunction with Oliver Stone's film (JFK, 1991). The audience for Invasion of the Body Snatchers during the last week of 1978 and the beginning of 1979 was learning that the House of Representatives Select Committee on Assassinations "concluded Dec. 30 that President John F. Kennedy 'was probably assassinated as a result of conspiracy' in 1963. . . . The committee also said that on the basis of circumstantial evidence 'there is a likelihood' that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain as a result of conspiracy. . . . The findings came at the end of the committee's $5.8 million, two-year inquiry into the assassinations of the two leaders. . . . The committee flatly stated that none of the U.S. intelligence agencies—the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Secret Service—were involved in the Kennedy murder. The three agencies cleared were, however, criticized for their failings during the assassination and in the investigations after. The Justice Department was also attacked for its direction of the FBI probe" (Facts on File, December 31, 1978: 1002). Such information could well have hit a collective nerve in the audiences watching the futile attempts of Matthew Bennell and his friends. It's not that Kaufman gives any evidence of wanting to build in considerations of assassination conspiracy theories; rather, the film, with its frightening depiction of a conspiracy involving the police, the municipal government, and the secret service appears at a time when a major committee is raising the possibility of conspiracies and denying that the highest government agencies
are involved. The threat of conspiracy in the remake seems, from our perspective, to have even more potential relevance to its audience in 1978 than the already fading threat of a communist conspiracy had for the audience of 1956.
Another dimension of the semiotic field worth noting concerns the pods themselves. Certainly one of the most disturbing scenes in the films occurs when we watch the creatures reproducing while Matthew sleeps. Kaufman examines the creatures with uncompromising (and unnerving) scrutiny as they emerge struggling from their pods, swathed in weblike mucus and uttering little cries. After being awakened by Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright), Miles uses a spade to attack the pods and, in one particularly gruesome shot, is seen splitting open the head of the one that resembles him.
In this scene the film enters a dialogue about abortion that was raging then and is even more violent now. Nothing that Kaufman has said even hints at any self-conscious imposing of a thesis on abortion into the film. Just as I linked the earlier film to civil rights, I here try to contextualize the images in terms of the audience's historical and cultural position in relation to the controversy. What is clear to me is that such images entered a semiotic field in which the legal and medical status of the fetus had already been hotly debated. In 1978, there had been several cases nationally in which "consent" agreements had included provisos that women seeking abortions had to view photographs of fetuses or be given descriptions of them by doctors. According to Facts on File, the law in Louisiana "required the doctor to describe 'in detail' the characteristics of the fetus, including 'mobility, tactile sensitivity, including pain, perception or response, brain and heart function, the presence of internal organs and the presence of external members'" (September 29, 1978: 743).
There was also legal consideration of the fetus's ability to withstand a saline abortion, most immediately in connection with the trial of Dr. William Waddill, a California physician accused of having strangled a twenty-eight-to thirty-one-week-old infant after it survived an abortion (Lindsay, 18). Audiences watching the film and Bennell's "murder" of his double might well have been affected by the abortion controversy, particularly since they had watched the character kill something that, recently emerged from its pod, was more "alive" than "dead."
I am grateful to Lucy Fischer for suggesting that another dialogue in which the film can be seen engaging concerns in vitro fertilization, a medical phenomenon that had occurred for the first time earlier in 1978. In July of that year in England, Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards succeeded in effecting the conception of a child for Lesley and Gilbert John Brown ("British Awaiting Birth," 1). That same month, a much less happy case of in vitro fertilization was reported. The John Del Zio family was suing the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, charging that Dr. Raymond L.
Vande Wiele "deliberately destroyed" the embryo produced in 1973 at the hospital ("Childless Couple Is Suing Doctor," 26). One concern raised during the trial by lawyers defending Columbia University was that the experiment's outcome was uncertain: "[The Del Zio's] physicians, the lawyer said, had no way of knowing whether their efforts would produce a 'monster birth' or a normal child" ("2 Charge 'Jealous' Doctor," 9). Shortly after this scene, Kaufman's film does in fact reveal a monster effected by this process. As a result of a partial aborting of the pod birth process, a dog acquires the head of the Union Square singer seen earlier in the film. Again, an audience in 1978 could reasonably be expected to have a certain amount of exposure to this medical information about a different kind of birth process, one in which there is a fear of something going wrong.
I want to conclude by quoting George Lipsitz again. He speaks of "sedimented historical currents" and of "sedimented networks and associations" that are more than merely intertextual references. His comment seems pertinent to our consideration of remakes and their originals: "The presence of sedimented historical currents within popular culture illumines the paradoxical relationship between history and commercialized leisure. Time, history, and memory become qualitatively different concepts in a world where electronic mass communication is possible. Instead of relating to the past through a shared sense of place or ancestry, consumers of electronic mass media can experience a common heritage with people they have never seen; they can acquire memories of a past to which they have no geographic or biological connection. The capacity of electronic mass communication to transcend time and space creates instability by disconnecting people from past traditions, but it also liberates people by making the past less determinate of experiences in the present" (5). This is true, but I would add that we have to work at this by reconstructing as much as possible the historical contexts, just as someone years hence will try to recover ours.
Kinds of Remakes:
A Preliminary Taxonomy
1. a) A silent film remade as a sound film: Ben Hur (Fred Niblo, 1926, and William Wyler, 1959); b) a silent film remade by the same director as a sound film: Ernst Lubitsch's Kiss Me Again (1925) and That Uncertain Feeling (1941) or Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923 and 1956); c) a major director's silent film remade as a sound film by a different major director: F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922) and Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, the Vampire (1979).
2. a) A sound film remade by the same director in the same country: Frank Capra's Lady for a Day (1936) and A Pocketful of Miracles (1961); b) a sound film remade by the same director in a different country
in which the same language is spoken: Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934, England, and 1954, United States); c) a sound film remade by the same director in a different country with a different language: Roger Vadim's And God Created Woman . . . (1957, France, and 1987, United States).
3. A film made by a director consciously drawing on elements and movies of another director: Howard Hawks's and Brian DePalma's Scarface (1932 and 1983); Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1959) (and Rear Window  and Psycho ), and DePalma's Obsession (1976), Body Double (1984), and Raising Cain (1992).
4. a) A film made in the United States remade as a foreign film: Diary of a Chambermaid by Jean Renoir (1946, France) and Luis Buñuel (1964, France); b) a film made in a foreign country remade in another foreign country: Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961) and A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964); c) a foreign film remade in another foreign country and remade a second time in the United States: La Femme Nikita (Luc Besson, 1990, France), Black Cat (1992, Hong Kong) (thanks to Scott Higgins), and Point of No Return (John Badham, 1993); d) a foreign film remade in the United States: La Chienne (Jean Renoir, 1931) and Scarlet Street (Fritz Lang, 1945) and Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960, and Jim McBride, 1983).
5. a) Films with multiple remakes spanning the silent and sound eras: Sadie Thompson (Raoul Walsh, 1928), Rain (Lewis Milestone, 1932) and Miss Sadie Thompson (Curtis Bernhardt, 1953); b) films remade within the silent and sound eras as well as for television: Madame X (Lionel Barrymore, 1929 [the third silent remake of the silent film]; Sam Wood, 1937; David Lowell-Rich, 1966 [the Lana Turner version]; and, for television, Robert Ellis Miller, 1981 [with Tuesday Weld]).
6. a) A film remade as television film: Sweet Bird of Youth (Richard Brooks, 1962, and Nicholas Roeg, 1989); b) a film remade as a television miniseries: East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955, and Harvey Hart, 1981); c) a television series remade as a film: Maverick (Richard Donner, 1994) and The Flintstones (Brian Levant, 1994).
7. a) A remake that changes the cultural setting of a film: The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946, United States, and Michael Winner, 1978, Great Britain); b) a remake that updates the temporal setting of a film: Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk, 1944) and Farewell My Lovely (Dick Richards, 1975); A Star Is Born (William Wellman, 1937, George Cukor, 1954, and Frank Pierson, 1976); Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1948) and Against All Odds (Taylor Hackford, 1984); c) a remake that changes the genre and cultural setting of the film: The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (Henry Hathaway, 1935) re-
made as a western, Geronimo (Paul H. Sloane, 1939); the western High Noon (Fred Zinnemann, 1954) remade as the science fiction film Outland (Peter Hyams, 1981).
8. a) A remake that switches the gender of the main characters: The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931); His Gal Friday (Howard Hawks, 1941); b) a remake that reworks more explicitly the sexual relations in a film: William Wyler's These Three (1936) and The Children's Hour (1961); The Blue Lagoon (Frank Launder, 1949, and Randal Kleiser, 1980).
9. A remake that changes the race of the main characters: Anna Lucasta (Irving Rapper, 1949, with Paulette Goddard; Arnold Laven, 1958, with Eartha Kitt).
10. A remake in which the same star plays the same part: Ingrid Bergman in the Swedish and American versions of Intermezzo (Gustav Molander, 1936, and Gregory Ratoff, 1939); Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (Mark Sandrich, 1942) and Holiday Inn (Michael Curtiz, 1954).
11. A remake of a sequel to a film that is itself the subject of multiple remakes: The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1975) and The Bride (Frank Roddam, 1985).
12. Comic and parodic remakes: Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1954); Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951) and Throw Mamma from the Train (Danny DeVito, 1987).
13. Pornographic remakes: Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) and Ghostlusters (1991); Truth or Dare (Alex Kashishian, 1991) and Truth or Bare (1992) (thanks to Peter Lehman).
14. A remake that changes the color and/or aspect ratio of the original: The Thing (Christian Nyby, 1951, black-and-white; John Carpenter, 1982, color and Panavision); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956, black-and-white and Superscope; Phil Kaufman, 1978, color and 1.85 to 1 aspect ratio).
15. An apparent remake whose status as a remake is denied by the director; Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up (1966) and Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974).
This taxonomy doesn't cross-reference films. Clearly, some could be put in more than one category. The Big Sleep, for example, updates the temporal and cultural settings. In addition, the list doesn't address any number of relevant production and economic aspects: the role of the star as an element in developing the remake (Barbra Streisand and the 1976 A Star Is Born ); variations in advertising, marketing, and distribution practices from period to period, genre to genre, country to country; historical data about the studios' decisions on remaking; comparative financial data on the origi-
nal and remake; issues of acquiring rights; distinguishing among the major and minor studios (e.g., an MGM remake of an MGM picture? a United Artists remake of an Allied Artists picture?); and epochal analyses of remaking practices—for example, comparative data regarding the number of remakes in the period of "classical Hollywood cinema" as opposed to during the sixties and later periods.
Even more problematic, the taxonomy itself doesn't address the issue of adaptation: are there any films in the various categories that can claim a common noncinematic source? If so, is it correct to call a film a remake or a new adaptation (e.g., Madame Bovary, Vincente Minnelli, 1949; Claude Chabrol, 1991)? Are there stages left out between the original and remake, as occurs for example when a play intervenes between the original and the remake (e.g., The Wiz )?
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Recalculating the Hitchcock Formula
Robert P. Kolker
Alfred Hitchcock was a director of elegant solutions. His best films are well-tuned cinematic mechanisms that drive the elements of character, story, and audience response with a calculated construction that creates, anticipates, yet never quite resolves the viewer's desire to see and own the narrative. Hitchcock's films make us believe that we understand everything even while they leave us unsettled about what we have seen and unsure about our complicity in the event of seeing itself. Even his less-than-perfect films, in which too much is spoken and too much resolved, there are sequences or shots of formal inquisitiveness that concentrate the attention and reveal a filmmaker who, although his interest is less than thoroughly engaged, can formulate a cinematic idea and calculate it to a small perfection. Hitchcock is one of the few commercially successful filmmakers who give the viewer pleasure by means of his formal deliberations. For popular cinema—a form of expression dedicated to hiding its formal structures—this is a major achievement.
But there is an unsettling anomaly at work here. The elegance of Hitchcock's formal structures and the pleasure we take in watching them in operation belie the content they generate: images and narratives of violence and disruption; attacks on complacency and routine; sexual cruelty and a disturbing misogyny are created in visual and narrative fields whose eloquence and intelligence seem to transcend their content. Something of a sadomasochistic pattern is put into operation. We reverberate to the shocks endured by Hitchcock's characters and take a peculiar pleasure in the way they are perceived and the way in which we perceive them. We delight in the cunning with which the director represents this violence and respond favorably to the eloquence of the moral ambiguities that result in our pleasurable assent to violence and madness. When we see culpability and evil
portrayed as the twins of innocence and rectitude, we accept this contradiction with an almost smug knowingness. The pain of the revelation of moral complexity and uncertainty (which repels us in, for example, the political sphere) is accepted in the aesthetic as the insight of a clever interpreter of modernity. The calculation of it all, the almost obsessive construction of narrative, the composition and cutting of shots that force us to respond in predetermined ways to seemingly uncontrolled or uncontrollable acts, Hitchcock's complete command of our perceptions, turns upon reception into delight. We find pleasure in his authority and enlightenment in his calculations. Hitchcock and his audience are able to have it all ways: plot, character, suspense, fear, pleasure; a formal structure never invisible, yet intrusive only when one desires it to be; a structure of moral ambiguity lurking below the level of immediate cognition, all firmly buttressing the pleasure of narration.
Hitchcock calculated himself as part of the overall structure of his work. He foregrounded his presence by appearing in his films; he developed an instantly recognizable persona on television; and he entered the popular imagination with a distinctiveness unrivaled by any other filmmaker in fifties and early sixties American culture. This success on all levels created the event of the director as celebrity. His films were known; and he (or rather the public persona he created) was known through the work of film reviewers, who referred to almost any film that used suspense, shock, or a "surprise ending," as "Hitchcockian." His work was conflated into an adjective and misappropriated as a genre. It's not surprising that, with all this, Hitchcock became a very special example to the generation of film students turned filmmakers in the late sixties and early seventies.
This is a special group of writers and directors, which now dominates American filmmaking. While not all were students in the literal sense (a few of them, like Martin Scorsese, did take degrees in film school, while others may have attended briefly or not at all), they were a generation who learned about film by watching movies on television and in repertory movie houses. Unlike their Hollywood predecessors, who learned filmmaking as a trade, coming up the studio ranks, many of the young filmmakers of the late sixties and early seventies saw film as a form of expression: subjective and malleable. One manifestation of that expression, one way of impressing subjective response and a love of the cinematic medium was by alluding to and quoting from other films. Hitchcock and John Ford were the touchstones for these new directors, and the films—The Searchers (1956) and Psycho (1960) in particular—the foundation for much of their work.
The phenomenon of allusion, quotation, and imitation in film is complex. We need to divide some of the strands of these activities to understand what the new filmmakers were about and how Hitchcock plays a role in their work. The business of filmmaking has always thrived on the fact
that viewers remember films, stories, stars, and genres. The repetitions and sequels and cycles that Hollywood needs in order to reproduce narratives in large numbers depended—and depends still—on the viewer's ability to recall, respond to, and favor particular films. There is a discrete contradiction operating here. The classic American style of moviemaking and reception depends upon transparency and a kind of virgin birth. Every film emerges whole and new, actively suppressing its technical, stylistic, or historical origins. Yet audiences are depended upon to recognize similarities and repetitions from film to film, and indeed they must do this. If they did not, they would have no desire to see stars, plots, generic elements, narrative patterns repeated; and without that desire to fulfill, Hollywood filmmaking could not exist.
The post-fifties, post-French New Wave generation of American filmmakers exploited the contradictions. They too looked to repetition and depended upon audience recognition, yet did not care to make their work completely transparent. They did not want to hide the genesis of their films or suppress the fact that films come not from life or from an abstract convention of "reality" but from other films. Their films recalled not only broad generic paradigms or the sexual attractions of certain players but specific images, the narrative structure of individual films, the visual and storytelling stratagems of particular filmmakers. They interrogated that aspect of filmmaking that combines commercial necessity (repetition and imitation) with the work of the imagination (allusion and quotation) in order to provoke the audience into recognizing film history, and in doing so pleased the viewer by asking for her response and her knowledge. The cinema of allusion is made out of a desire to link filmmaker and viewer with cinema's past and inscribe the markings of an individual style by recalling the style of an admired predecessor. At its worst, it is an act of showing off; at its best, a subtle means of giving depth to a film, broadening its base, adding resonance to its narrative and a sense of play, and, through all of this, increasing narrative pleasure.
Various filmmakers refer to and incorporate other films in various ways, as John Biguenet demonstrates in his essay elsewhere in this book. Among the most interesting are the subtle allusive acts that operate on the level of pure form. In these instances, allusion is not quite the appropriate term, for here filmmakers are working with and advancing basic visual experiments tried out by their predecessors. Hitchcock is a particularly apt example, because he was constantly playing with formal devices, looking for ways in which elements of composition, cutting, and camera movement could be employed to express a state of mind or clarify perception, to bring the viewer into the progression of the narrative or hold her at arms length.
When Spielberg uses a formal Hitchcockian device in Jaws (1975), combining a tracking shot with a zoom, each moving in opposite directions, to
communicate a tense moment of perception and recognition, the result is powerful and terrifying. Hitchcock had experimented with the technique in Vertigo (1958) to indicate Scottie's fear and loss of control as he hangs from a roof or races up the steps of the mission steeple. He used it as a point-of-view shot, expressing his character's terrified perception of his situation. Spielberg expands its use to express not only the character's but the audience's response: it becomes the viewer's point of view as the sheriff, Brody, thinks he sees the shark in the water, while character and background simultaneously shrink from and expand into each other. Toward the end of Goodfellas (1991: a film of great, imaginative "tryings out" and experiments), Martin Scorsese refines the device even further. In a diner, Jimmy and Henry sit by a window, talking. The camera tracks very slowly toward them, while the scene outside the window zooms in at a faster speed in the opposite direction. The sequence impresses the characters' dislocation and prepares for the major turn in the narrative, when Henry betrays his gangster friends.
Such examples carry allusion beyond the point of play, inside joke, or plot device into the very system of visual narrative structure. They demonstrate that filmmakers work like artists in any other media: they learn from, copy from, and expand upon the work of their predecessors, exploring and exploiting their own tradition. The degree of success that each attains, however, is not equal. Brian De Palma, for example, has done the simplest arithmetic exercises based upon the Hitchcock equations. He alludes to Hitchcock's plot structures and plays with visual and editorial devices. Unquestionably, the majority of American filmmakers who attempt to recalculate the Hitchcock formula wind up diminishing the work of their subject. Rather than recreate or rethink the moral structures of the Hitchcock mise-en-scène, they simply exploit it, sometimes very quietly, as if out of desperation. Paul Verhoeven's and Joe Eszterhas's Basic Instinct (1992) is an example of an exploitation film in which sexual violence is made a metaphor for moral bankruptcy. But the metaphor is rendered useless because the film depends on its ability to sexually arouse its audience to assure its commercial success. The film enacts what it seems to condemn, leaving no space for introspection or comprehension of the viewer's own complicity in the film's narrative affairs. Despite the fact that Eszterhas keeps reaching into two of Hitchcock's most disturbing and questioning films about sexuality, Vertigo and Marnie (1964), he allows no space for speculation, only manipulation. A central premise of Vertigo , that male sexual obsession can be carried to the point of destroying both the subject and object of the obsession, is reduced in Basic Instinct to various sets of exclusive sexual provocations, in which a man and two women maneuver one another into sexual thralldom (a mainstay of popular romantic literature and middle-brow, commercial soft-core pornographic film), with the threat of death hanging
over every encounter. From Marnie comes the figure of the sexually tormented woman, psychologically broken into multiple characters, yielding, destructive, finally psychotic, and, in a ploy Hitchcock would never indulge, murderous.
Hitchcock's misogyny is well documented. But despite the suspicion and distrust of women manifested in much of his work, there is almost always an understanding that women, when they are figures pursued and possessed by men, are fantasies made up by men. They are (as Tania Modleski points out in The Women Who Knew Too Much ) fictions that belie innate personality and female desire, fictions that subordinate the female to the neurotic, often psychotic, male gaze. Notorious (1946) and Vertigo play upon this transformation, the latter film elevating it to a semblance of tragedy. Marnie examines the phenomenon in almost clinical fashion, as a woman, honest about her neurotic dysfunction, is reduced and finally raped by a man who believes he can transform her.
Eszterhas and Verhoeven do not care for abstractions or meditations on transformation. The central figures of Basic Instinct are present only to exploit and use one another, and the audience most of all. Hitchcock's troubled and abused woman is here turned into a sexual destroyer, and none of the shots of the Michael Douglas character driving along the California coast carry the weight of existential fear and sexual anxiety borne by Jimmy Stewart's Scottie as he pursues his phantom of desire through the streets of San Francisco. Basic Instinct is an example of the exhaustion of allusion and the employment of Hitchcockian technique as an act of exploitation and despair. To do Hitchcock may convince a filmmaker or his producer that he may be like Hitchcock, and with such similarity may come respect and admiration and ticket sales. But in the end, very few directors—perhaps only Martin Scorsese in America and Claude Chabrol in France—understand that recalculating Hitchcock means understanding the mathematics of the original formula, thinking the way Hitchcock thought, and reformulating the original so that the results not only allude to but reinterpret it. Again, it is a matter of comprehending Hitchcock's mise-en-scène: the spatial articulation of his films, which includes the way his characters are situated and the way they look at each other and are looked at by the camera. It is the mise-en-scène itself that gives voice to ambiguities of sexuality and the violence of the everyday, the subjects that most engaged Hitchcock in his best work.
Scorsese has made two films that actively engage Hitchcock. Taxi Driver (1976) reformulates Psycho (while it simultaneously situates its narrative pattern in The Searchers ). Within the figures, gestures, and ideological and cultural practice of the late seventies, Scorsese finds analogues for the return of the repressed, which Hitchcock represented in the late fifties. Taxi Driver incorporates dread, angst, and threat in the figure of Travis Bickle,
whose world is as tentative and malperceived as was Norman Bates's in Psycho. Cape Fear (1991), certainly a less complex and resonant film than Taxi Driver, uses Hitchcock in more devious ways than its predecessor. Rather than elide and reconstruct the methods of one film within another (as Taxi Driver does with Psycho, embracing as much as remaking it), Cape Fear uses Hitchcockian technique to solve some problems. Just as Hitchcock used the perceptual structures of film to solve thematic puzzles and simultaneously engage and distance his audience, Scorsese turns to Hitchcock to solve other kinds of problems and provide a kind of secret narrative structure for a film that even its director admits is a minor, unashamedly commercial work. Within this "secret narrative" lie some of the most interesting reformulations of Hitchcock, unobtrusively, and with a great deal of humor and play.
When Cape Fear was being edited late in the spring of 1991, Scorsese gave a talk about the filmmaker Michael Powell at the Library of Congress as part of a program celebrating British cinema. He made a number of interesting revelations. One concerned the extent to which his own imagination was nurtured by cinema, and the fact that the choices he made and the problems he solved in creating his films depended in excruciating detail upon other films. He said, for example, that the close-up of De Niro's eyes during Taxi Driver 's credit sequence was suggested to him by a similar shot of the eyes of a gondola oarsman in Michael Powell's little-known film, Tales of Hoffman (1951). This is more than allusion or the simple celebration of cinematic community. It is, rather, the activity of a profound, subjective intertextual imagination that links Scorsese with the modernist writers of the teens and twenties and with the cinemodernists like Godard in the sixties, who looked to the writers and filmmakers who proceeded them as the usable past that must inform their own work. For the modernist, a "new" text is built from the appropriation and accretion of other texts. In a basic, material way, modernism demands that the works of imagination remain viable and usable, that they exist as the seeds of other works. Through such incremental nurturing a history of the imagination is written.
At its very best, the modernist act of allusion reveals form and structure through dialectical play. A new work, coherent in its own structure, gains that coherence by absorbing and restructuring other works. A kind of imaginative space is marked out that is open to other spaces and in that openness is made secure. "These fragments I have shored against my ruins," T. S. Eliot writes—or rather quotes—in The Waste Land . This is intertextuality as imaginative redemption; and that is precisely what is going on in Cape Fear, a secret remake, knowledge of which reveals the film as joke and intricate reformulation, a way of knowing Hitchcock and absolving Scorsese.
At his Library of Congress talk, Scorsese made an admission of sorts. In return for the financial and moral support given The Last Temptation of Christ
(1988), he owed Universal Pictures six films. Cape Fear was the first of these, and it was consciously and eagerly made quickly, cheaply, and with an eye on the box office. As an indulgence in the thriller-horror genre, and drawing upon a multitude of sources, it was aimed to please its audience and its creator. Part of that pleasure was in the remaking of an earlier film of the same title and basic plot structure, J. Lee Thompson's 1962 Cape Fear (a Universal property). Were it only a remake of this earlier film, it would be a somewhat interesting aside in Scorsese's career, a successful attempt at a commercial film (as big a moneymaker as Scorsese has had and an even better film than an earlier commercial attempt, The Color of Money, 1986, which was itself not a remake, but an extension of yet another film, The Hustler, 1961). But it is apparent that Scorsese calculated to produce something more than a quickie remake. He would, in effect, create a number of remakes in one: within the remake of the 1962 Cape Fear would be embedded a kind of remake of three minor Hitchcock films from the early fifties: Stage Fright (1950), I Confess (1953), and Strangers on a Train (1951). In other words, having decided to do a minor film within his own canon, he turned to films in Hitchcock's canon in order to discover how a minor film could best be done: to try, in effect, to recreate a minor Hitchcock film. The result is still not anything more than a minor film; yet it is one that plays a game of intertextual counterpoint, a modernist exercise in popular form in which one film adopts the plot of its predecessor while gaining a deeper structure through an allusive tag game with three Hitchcock films. The result is enormous pleasure for the maker of the film and the viewer who perceives the games being played.
All this becomes even more interesting when we realize that Thompson's 1962 Cape Fear is itself a Hitchcockian exercise, a film that plays upon Psycho, or, more accurately, the atmosphere of Psycho and its reception. The production of Thompson's film is explicitly connected to Hitchcock. Bernard Herrmann, who wrote the score for Psycho (as he did for most of Hitchcock's fifties films), wrote the music for Thompson's Cape Fear . (Scorsese had Elmer Bernstein—an old hand at film music—reorchestrate a souped-up version of the same score for his film. He furthered the Psycho connection by having Saul Bass design credits somewhat similar to those he designed for Psycho .) George Tomasini, Hitchcock's regular editor, who cut Psycho, edited Thompson's film. Martin Balsam, who plays the detective Arbogast in Psycho, plays a police detective in Cape Fear . Gregory Peck, who had starred in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) and The Paradine Case (1948), plays Sam Bowden (Scorsese gives both Balsam and Peck small roles in his version of Cape Fear, as he does Robert Mitchum, the original Max Cady. (See figure 3.) There are visual references to Psycho in the 1962 Cape Fear, well before the time that allusions were to become prominent in American cinema: in the sequence where two detectives mount the steps in a boarding house
where Max Cady has brutalized a young woman, the camera tracks them up the stairs as it does Arbogast when he visits Norman's mother.
Thompson's film explores issues of violent sexuality, just becoming explicit in film as a result of Psycho . He examines "normal" middle-class people intruded upon by a psychotic, uncontrollable, and ultimately unknowable individual, and he observes an ordinary and plain middle-class landscape turned suddenly threatening by an amoral and dangerous presence. In short, Thompson attempts to recreate the mise-en-scène of Psycho: a gray, ugly world charged with violence and sadomasochistic sexuality, a world of ordinary people put in danger, a world of psychotic presences teasing and seducing middle-class morality and straining its oppressive limits. Psycho had come as a challenging and changing force onto the site of fifties American cinema, which, superficially, was as quiescent and predictable as the culture in which it was made. Few films outside of low-budget crime movies spoke to the political and moral despair of the period. To be sure, some of the decade's melodramas—notably those of Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray—suggested the fears and threats of domesticity on a social level above
that represented in the gangster film. But these works almost always indulged in an obligatory, if ironic, recuperation of at least one of the main characters in an attempt to negate the terrors of dissolution within the narrative. Hitchcock, in The Wrong Man (1956) and Vertigo, began a concerted effort to represent a world that was not recuperable, a world hostile to ordinary emotional life in which individuals were shown as helpless in face of uncontrollable events, incapable of normal responses, and destructive of themselves and others. Together, these films spoke the unspeakable in a decade devoted to amnesia and evasion. In Psycho , finally, the articulation of despair was stated with such violence that there was no longer a possibility of recuperation.
Psycho placed the grimness of The Wrong Man within the emotional abyss of Vertigo and out of the two created a physical and emotional landscape unrelievedly barren and violent. It did this with such force and self-consciousness, and such self-awareness, that it startled viewers not only with the blackness of its vision, but its humor, the unrelenting notion that some kind of joke was being played. Psycho, as its creator never tired of saying, was in fact a joke, a story that kept giving itself away in the process of its telling. But its playfulness made its seriousness all the more disturbing, and the force of its darkness penetrated American film and slowly changed it. Thompson's Cape Fear, coming less than two years after Psycho, was among the first to reproduce its fearsome insistence that the disruption of madness is a given in a world that counts on an illusory continuum of the ordinary.
But let's be clear. The 1962 Cape Fear has none of the complex resonance of Psycho . It does, in the character Max Cady, have its own version of Norman Bates, the madman who, from moment to moment, appears normal and self-contained (it is interesting to note that Scorsese, in his version of Cape Fear, is uninterested in this bit of Hitchcockian drollery: his Max Cady is a fearsome crazy man, a parody of recent unkillable movie monsters, a self-proclaimed "big bad wolf," a sadistic creep from beginning to end). It also has its middle-class family, a much more respectable family than Hitchcock's unpleasant petite bourgeoisie in Psycho, whose grim world is turned over by the madman's appearance. The origins of Thompson's family are the ordinary fifties domestic melodramas, not the grim hotel rooms and storefront offices of the inhabitants of Psycho . What the original Cape Fear takes from Psycho and exaggerates are its elements of sexual perversity and the inescapable attractions to evil, its bland black, white, and gray landscape that absorbs and gives back threat from the madman's indwelling. Here—though not as subtly as in Psycho —smugness and seduction, propriety and corruption work smoothly, implicitly together.
By 1991, few representations of sexuality and violence were still considered transgressive in cinema. The host of Psycho imitations during the intervening years had raised the ante of violence simulated and depicted to
appalling levels. In 1962, Thompson's Cady does the literally unspeakable and unseeable to the young woman he picks in a bar. The act goes on behind closed doors. Afterward, the woman will not even tell the police what Cady did, and she leaves town. In Scorsese's film, the young woman is sexually active and insecure, she was Bowden's lover, and Cady picks her up and brutalizes her not as a general threat to Bowden, but as a specific act of revenge. The act does not go on behind closed doors. We are privy to Cady's sadism: he breaks the woman's arm, bites a chunk out of her face, and spits it across the room. Scorsese, as is often his wont, throws representations of violence in our face because he likes to; because he knows a large part of the audience likes it; because (in his better films, at least) such images are among the articulate essentials of the world he is mediating and a vital component of the character is he is creating within this world. But something else is happening in his Cape Fear . Scorsese is attempting to refashion the moral landscape of the original film. His Sam Bowden is something of a pompous fraud who concealed evidence at Max Cady's trial (a morally correct but legally culpable act). Therefore, Cady's vicious actions come not from madness simply but from an insane sense of righteousness and revenge. Unlike his predecessor, he acts as Bowden's bad conscience; he is—and here Scorsese begins to get closer to Hitchcock—Bowden's double, his own corruption made flesh, the bleakest image of his own desires and destructiveness. Seduction and pain are not merely the ways Cady uses to get back at Bowden; they are ways of exposing the worst of Bowden to himself.
For Hitchcock, the creation of the double was a means of structuring moral ambiguity, which I noted earlier is so basic to his work. More than most filmmakers, he builds his mise-en-scène out of a counterpoint of gazes, of characters looking at each other and the viewer looking at the characters within spaces that contextualize those gazes as intrusive, threatening, and violent. The possibility of visualizing one character as a reflection of the other, or one act or gesture as a mirroring of the desire of the other, grows easily out of such structures. With looks and gestures, Hitchcock rhymes his doubles: Charlie and young Charlie are introduced with similar shots in Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Sam stands by his reflected image in the mirror as he attempts to face down Norman Bates in the motel office in Psycho . Judy-Madeleine in Vertigo is a double doubled: she is the fault line of Scottie's psychosis, his desire made impossible flesh. And in turn she is two women to him: one the person someone else created, who Scottie turned into the image of his beloved, the other the "real" woman he thinks is someone else and proceeds to recreate again into the image of his love. Often the doubling structure takes place in the exchange between image and viewer, the latter given an image of sadomasochistic desire through his or her assent to the characters' actions on screen and thereby becoming a kind of fantastic double of the character on the screen.
Each of the three fifties Hitchcock films that Scorsese draws on for his Cape Fear—Stage Fright, I Confess, and Strangers on a Train —is built on the concept of the double. Stage Fright is the most subdued of them. Were it not for the fact that it is so flat and arrhythmic, its performances so without energy, it could well be the most interesting, for it doubles and quadruples its doubles, setting up what should be an intricate structure in which many of the major characters play roles, making believe they are other than what they appear to be, and lie to themselves and the audience (the body of the narrative is told in a flashback that communicates false information), each reflecting the other's bad faith. Jane Wyman's Eve attempts to protect her boyfriend from the accusation of murder, one presumably committed by Marlene Dietrich's Charlotte Inwood (an aloof and potentially powerful character, who the film manages to humiliate and almost destroy in its rush to recuperate Eve). (Cf. Modleski, 115–17.) That the murder was committed by Jonathan, Eve's boyfriend, becomes fairly clear late in the film but is not fully revealed until a powerful sequence in which a clearly psychotic Jonathan admits his crime and his madness in the prop area of a theater. Scorsese draws this sequence, like a thread through the eye of a needle, into the high school episode of Cape Fear . In the 1962 version, Sam Bowden's daughter is pursued—or rather thinks she is pursued—by Cady in her school. Scorsese is uninterested in such simple images of pursuit and more concerned with the inexplicable sexual seductiveness of Cady and the effect of that seductiveness on Bowden's daughter. Echoing the penultimate sequence in Stage Fright, he places the man and woman in a stage set (here an expressionist image of a cottage on the stage of a high school auditorium) where Cady awakens the sexuality of Danielle Bowden and puts her under his control.
In the source sequence from Stage Fright, Eve retains a great deal of control in the face of the madman: both sit in the darkness with a slit of light over their eyes. One-shots—shots in which only one character is seen—of each predominate and the suggestion of mirroring images is strong. But Hitchcock is not quite able to press the doubling structure and its sense of the uncanny because his Eve is, finally, too good and too protected. Stage Fright fails because its central character is recessive and continually under patriarchal control. Her father and her police detective lover are never far away. She soothes the madman and leads him out of hiding, only to have him escape and be killed by a falling stage curtain. Scorsese puts his Eve—Sam Bowden's daughter Danielle—at greater risk. The unprotected child, marginalized by her bickering parents, is at the mercy of the mad seducer and seemingly all too ready to become his accomplice. Both characters play roles in this scene: Danielle the innocent child; Cady the wise, almost scholarly teacher. But unlike Hitchcock's Eve, Scorsese's has no control and becomes very receptive to Cady's sexual advances. The misogyny here is off-
putting. Scorsese's suggestion that the innocent girl is the willing agent for seduction, and through seduction a weak link between Cady and her father, diverts the intensity of the moral conflict between Cady and Bowden, suggesting finally that Cady—monster though he is—finds ready access for his brutality in the willingness of the women he meets. At least Hitchcock's Eve can control her psychotic friend, though this control is mediated by the male protection that surrounds her.
As I noted, the source sequence in Stage Fright gives the female character an extraordinary amount of control over the madman. In Scorsese's version, the young woman melts in sexual passivity in the face of Cady's seductive menace, for Cady is seduction and brutality; he is the vengeful, destructive father. It is just this destructive impulse that seems to emanate from the ordinary that attracts Scorsese to the two other Hitchcock source films, I Confess and Strangers on a Train . Both films deal with loss of control, with a character who takes over and begins mediating another's life. The primary figures—Father Logan in I Confess and Guy in Strangers on a Train —attempt to live the straightest and most orderly of lives. Their relationship with figures of madness and violence plays out Hitchcock's most obsessive concern: the disruption of the mundane by the unexpected appearance of the uncontrollable destroyer, and the manifestation of that destroyer as a double of the straight and orderly hero.
In I Confess, Hitchcock creates one of his most passive characters (matched only by Manny Balestraro in The Wrong Man, made a few years later in 1957). The narrative is structured upon the unwillingness of Montgomery Clift's Father Logan to identify the handyman Otto Keller, who confesses to him the murder of a man who, coincidentally, has been blackmailing Logan over a love affair he had before becoming a priest. The film fails precisely because of Logan's enforced passivity within a mise-en-scène of unrelenting heaviness. The spaces surrounding Logan are too foreboding, too oppressive for what is essentially a narrative of a man who traps himself within his own theology. Hitchcock permits no breathing space and no alternative for the pitiable oppression of all the characters. Like Bowden in Scorsese's Cape Fear, Father Logan cannot act against his oppressor, who becomes, in effect, his active principle, a figure of otherness, violence, and retribution, who manages not merely to keep the main character under his control but to manifest his impotence at every turn. The difference is that Logan's passivity is based upon religious commitment—a priest cannot expose the man who has confessed to him—whereas Bowden's passivity is based partly upon the seeming indestructibility of Cady but mostly on the fact that it is Cady who carries and exposes the moral imperative. Bowden is paralyzed by the brute and emotional force of his own corruptibility; it is as if there were a pact between him and his double that forces each into the other's embrace. This notion of mutuality is missing from I Confess, which
is why the film only lurks in the background of Cape Fear . But it is central to Strangers on a Train . The notion of an unwitting pact, of characters mirroring one another because of a corrupt and not quite unconscious bond between them, connects the films so strongly that Scorsese reenacts at least three sequences.
Strangers on a Train is the most notable bad film from Hitchcock's early fifties period. Unable to create a usable script with Raymond Chandler, he had it completed by a relatively unknown writer. Unwilling and unable to do anything more than suggest the homosexual implications of the relationship between the two main characters or to follow through on the inherent corruption of the film's putative hero, Guy, Hitchcock palliates his actions by giving Guy a girlfriend—a senator's daughter—whose presence dilutes the narrative and defocuses the mise-en-scène. The best sequences in the film are those between Guy and Bruno, where the former's breathless mock innocence and the latter's chattering and infectious lunacy play off each other in a way that gives neither character the upper hand, but Bruno the lead in a kind of lighthearted maliciousness. The film thrives on their interchanges and on the strange and often amusing appearances of Bruno as Guy's dark watcher, his alter ego calling him into account to execute his part of their contract, that Guy kill Bruno's father in return for his having killed Guy's unpleasant wife. The film breaks apart when it centers upon Guy's relationship with the conventional "good woman" (the "bad" woman, Guy's sexually active wife, is so obnoxious that her death becomes a pleasure, a mere function of Bruno's mischief making, a devaluation of the woman by turning her into a function of her husband's dissatisfaction and his friend's psychosis) and then collapses in the theatrics of the fairground with its out-of-control carousel that kills Bruno. It ends in bathos with the cute interplay between Guy, his intended, and a priest on a train.
The complexity of the film—the little there is of it—lies in its insistence that Guy and Bruno are so intertwined as to be each other's double. Bruno is Guy's secret-sharer who does his murderous deed, emerging from his unconscious to do its bidding. Hitchcock signals this in a series of episodes in which Bruno imposes himself within Guy's and the viewer's visual field, an object of threat that calls one into account, an image of the unconscious made flesh (cf. Barton). Three of Bruno's appearances have this effect. The first occurs after Bruno has killed Guy's wife. Guy returns to his Washington home, and as he goes up the front stairs in the dark (the camera severely canted in a Dutch tilt), Bruno's spectral voice calls to him. A reverse shot reveals nothing but the darkened gate in front of the house. The second reverse shows Bruno emerging from the dark, as if dissolving into presence, beckoning Guy to him with a purposive, exaggerated gesture. The second appearance is in broad daylight. Guy drives by the Jefferson Memorial with a policeman, who is with him to observe his movements (the police
think he has murdered his wife). In a long shot, from Guy's point of view, Bruno is seen, a stark, still, menacing, dark figure against the white columns of the monument, a corruption of the public space, a projection of Guy's bad conscience. The third appearance is at a tennis match, another public space in which Bruno appears, again in a dark suit, completely still amid the spectators, all of whom turn their heads following the play on the field. Bruno stares straight ahead at his alter ego.
For Hitchcock, the dark double dominates the hero's perceptual space and devalues and obliterates the protective aura of the public spaces he inhabits, becoming the sole object of the fearful gaze. For Scorsese, the figure of menace is mostly private, a part of fantasy, a projection of a bad dream. To be sure, Cady appears to Bowden in public. He stares down Bowden during a Fourth of July parade sequence, which has its direct parallel for Scorsese in the tennis match in Strangers on a Train . Like Bruno in the viewing stands, Cady stares out of the crowd straight ahead at Bowden, dominating him and the surroundings. In the Hitchcock film, Guy pursues Bruno after the match, only to find him talking genially with members of Guy's entourage at tea. The parade sequence in Cape Fear occurs early in the film, when Bowden is unclear about Cady's plans and furious at the intrusion into his life. He runs through the parade and attacks his evil twin, only to be pulled back by bystanders who are unaware of Cady's threat. Guy in Strangers is a fairly passive character throughout; he acts as if aware that Bruno is more spectral than real, more him than not. Bowden begins by taking a manly stance before his alter ego, only to find that Cady, like Bruno, is too persistent, clever, and righteous (and, unlike Bruno, too physically powerful) to be easily undone. Bowden too becomes passive, depending, like Bruno, on others in his attempts to outwit Cady. Only at the end of the narrative, when the detectives fall away or are killed, and when the women have failed to subdue the monster during the furious storm, does Bowden do successful physical battle with his alter ego.
The other appearances of Cady that echo Strangers on a Train are of different effect and intent. Here Scorsese specifically presents the villain as fantastic emanation of the main characters, as nightmare. The first occurs after Sam and his wife make love, a sequence rendered unharmonious and troubling as the image turns to negative and Leigh gets out of bed in slow motion, goes to the mirror and applies lipstick, an act interrupted by fades to red. She goes to the window and looks out at the Fourth of July fireworks (suggested, perhaps, by a sequence from Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief, and which is part of the hallucinatory apparatus of the film—Sam and Leigh comment earlier that it is strange to see the fireworks the day before the Fourth). She goes to the window and her gaze is locked by the image of Cady sitting on the garden wall. Three times she sees him, and each time Scorsese returns to her look of amazement and terror, just as
Hitchcock returns to Guy's amazed look when he sees Bruno at the Jefferson Memorial.
Unlike Bruno, Cady is not an emanation solely of the male character. His maliciousness crosses gender and in many ways reflects the film's questions about gender. Scorsese's characters in Cape Fear are filled with sexual anxiety, troubled by domestic discord, and unable to deal with their child, who is just coming into her sexuality. Cady is the very spirit of discord, the insinuation of meanness and sexual panic; he is the trickster, the shape changer who comes in the night to scare people and mess with their lives. He does this when he appears to Leigh on the wall and again in the third appearance that parallels Strangers on a Train . Bowden and a private detective have booby-trapped the house to catch Cady, and Bowden is trying to sleep. He awakes, looks, and Cady appears inside by the window, first in negative, then positive, as Bowden returns the gaze, rubbing his eyes. The sequence parallels Bruno's appearance in the dark in front of Guy's house, beckoning Guy to tell him that he has carried out his part of the "bargain" and killed Guy's wife. Cady's appearance is a reminder too that his violence has been done. He has killed the housekeeper (and, like Norman Bates, put on a wig to look like her) and then killed the private detective. This is the final insinuation. From here the film, sticking close to its source, externalizes the psychological into the physical, climaxing with the bravura pyro-and aquatechnics of the fight on the houseboat in the storm.
Where Bruno acted as a kind of exclamation point for Guy, a sharp reminder that his hoped-for life of calm and fame as the tennis-playing husband of a senator's daughter might not work, Cady is a dash—on the other side of which are obscene phrases and threatening remarks, the violence of a corrupted heterosexuality and the meanness of religious hysteria. Bruno was a clear marker of Guy's potential murderousness and his attraction to the sexual other. In the early fifties, Hitchcock was still able and willing to circumscribe his doubles, to localize and finally recuperate the good twin back into a life that might not be normal (after all, he or she was contaminated by the experience with the other, and from the early forties on, the "happy endings" that Hitchcock was compelled to attach to his narratives were deeply compromised by the narrative events that came before). By the time he made Vertigo and Psycho, there was no need for a polite recuperation. In the latter film particularly, the claustrophobic world that surrounded the characters who were each others' shadow encapsulated the culture at large and signaled the end of the possibility of redemption. Scorsese adopts this grim view. The characters of Cape Fear do not triumph with the hard death of Cady, just as Guy is never completely freed of Bruno or the audience itself completely freed of Norman Bates.
Throughout the fifties, Hitchcock was thinking about domesticity. Along with Sirk and Nicholas Ray, though more darkly and with a greater sense
of terror, he represented in film the culture's own fears of eruptions from the inside and threats from the outside. He spoke of the domestic as the place of vulnerability and danger. Hitchcock went further than most in his perception of domestic arrangements as dead places where madness dwells. No longer a barrier against the unknown and unwanted, the domestic was the shell that only barely kept evil and corruption from spilling out. Psycho proposes the necessary eruption of evil out of the protective barrier of the domestic fantasy of corruption or, more accurately, and according to its own imagery, a swirling down into the swamp of despair of all illusions of safety and control, all rational fantasies of the domestic. Thompson's Cape Fear domesticates this vision. While it reproduces the figure of madness imposing itself upon the middle-class family and threatens it with sexual release, it manages to return some measure of control to the good man and to allow the family a measure of recuperation.
Scorsese's Cape Fear directly extends the Hitchcockian proposal of Psycho while speaking to the nineties' belief that corruption is the norm and will appear to spoil any pleasure that might be fantasized. Eliding the fifties domestic melodrama into Psycho 's response to these films, referring to Hitchcock's doubles films of the early part of the fifties, and then adding to the mix Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels and such items as Fatal Attraction, Pacific Heights, Sleeping with the Enemy, and their ilk, Scorsese makes a film that speaks of an ongoing danger to a never stable and always illusory harmoniousness. (He speaks as well, with an almost ideal cynicism, to his audience's desire to be frightened by the ineluctable presence of destructive corruption.) In his Cape Fear and its predecessors, the domestic scene is always already troubled and discordant. Max Cady appears only as the final agent of this discordance, as bad conscience, evil twin, and lord of misrule—the innate violence of the family given flesh, its sexual repressions unleashed (see figure 4).
Cape Fear is a film of accretions; it builds upon its predecessors and then exaggerates their various parts. The specific Hitchcock allusions help keep it grounded, somewhat. They help introduce a measure of moral ambiguity within a film that otherwise throws all moral concerns to the winds in its quest for the bloodiest and most sexually violent effects. As if Scorsese were aware that, in this film made for the purest commercial reasons, there would have to be an anchor for a filmmaker who was able to seed commercial conventions with unconventional perception, he calls upon Hitchcock as an aesthetic and narrative source. Hitchcock becomes Cape Fear 's point of good faith, part of the calculation of an equation that maintains connections, factors in film history, and yields a few interesting returns. Were Cape Fear a better film, it would have further interrogated the possibilities of restating certain Hitchcockian perceptions and premises. As it is, it confirms Scorsese's own best modernist impulses and the ongoing usefulness
of Hitchcock to filmmakers who know the importance of maintaining links, of borrowing and alluding as a means of maintaining ground and balance. A calculated risk.
Anobile, Richard J. Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. New York: Avon Books, 1974.
Barton, Sabrina. "'Criss-Cross': Paranoia and Projection in Strangers on a Train ." Camera Obscura , no. 25–26 (1991).
Carroll, Noël. "The Future of Allusion: Hollywood in the Seventies (and Beyond)." October , no. 20 (spring 1982).
Kapsis, Robert E. Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation . Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992.
Modleski, Tania. The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York and London: Methuen, 1991.
Truffaut, François. Hitchcock. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984.
Wood, Robin. "The American Nightmare: Horror in the Seventies." Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1986.
The Director Who Knew Too Much:
Hitchcock Remakes Himself
Stuart Y. McDougal
L. B. Jeffires [James Stewart]: Why would Thorwald want to kill a little dog?
Lisa [Grace Kelly]: Because it knew too much.
Scottie [James Stewart]: One doesn't often get a second chance.
The notion of a remake becomes complex with a filmmaker like Alfred Hitchcock, who was continuously and obsessively remaking his own work. Such a practice is well documented among modern writers: Yeats, Auden, and Marianne Moore, for example, frequently rewrote their earlier poetry. Prose writers have this luxury less often, because of the greater costs of publishing fiction. The exceptions usually involve collected editions, such as the New York Edition of Henry James's work, a publishing event that gave him the opportunity to revise his work and write extensive introductions. Similarly, Graham Greene revised his short fiction when publishing his Collected Short Stories . For literary scholars as well as publishers, these revisions raise problematic issues about whether one text should be privileged over another. Does a publisher print the long version of Marianne Moore's "Poetry/I, too, dislike it" or the final short version? Or both?
Because of the economics involved, the situation with film is much more complicated. With the advent of video, some films have been reissued in multiple versions, from a choice of wide-screen or pan-and-scan to, more recently, the director's cut. But very few directors have been able to remake an earlier work of their own; Hitchcock is one of them. Before considering The Man Who Knew Too Much , which Hitchcock first made in 1934 and filmed a second time twenty years later, I would like to comment on the centrality of remaking as a process in all of Hitchcock's work. Throughout his career, Hitchcock remade his early work in a variety of ways, combining his exploration of the expressive potential of film with a desire for technical perfection.
Hitchcock often remade a single shot or a transition between shots. One
of the most innovative transitions in his early sound films occurs in The Thirty-Nine Steps when Hannay's landlady enters his flat, finds the recumbent body of Annabella Smith with a knife in her back, and screams. Hitchcock cuts directly from a close-up of her screaming face to the express train carrying Hannay to Scotland. Her scream blends with the harsh, piercing whistle of the train and seems to be propelling Hannay northward. Try as he will, Hannay cannot escape her scream or the accusations that will accompany it. Hitchcock had experimented with a similar transition as early as The Lodger (1927). Here the close-up of a screaming woman is followed by a black screen (as in the opening of the film) or by exposition (as in the flashback concerning the lodger's sister). In Blackmail (1929), Hitchcock's first sound film, a shot of Alice, the heroine, screaming at the sight of an outstreched hand on the London street is followed immediately by a shot of the screaming landlady as she discovers the body of the murdered artist. Hitchcock refines this idea through a series of films until he is satisfied with the effect. In The Thirty-Nine Steps , he succeeds in combining the shock of the abrupt transition with continuity on several levels.
One could cite many other such examples like this from Hitchcock's work. But his remaking extends beyond the single shot or juxtaposition of shots. Entire sequences are remade, as well. In addition, Hitchcock takes extended themes and remakes them in different contexts, often culminating in an entire film devoted to that theme. Thus, Hitchcock introduces the theme of "the wrong man" in The Lodger , a theme that he will develop (in The Thirty-Nine Steps and elsewhere) before making The Wrong Man in 1957. Two years later, in North by Northwest , Hitchcock obsessively returns to this theme. Similarly, Hitchcock introduces the fear of heights in The Lodger and returns to it throughout his career before exploring this fear systematically in Vertigo (1958).
Hitchcock's continuous remaking of shots, sequences, and themes contributes to a sense of cohesion in his oeuvre. But there is yet another way in which remaking is central in his work—and that results from the fact that over 75 percent of his films are adaptations of novels, stories, or plays. Of his remaining films not based on literary sources, many are loose remakes of his earlier work. Thus, two of his "original" works, Saboteur (1942) and North by Northwest (1959), are in some sense American remakes of The Thirty-Nine Steps; the action in Saboteur traverses America from west to east at the outbreak of the Second World War; North by Northwest reverses that trajectory during the Eisenhower years of the cold war.
These different forms of remaking reflect Hitchcock's desire to get things right—they are a part of his obsession with the details of moviemaking as he developed as an artist. But in remaking an entire film, much more is involved. Deeply seated personal concerns shape his selection of a project as well as the ways in which he transforms an earlier project while remaking
it. A comparison of the two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much , then, will clarify Hitchcock's development as an artist as well as illuminate some of the psychological dynamics of his filmmaking.
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) was an enormous success in Britain and reestablished Hitchcock's reputation after several relative flops. It marked a return to the suspense genre and the development of an idea the Hitchcocks first discussed on their honeymoon at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz in 1926 (Spoto, 94–95). The 1934 film chronicles the adventures of an English family whose vacation in St. Moritz is interrupted by the murder of a close friend and the kidnapping of their own daughter. As they struggle to get their daughter back, the couple have to rethink their relationship and assume new roles. The film is a study of the dynamics of a marriage as well as the conditions of spectatorship and passivity (related to both marriage and film viewing).
The Man Who Knew Too Much opens with a series of three performances, at each of which Bob, the husband (Leslie Banks), is a spectator and in two of which his wife, Jill (Edna Best), "performs" with a potential rival: a ski competition involving the potential rival, Louis Bernard (Pierre Fresnay), a dashing and mysterious Frenchman and a friend of Bob and Jill; a skeetshooting competition between Jill and Ramon (Frank Vosper), another mysterious "foreigner"; and a ball where Jill and Louis Bernard dance together amid other couples in the hotel ballroom. The first two performances are disrupted by Betty (Nova Pilbeam), the Lawrence's precocious daughter, so that both Louis Bernard and Jill lose their respective competitions. The dance, observed by Bob and Betty, is fraught with sexual banter and an underlying sexual tension. It is the culmination of a series of flirtations between Jill and Louis Bernard. Bob picks up Jill's knitting project (a symbol of domesticity, if ever there were one) and hooks the end of one strand of wool on the button of Bernard's tuxedo. As the sweater comes unraveled, the couples on the dance floor become caught up in a web created by the strand of wool. Just as the film audience relaxes at the humor of the situation, Louis Bernard is shot and dies in Jill's arms. Jill, the skilled markswoman, is unable to provide any sort of protection for her dance partner and, like many sexually aggressive women in Hitchcock's films, she is punished for her behavior. The rapid movement from humor to horror is typical of Hitchcock, as is the sudden intrusion of death into a public and apparently secure situation. The metaphorical use of knitting suggests both the unraveling of Bob and Jill's relationship (as well as the unraveling of Bernard's life) and the simultaneous entanglement of Bob in the lives of others.
As Bob acts on the entreaties of the dying Bernard to seek out a note hidden in the handle of Bernard's shaving brush, he becomes implicated in a plot he is unable to comprehend. Before he can show the note to the
police, he receives a message that his daughter has been kidnapped and will be harmed if he speaks out. He shares this note with his wife and she faints—a decisive moment in the development of her character. For the next third of the film, she is either absent or seen in a more passively feminine role, as when she clutches Betty's doll in the nursery. She won't assume an active role again until after her near-fainting in Albert Hall.
With the killing of Louis Bernard and the kidnapping of Betty, the villains are responsible for separating the two pairs clearly established as couples in the opening exposition: Jill and Louis Bernard and Bob and his daughter, Betty. Both of these losses represent wish fulfillments for the married couple: Bob is relieved of his rival and Jill is relieved of the daughter who was both a sexual threat and an impediment to her relationship with Louis Bernard. (Remember that Betty caused both her mother and Louis Bernard to fail in their respective competitions.)
As the Lawrences return to England from Switzerland, Hitchcock creates a "decisive . . . contrast between the snowy Alps and the congested streets of London" (Truffaut, 91–92). The disparity between the expansive spaces of the resort and the civilized interiors of the upper-middle-class hotel and the grimy, crowded cityscape is also a difference predicated on class. St. Moritz was a place known well by the Hitchcocks: they honeymooned there and returned often for holidays with their young daughter, Patricia, in tow. The Hitchcocks always stayed in a first-class hotel. In London, however, because of his Cockney accent, Hitchcock could not enter a first-class hotel without experiencing class discrimination. The settings in London—with the exception of Albert Hall—are all the lower-middle-class environment of Hitchcock's youth. The sense of authenticity in this version is strong because Hitchcock is using locales with which he is intimately familiar. Bob must enter the dark maze of lower-class London to rescue Betty. Only Jill remains outside and, in some ways, untouched by it.
In Hitchcock's original conception of the film, Jill was to have played a more central role in the London sequences, rather than be relegated to the sidelines until the Albert Hall scene. As Hitchcock explained to Truffaut, he planned to have Jill accompany Bob to the Tabernacle of the Sun, there to be hypnotized by Nurse Agnes. Then Jill would be taken to Albert Hall, where she would shoot the statesman herself. "On thinking it over," Hitchcock added, "I felt that even a crack shot might not aim accurately while in a hypnotic trance. So I dropped it" (Truffaut, 92). In eliminating Jill from this sequence, Hitchcock is forced to create a new accomplice for Bob in the person of Clive (Hugh Wakefield), the infantilized bachelor uncle. Clive is introduced in the nursery playing with the electric train he had given Betty. He represents the immature childishness that Bob must overcome. At the same time, Jill is at her most maternal in London after the loss of Betty. She clutches a doll in the nursery and faints on two occasions—some-
thing she would have seemed incapable of doing as a markswoman. She must succeed in bringing the feminine and masculine aspects of her character into alignment, just as Bob must become more assertive and responsible in order for the family to survive.
The London sequences concentrate on the activities of Bob and Clive, who behave like two adolescents. Clive accompanies Bob to the dentist and then to the chapel, where he is hypnotized and doesn't come to until Bob breaks a chair over his head during a fight with the villains. Clive escapes through the chapel window and telephones Jill. He urges her to go to Albert Hall. He then calls the police, who meet him in front of the chapel. In a scene that Hitchcock will remake in North by Northwest , the villains persuade the police that Clive is intoxicated and should be booked on drunk and disorderly conduct, leaving Bob locked inside. And that's the last we see of Clive. Without Clive, Bob can now begin to act more like an adult.
Although Hitchcock was correct in recognizing a problem with having Jill do the shooting in Albert Hall, there is an equal problem in eliminating her from this part of the action. When she goes to Albert Hall, she does so with the knowledge that an assassination is about to occur. (See figure 5.) She meets the killer (Ramon, her former antagonist in the shooting competition) and he hands her the brooch that she had given to Betty just prior to her last competition. It was the brooch which precipitated her loss in the competition with Ramon; now it represents Betty metonymically. The close-up of her left hand, juxtaposing the brooch with her wedding band, underscores her responsibility for her family, now in conflict with her public responsibility as a citizen. Jill enters the theater and sits alone in the back, her eyes searching the balcony for the killer and his target. She knows what is about to happen and as she considers the consequences, she becomes a surrogate for the film spectator who wants to intervene but is unable to. She begins to faint and the screen goes white. Suddenly a gun enters the blank screen from the right and turns toward the viewer—as though the gun had come from the depths of Jill's unconscious. Although she is no longer the one to pull the trigger in this scene, the connection between her and the rifle remains strong. When Jill comes to, she screams, thereby violating the decorum of the performance hall but succeeding in averting the assassination.
The Albert Hall sequence feels like it should be the climax of the film, and the shoot-out that follows has struck critics as something of an afterthought. When it becomes apparent that the assassin and his gang are going to be defeated, Abbott (Peter Lorre) declares that they will have to use the girl as a shield to escape from their headquarters. Here Bob plays an integral role and is wounded helping Betty to escape. He pushes her out the third-story window onto the roof, like a mother bird pushing a baby from the nest. Betty's separation from the family must be sanctioned by her
father if she is to enter adulthood—and if Bob and Jill are to survive as a couple. As Betty makes her way across the roof, she resembles an actress making her debut by stepping gingerly across a stage, the footlights glaring in her eyes. If her father has facilitated this moment, her mother must sustain it. On the street below, Jill takes a rifle from the policeman, draws a bead on Ramon, and drops him in his tracks, as though he were a duck in a shooting gallery. Thus she vanquishes her earlier opponent, gets revenge for the murder of Louis Bernard, and saves her child. Bob, through her participation, has moved from being an apathetic childlike spectator to an active adult—first by overcoming the sinister dentist in his chair and discovering the hideout of the assassins, and then by freeing his daughter and helping her escape. Neither he nor Jill alone could have saved Betty; only by working together are they able to succeed. Betty, too, must take some initiative. The final shot of the film—with Bob and Jill embracing Betty, and with Jill reaching affectionately over to Bob—reaffirms their unity as a family. For the first time in the film, Bob and Jill appear as equals.
Hitchcock's dissatisfaction with the two climaxes in The Man Who Knew
Too Much can be seen in his structuring of the climax in his next film, The Thirty-Nine Steps . In some ways this can be viewed as a remake of the Albert Hall sequence. The Thirty-Nine Steps concludes with a sequence in the London Palladium that is not in the novel from which Hitchcock adapted the film. Like the Albert Hall sequence, the climactic scene takes place within a theater where innocent spectators wait to be entertained. The hero or heroine is a surrogate for the film viewer, as he or she looks from the performance on the stage to the audience and attempts to understand what is happening. In both cases the hero or heroine's life is at stake, although no one in the theater, except for the killer and the hero or heroine, knows this. The policeman comments to Hannay, as he attempts to lead him out of the theater, "You don't want to disturb these people. They're here to be entertained." For Hitchcock, spectators enter theaters to be entertained at their own risk: to remain passive is to incur self-destruction. In The Thirty-Nine Steps , Hitchcock uses this scene to solve the puzzle ("What are the thirty-nine steps?"), expose the villains, and unite the man and woman. It is the simultaneous resolution of all parts of the drama that makes this climax so satisfying.
Hitchcock began thinking about remaking The Man Who Knew Too Much as early as 1938, when David O. Selznick was negotiating with him to come to America to make Rebecca (Spoto, 248). At one point in their correspondence, Selznick suggested a remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much , noting that he was sure he could get Ronald Colman for the lead. In 1941, Selznick (who, like Hitchcock, had a fondness for adaptations and remakes) bought the rights to The Lodger and The Man Who Knew Too Much . He assigned John Houseman to help Hitchcock with a remake of the latter. By the end of 1941, Houseman wrote to Selznick that they had been working on a version that would begin in Sun Valley, Idaho, and move to Rio de Janeiro during Mardi Gras. Spies would plot to kill the president of Brazil during a concert at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, with the final encounter taking place at their hideout in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Hitchcock was apparently dissatisfied with the political aspects of the story and the characterizations of the American family (Spoto, 359), and he shelved the project for nearly a decade. By December of 1954, when Hitchcock spent the Christmas holidays in St. Moritz with his wife, he had decided to remake the film.
Apart from Selznick's interest in the project, why would Hitchcock choose this of all his earlier films to remake? Although he refused to state in interviews that he preferred the second version, he did go as far as to acknowledge in his self-deprecating way that "the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional" (Truffaut, 94). Part of Hitchcock's dissatisfaction no doubt refers to his unhappiness with the climax in his first version. This problem is not addressed by Houseman's description of the new project (above), although it is treated some-
what in the 1955 remake. But there were other, more compelling personal reasons as well.
In the 1955 remake, Hitchcock works with different social, political, and geographical dynamics. Although this is usually referred to as the "American version," none of the movie takes place on American soil. Instead, Hitchcock presents the well-off American innocents abroad—first in North Africa and then, for most of the film, in London. Here the contrast is between the teeming marketplace of Marrakesh and the surprisingly deserted streets of London. Or, to contrast the two versions, between the cold, snowy alpine slopes and the hot, arid North African deserts, and between the lower-class London that Bob Lawrence and Clive explore and the middle- and upper-class London the McKennas pass through. In both versions the vacation locale aptly characterizes the protagonists: Bob Lawrence is cold and passionless while Ben McKenna is fiery tempered. Hitchcock has altered the dynamics of the family rather significantly. In place of the Lawrences about whom we know too little, we have an American family, about whom we know too much: Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart), Jo Conway McKenna (Doris Day) and their son, Hank (Christopher Olsen). The change of the child's sex is not accidental. With the marriage of Hitchcock's only daughter, Patricia, in 1952 and the birth of her first child in 1954, coupled with the reluctance of her husband to seek work in Hollywood, it had become apparent to Hitchcock that Patricia would not continue the acting career she had once pursued on the stage and more recently in Stage Fright (1959) and Strangers on a Train (1951). There would be no one to carry on the Hitchcock name. Hitchcock's own wife, Alma Reville, had given up a very promising career (as writer, editor, and potential director) to submerge her identity in her husband's—although she continued for some time to have her name in the credits (as Alma Reville). Preoccupied with surnames and the patriarchal power they carry, Hitchcock plots a film in which the oedipal struggle (between father and son) reflects the dynamics of succession within his own family as well as his own struggle as a mature filmmaker with the earlier product of his youthful energy.
Hitchcock has transformed the externally motivated drama of the 1934 film into an internal quest for identity. This is clear in the altered nature of the MacGuffin (the device that propels the plot of his films forward). In the first version, the man from the Foreign Office appeals to the Lawrences' patriotism by comparing the possibility of this assassination to another Sarajevo. In the remake, by contrast, the conflict remains within the family, as the ambassador of an unidentified country attempts to have his own prime minister assassinated.
The opening sequence of the second version, which takes place on a bus from Casablanca to Marrakesh, sets up a crucial encounter that clearly in-
dicates the oedipal dynamics of the conflicts. Hank is bored by doing nothing but watching the scenery, which reminds him of an earlier vacation with his family in Las Vegas, so he gets out of his seat in the back of the bus and makes his way forward. Suddenly the bus lurches forward, and Hank loses his balance. As he reaches out for support, he grabs the veil of an Arab woman seated on the aisle, thereby exposing her face. She remains mute (a characteristic of women in the film) but her outraged husband speaks for her and screams at Hank, while pursuing him back to his seat. Hank's father is puzzled and unable to protect him; an ugly confrontation is averted only by the intervention of a polished European who understands the customs and language (Arabic) of Morocco. The European then joins the McKennas, introduces himself as Louis Bernard, and explains what has happened. As we learn later, this is the first of several cases of mistaken identity, since Bernard assumes at first that the McKennas are the English-speaking assassins (i.e., the Draytons) he is seeking. Before they have reached Marrakesh, Bernard has adroitly questioned Ben so that he has elicited considerable information about the McKennas. The detailed exposition sets up the film's dynamics—one of them being, as Jo comments, that Louis Bernard knows a great deal about Ben and his family and but that they know very little about Louis Bernard.
Jo's suspicions here are related to her ambivalence about being the object of the gaze of others. As subsequent incidents demonstrate—her passing an English couple (the Draytons) while entering the hotel and her later encounter with them at a restaurant—Jo is suspicious by nature. It is only after she and Ben have spoken with the Draytons in the restaurant that we learn why people might stare at her—she is a well-known singer who has performed in Europe as well as America, something Louis Bernard had failed to recognize. Names tend to shield identities. Indeed, the relation between that patriarchal signifier, the surname, and identity is crucial in this film. The doctor's own name, McKenna, is a play on knowledge ("ken") and hence the title of the film, as well as on Hitchcock's "MacGuffin." When Ben introduces Louis Bernard to his family, he begins with "Mrs. McKenna" and then introduces Hank. A moment later he refers to his wife as Jo. "But I thought his name was Hank," Bernard declares. Ben corrects him and then adds, "Nobody knows her by any other name." "I do," his son says: "Mommy." His son's correction underlines the significance of names in this film. For Mrs. McKenna is also Jo Conway, the well-known singer. And Jo is a woman, not a boy, just as the Ambrose Chapel sought by Jo and Ben will turn out to be a place and not a person. The instability of identity in this version is emphasized by the fact that the McKennas remain on foreign soil throughout the film (either in North Africa or London), where differences in language and customs confound them.
A related issue is introduced when Hank pulls the veil from face of the
Moslem woman. Of Hitchcock's critics, only Robin Wood has underscored its significance (Wood, 367). The veil obscures the woman's identity from everyone but her husband. Similarly, Ben McKenna has insisted that his wife give up her identity (as Jo Conway, the singer) to become Jo McKenna, the doctor's wife. In addition, he has required his wife to put aside her voice (like the Moroccan woman, who immediately covers her mouth), her singing, except, apparently, in moments of relaxation with her son. As we learn in the scenes that follow, Jo has paid a great price for this—with her reliance on tranquilizers and her monthly fights with her husband. Although she and her son, Hank, are very close, her relationship with her husband is somewhat strained.
The veil has an additional significance. In removing it, Hank violates a woman's privacy. It is as close to undressing a mother figure as he comes in this film and a surrogate father must intervene to protect him. The dynamics of the family have been altered by this act for which the boy must ultimately pay.
In Rear Window and Vertigo, Hitchcock's two films with James Stewart that bracket The Man Who Knew Too Much, the characters played by Stewart have been viewed as—among other things—surrogates for the director. In The Man Who Knew Too Much Ben McKenna has assumed the prerogative of the director to rename his wife—from Jo Conway to Mrs. McKenna—and to remake her as a domestic figure. (He also controls her behavior, as in the scene when he drugs her.) To underscore this point, Hitchcock has cast a woman known primarily as singer in a dramatic role. By focusing on Jo's voice—as that which saves the prime minister in Albert Hall and helps save Hank in the embassy—Hitchcock has created a work with a greater thematic consistency than the original. Her voice is precisely that link between her personal and professional identities (as well as a link with her son), a link that her husband has attempted to suppress by concealing her identity and insisting that she remain off the stage. Unlike the first version, however, the heroine has put aside this skill before the beginning of the film, and it is the source of much friction between them. Ben insists that motherhood cannot coexist with a career, and he has forced Jo to stop singing. It will be necessary to reforge this link to save Hank, and this will require adjustments in Ben as well as Jo.
In remaking The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchcock retained the structure of the original but changed the characterizations and many of the incidents. As we have seen, the opening exposition is much more thorough. Louis Bernard becomes a surrogate father for Hank (on the bus) and a mysteriously foreign and attractive presence for Jo. The film has two bedroom scenes (always an important location in a Hitchcock film), and the first involves Louis Bernard. He has been invited for drinks in the McKenna's hotel room in Marrakesh and apparently arrives while they are still dress-
ing. When the scene opens Ben is standing before the mirror fixing his necktie and Jo is adjusting her dress and singing for Hank—and for Louis Bernard, who listens with a drink in his hand in the next room. Her husband in very much on the sidelines here, as was the husband at the dance sequence in the first version. But here the scene furthers the oedipal drama, as mother dances with son. Indeed, as Jo sings and dances with Hank, she displays a greater intimacy with him than she ever does with her husband. Finally, Jo moves to Barnard's side on the balcony, and he mixes a drink for her as she interrogates him intensely. The scene is disturbed by a knock on the door. A bilingual stranger glances across the room and recognizes Louis Bernard before apologizing by saying he was looking for someone else. The moment of recognition that occurred on the public ski slope in the first version has here been shifted to the private spaces of the parents' bedroom. This act of recognition will have dire consequences for Louis Bernard.
The relationship between the McKennas and the kidnappers (the Draytons) is also strikingly different in the remake. Clearly, Hitchcock intends for the Draytons to double for the McKennas, quite unlike the psychopathic couple in the first version. In the opening exposition, the McKennas are mistaken for the Draytons by Louis Bernard. The couples pass each other in a moment of odd recognition before their hotel and the Draytons introduce themselves later that evening to the McKennas at a restaurant in Marrakesh—a scene that comes to include all the principals in the action, except for Hank. (By this time, the Dryatons know of the relationship between Louis Bernard and the McKennas). The Draytons join the McKennas, sitting like mirror images across the table. Ben's physical awkwardness, lack of manual dexterity, and boorishness about foreign customs point to deeper flaws in his character. His repressed anger erupts twice, when Louis Bernard enters with a woman and Ben threatens to go over and make a scene, and when he is unable to eat chicken with his fingers. It is the Draytons who mollify him, and they conclude by making plans to visit the marketplace together the next morning. The viewer, like the McKennas, accepts the Draytons without suspicion. In the marketplace, Mrs. Drayton forms a bond with Hank, as the two wander around. Ben and Jo are left on their own. They begin friendly banter about the exchange of operations and body parts for their vacation ("A gall stone for my dress.") which connects them with Louis Bernard (he "buys" and "sells") and prepares us for the exchange about to take place. The conversation gradually leads to their greatest moment of intimacy: "I'd like to know when we're going to have another baby," Jo declares. Before Ben can respond, Hank interrupts their intimacy, and almost immediately a police chase disrupts the marketplace. Hitchcock follows the chase through the streets until we see one of the two Arabs being pursued stab the other in the back with a knife. The dying
Arab struggles through the marketplace with a knife in his back, while the police continue to follow his assailant. He spots the McKennas and stumbles forward. Ben moves cautiously toward him and then catches him as he falls. The dark greasepaint on his face stains Ben's hands and Louis Bernard is unmasked. Ben, the doctor who practices at the Good Samaritan Hospital, is unable to offer the slightest assistance. With his recognition of Louis Bernard, Ben is now fully implicated in the plot that began with Hank's careless gesture. "Why should he pick me out to tell?" Ben asks Jo as they move away from the dead man. For the same reason that Hannay is picked out in the Music Hall at the beginning of The Thirty-Nine Steps: because he is an innocent foreigner, totally unconnected with the plot. But, of course, this is only a partial answer. Louis Bernard has been killed for his knowledge, and this knowledge becomes a burden Ben must now carry. An exchange has taken place and this new knowledge separates Ben from his son and imperils his son's existence. He must first reluctantly share the burden with his wife (but only after drugging her) and then work with her to help bring Hank back. Jo's role in this activity depends on her shifting identity, from Mrs. McKenna to Jo Conway and to some combination of the two at the end of the film. Ben will be required to rethink his own identity as well.
Jo's domestic identity has depended very much on her relationship with her son. Louis Bernard's comment about their names is the first suggestion of their intimacy, and the scene in their hotel bedroom with Bernard confirms this. Jo and Hank sing "Que Sera, Sera" and dance together as well. The lyrics of the song ("When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother, what would I be") develop the mother-son relationship further. When Hank is gone, then, Jo's own identity is threatened.
In England, the conflict between Jo's two selves—Mrs. McKenna and Jo Conway—becomes exacerbated. At the airport Jo is greeted like a celebrity by her British fans. When she and Ben arrive at the hotel, a group of old friends come by, one of whom addresses Ben as Mr. Conway. For them, Ben is an appendage of Jo; a pleasant American, but someone who has stood in the way of her return to the London stage. Ironically, he is responsible for this unscheduled stop and it is he who will insist that she perform again in England.
In both versions, the search in London for the child is marred by serious conceptual problems. As noted earlier, the British version leaves Jill on the sidelines while Bob and Clive seek the child. In the remake, Ben goes off on a wild-goose chase when he mistakes the name of a place for the name of a person—another example of the problematic nature of naming and the complexity of identity. On the way to the taxidermist's shop, the son (Ambrose Chapel Jr.) had overtaken the father (Ben McKenna) and at the shop chaos results from the confusion of the father (Ambrose Chapel Sr.) with his son. Versions of the oedipal struggle are everywhere in the
film. So is the confusion that confronts an American in a foreign culture—even when the cultures share a common language. Although the scene is both threatening and mysterious, Hitchcock later acknowledged it to be a failure.
The scene demonstrates that Ben's intellect is no match for Jo's intuition. It was Jo, after all, who was first suspicious of Louis Bernard and later the Draytons; Ben succeeded in convincing her through logical argumentation that her suspicions were ill founded, only to discover that she had been right all along. It is Ben who looks up "Chapel, Ambrose" and races off to confront the villains who turn out to be innocent taxidermists. During Ben's absence Jo realizes—in response to a comment by her friend, Val—that Ambrose Chapel, like Albert Hall, is a place, not a person. She finds the church and is later joined there by Ben. She then leaves Ben in the church with the service still in progress to telephone the Scotland Yard inspector who had earlier offered them assistance. When the police fail to help her, Jo seizes the initiative and goes alone to find the inspector at Albert Hall, leaving Ben behind in the chapel. This reverses the trajectory that had taken her from being Jo Conway (the theater) to Mrs. McKenna (the chapel). The chapel is the first of two locations—the other being the embassy—that are off limits to the police and where, as a result, the McKennas are on their own. In both of these locations, Ben must overcome earlier handicaps, both physical (by climbing the rope to the bell tower) and emotional (by reasserting his patrimony in the embassy).
The Albert Hall sequence of the remake is one of the great set pieces in Hitchcock's work. In an attempt to make the sequence the logical climax of the remake, Hitchcock expands it considerably and stresses the element of performance. But unlike the first version, where Jill arrives at Albert Hall with a clear idea of why she is there and what will happen, here Jo is motivated solely by her desire to seek the help of Inspector Buchanan. Instead, Jo encounters the assassin, whom she recognizes as the mysterious intruder who had knocked on their door in Marrakesh, when they were entertaining Louis Bernard. She watches him disappear upstairs as Buchanan enters with the prime minister and his entourage and mounts the opposite staircase. Alone, Jo looks from one staircase to the other, trying to figure things out. She enters the theater, studies one box and then another, and finally realizes what is about to happen. Hitchcock builds suspense as he cuts from the orchestra to the singers to Jo and to the boxes containing the gunman and the prime minister, choreographing this action to the music. The audience keeps waiting for the crescendo that seems to be continually receding. Finally Jo is joined by Ben, but he is not at her side when the climax comes. As Ben attempts unsuccessfully to thwart the gunman, the music reaches its climax and Jo, the professional singer, cries out, giving voice to her re-
pressed desire. Only too late does Ben succeed in finding the assassin, who jumps from his box and falls to his death.
The final sequence takes place at the embassy of the prime minister, where a reception in his honor is taking place. By building continuity between this scene and the preceding sequence in Albert Hall, it becomes much less of an anticlimax. The McKennas contrive to be invited, and on the way there Ben tells his wife that she must sing so that he can have an opportunity to search the embassy for Hank, whom Buchanan has told them is being hidden there. At the embassy, the prime minister introduces Jo to the other guests as "the American singer, Jo Conway." The veil has been removed, and it is as Jo Conway—and not Jo McKenna—that she will be able to help save her son. To emphasize the relationship between this scene and the Albert Hall sequence, Hitchcock has the injured prime minister say to Jo, "I beg you, madame, a tranquil coda to conclude a dramatic evening." And it is a coda, in which the dramatic moments of the Albert Hall sequence are replayed and resolved. (See figure 6.)
Once again Hitchcock uses a musical number as a ticking clock. Before the arrival of the McKennas at the embassy, Hitchcock has shown us the
ambassador upbraiding Drayton for his failed attempt. "I want that child removed from this embassy . . . and removed in such a way that he won't be able to say any more where he has been tonight." This time it is Jo, and not the Hitchcock surrogate Bernard Herrmann, who calls the tune. The song, "Que Sera, Sera" is "remade" to focus on her: "When I was just a little girl," she sings, changing the sex from the first time we had heard this song. It is now her song, and we know that Ben must find Hank before she finishes singing. Hitchcock takes his camera through the vast corridors and empty staircases of the embassy as Jo's song fills the halls, finally reaching the room where Hank is hidden. Hank hears the song and thinks he must be dreaming; Mrs. Drayton hears it as well and, fearing for the boy's life, asks if he can whistle the tune—as we have heard him do in the hotel room in Marrakesh. Mother and son begin a duet, and father pursues the sounds to the upper levels of the embassy. But the song is over before Ben reaches the room. Hitchcock cuts to the interior of the room and we see the doorknob being turned from the outside. Mrs. Drayton, fearing that it is her husband, screams and Ben breaks down the door and enters. The confusion between Mr. Drayton and Dr. McKenna is significant. By screaming, Mrs. Drayton has just assumed Jo's role in the Albert Hall sequence and has gained sympathy from the audience as a result. Ben must show that he is capable of protecting his son, as he was unable to do at the beginning of the film, and he must rescue Hank from his "mother." He must also defeat Drayton, his parental rival. Drayton appears, gun in hand, and reasserts his control just as Ben is about to flee with Hank. Deserting his wife, Drayton attempts to leave the Embassy with Hank and Ben as his cover. The three descend the vast staircase, in a remake of the staircase scene at the end of Notorious . As Drayton holds the gun in his pocket, its resemblance to a phallus is unmistakable. Halfway down the staircase, Ben turns suddenly and lurches toward Drayton—duplicating the action of his son on the bus at the beginning of the film. Drayton falls and the gun goes off in his pocket, killing him.
By having the assassins try "to liquidate one of their own big shots" (Buchanan), Hitchcock has internalized the action upon which the film pivots. The political intrigue provides a perfect parallel for the struggle within the McKenna family, between the domineering and manipulative father who knows too little, rather than too much, about the needs of his family, and his wife. When Jo and Hank sing in the hotel room in Marrakesh, "When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother . . ." Ben interrupts them for the benefit of Louis Bernard and says, "He'll make a fine doctor." There is a strong tension in this film between the rigid, rational, headstrong power of the patriarchy—embodied in Dr. McKenna—and the intuitive, "musical" intelligence of his wife, Jo, as well as a concern with patriarchal succession and oedipal struggle that is lacking in the first version.
Knowledge, for Dr. McKenna, begins with the death of Louis Bernard, Hank's surrogate father and Jo's potential suitor. This death precipitates the loss of McKenna's son, Hank, who is kidnapped by another surrogate father and a surrogate mother (the Draytons). The McKennas' success in finding Hank in London is possible only through a reconceptualization of their roles as husband and wife. Similarly, Hank's maturation depends upon a separation from his parents. When they are reunited as a family, they are vastly different from the trio we saw vacationing in Marrakesh. They have earned the right to be together.
Earlier I noted that this film shared characteristics with Rear Window and Vertigo insofar as it could be read as an allegory of some of film's properties. After hearing Louis Bernard's words in the marketplace, Ben asks, "Why should he pick me out to tell?" Similarly, near the end of Vertigo , Scottie (Jimmy Stewart) asks Judy, "Why did you pick on me? Why me?" Scottie has spent considerable time and energy remaking Judy in the image of a woman he once loved, a woman who herself was the remake of her former lover's dead wife. In addition, she was the remake of an historical antecedent, the "mad Carlotta." Vertigo is in part a meditation on the process and consequences of remaking by a director for whom this had been a lifelong concern. So too is The Man Who Knew Too Much . As we have seen, both versions revolve around an exchange: a child for a secret. The remake itself is a form of exchange, as Hitchcock rethinks the relations between texts, between characters (real and fictional), and between the work of a younger, more exuberant director and a mature craftsman. In demonstrating that a director can shape those relations at will, Hitchcock affirms the power of art to renew itself continually.
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Yacowar, Maurice. Hitchcock's British Films. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1977.
From Roosevelt to Reagan
A half century separates The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). Although each film was conceived as a popular entertainment and star vehicle with the profit motive paramount, they faithfully reflect the political and cinematic ethos of their eras. More specifically, Adventures embodies the political confidence and creativity of the late 1930s and Thieves the cultural confusion and aberrant individualism of the late 1980s. The former also reflects the dominant characteristics of the studio system and the latter those of the poststudio system.
Rather than original and remake, the films are better considered as quasi-independent adaptations, for their time and place, of a beloved popular myth constantly reprised in various media. The 1991 Thieves was certainly aware of its illustrious 1938 predecessor and a number of other Robin Hoods in between, including a well-received television series. The 1938 version, in turn, was aware of the highly successful Douglas Fairbanks 1922 silent Robin . Nevertheless, the cinematic strategies of the films are far more reflective of their social settings than of the usual problematics of cinematic remakes. Despite vastly different aesthetic merits as genre films, each proves to be an example of film as an extremely valuable cultural artifact.
Adventures , made during a time when the travails of the Great Depression were beginning to ease, was produced by Warner Brothers, the studio most closely linked to President Franklin Roosevelt. The New Deal had recently passed labor legislation that was making possible the unionization of millions of industrial workers, while the government itself was employing millions more to work on repairing the nation's infrastructure. In Hollywood, a Jewish-dominated studio system had been consolidated and was in the early phase of its most creative period. Despite the studios' vigorous opposition to the unsuccessful California gubernatorial campaign of social-
ist Upton Sinclair in 1934, the industry was left-of-center on most issues. Swelled by refugees from Nazi persecution and moved by the valor of Loyalist Spain, Hollywood was ardently antifascist. Hollywood was also at this time informed by Washington that the president would welcome motion pictures that extolled democratic values and presented England in as positive a light as possible. While not a direct or conscious response to these political currents, Adventures faithfully reflected them in its energetic espousal of democratic values rooted in the culture of the common people of England.
Costume action films had done well for Warner Brothers in the past, and after seeing Erroll Flynn in Captain Blood (1935) Jack Warner thought he would be ideal in the title role for what would be the studio's highest-budgeted film to date. The script that came from Norman Reilly Raine and Seton I. Miller was faithful to Robin Hood folklore. The major thrust, spiced with a low-key romance and feudal weaponry, is restoration of legitimate government.
When King Richard the Lion-Hearted is delayed returning from the Crusades, his brother, Prince John (Claude Rains), aided by Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone), conspires to usurp the throne. They lead a group of Norman lords in an economic and sometimes literal destruction of the Saxon countryside in what amounts to a replay of the original Norman Conquest some hundred years earlier. Robin of Locksley Hall, a Saxon, stands as the only noble in the realm who will take up arms in defense of Richard's throne. He spits out his challenge to Prince John at a lavish banquet and then proceeds to Sherwood Forest to rally the Saxon masses of Nottinghamshire.
As played by Flynn, Locksley has no ambiguities. When Locksley laughs, he puts his hands on hips and tosses back his head. To make his speeches more dramatic, he leaps to a tabletop or a tree stump to stand slightly above his audience. He dons the garments and cap of the masses. He is cheeky yet charming. Never for an instant do we doubt his cause will prevail. Never for an instant do we mistake him for a real person. He is a myth. He is—Robin Hood. (See figure 7.)
Robin's political agenda is spelled out for the masses in several speeches. He ends his initial Sherwood rally by having his followers swear an oath not only to Richard but to "our people." The so-called outlaws vow that they will help the poor, the aged, the widowed, and victims of injustice. Rather than bandits, they are Loyalists, a kind of popular militia. Almost a guerrilla band. Later, the sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper) will complain that he cannot capture them because the people of Nottingham inform the outlaws of his every move.
In contrast to their depiction fifty years later, the common people are extremely competent. They are so skilled in warfare that they never lose a
battle with either the sheriff's men or the prince's knights. They make their forest sanctuary impregnable and set up a roadhouse for liaisons with outside supporters. Their counterattacks soon put an end to the most brutal of the Norman expropriations and tax collections.
Among the band's aristocratic supporters is Lady Marian (Olivia De Havilland), King Richard's niece. Originally she is not at all taken with Robin, whom she finds an offensive braggart and probable traitor. Once
shown what is really going on in Sherwood Forest, however, her attitudes change and in the course of her conversion, she falls in love with Robin. Although garbed from head to toe in clinging garments that leave only the skin of her face exposed, she manages to be sensual while preserving an air of modesty. The gallant Robin makes one foray to her castle room, and a single chaste kiss is sufficient to seal their commitment. When Prince John and Sir Guy realize where Marian stands, they plot to murder her as soon as John gains the throne.
From the vast Robin Hood folklore available to further the plot, the screenwriters selected two elements: the recruitment of Friar Tuck and the archery contest. Each is given a political twist antithetical to the values of the 1991 adaptation. Friar Tuck (Eugene Pallette), who wears a tin helmet at all times, is introduced to Robin as one of the most dangerous swordsmen in England. Portly though he may be and much as he loves his ale, Tuck has sworn a vow of poverty and is militantly pro-Richard. After some mandatory macho swordplay, Tuck joins the Sherwood band. Throughout the film, he will be counterpoised to High Church officials who cooperate with John. The echoes of Spain are again obvious.
Robin's renown as an archer serves as the basis for a sequence that illustrates how the best leader can be guilty of hubris. Prince John sponsors an archery contest to lure his adversary from the forest. Against all counsel, Robin participates. The other archers, all commoners, are the best marksmen from each region of the kingdom. They are so skilled, in fact, that Robin can only win by piercing his opponent's arrow with a double bull's eye. The legendary shot reveals the man disguised as a tinker to be Robin Hood, and he is immediately arrested.
Once more the common people demonstrate their organizational and military skills. Marian's lady-in-waiting, who has become romantically linked with one of Robin's stalwarts, arranges for Marian to meet with the Sherwood leaders at the roadhouse. They plan what becomes a successful rescue of Robin. This reversal of the standard formula—a female and commoners rescuing the male leader—is emblematic of an era in which artistic works frequently featured strong women and militant workers. A disguised King Richard (Ian Hunter) now appears on the scene and quickly discovers who is loyal to his cause. The balance of the film's action deals with Richard's restoration to power by military force and the reforging of the Norman-Saxon peace symbolized by the marriage of Marian and Robin.
Many of the strengths of Adventures are the strengths of the studio system. The film's swift and bold sequences reflect the confidence of the film-makers in their craft and purpose. Michael Curtiz directs with his usual verve and has Robin go through a series of strides, leaps, and swings, often with weapons in hand. All the stunts were done by Flynn himself and his Australian accent gives his speech a distinctive quality that is not quite En-
glish but definitely not American. The action is punctuated throughout with a rousing score that won Erich Wolfgang Korngold an Academy Award and set a genre standard.
Each of the major and supporting roles is played to stereotype, but played brilliantly. Among the outstanding performances are Rathbone's insidious Guy, Pallete's garrulous Tuck, Rains's epicene John, and Hunter's regal Richard. Even so able a scene stealer as Alan Hale is hard pressed to hold his own as the jovial Little John. The fluidity of the performances is aided by the fact that these contract players worked regularly with one another and a limited number of technicians. Their efforts are further enhanced by gorgeous costumes and lavish sets designed to fully exploit a new color process the studio introduced with Adventures . The sets are brightly lit to highlight the colors and reinforce the general sense of camaraderie and optimism.
Adventures proved to be Warner Brothers' biggest moneymaker of the year and one of the industry's top ten hits. From a genre perspective, it has been judged one of the best films of its kind in the Hollywood canon. Content to work with mythic elements never taken beyond two dimensions, Adventures boldly asserts a profound democratic ethos and faith in justice. Fifty years later, this fanfare to the common people remains as fresh and vivid as the now classic comic books of the same era.
The national ethos evident when Thieves was being made was decidedly different from that of the New Deal. Although the cold war had been "won," there was a sense of national decline. Domestic and international financial scandals were endemic, the United States had become a debtor nation for the first time since World War I, and parents feared their children would not have as good a life as they had enjoyed. Trust was often placed in invisible market forces to handle intractable cultural problems. In Hollywood, the old studio system was gone. Rather than a steady stream of modest moneymakers, the industry was now dependent upon blockbuster hits. The studios were less manufacturing complexes than financial fulcrums that mounted projects whose success increasingly depended on bankable stars.
The new Robin Hood venture had the backing of Warner Brothers, the producer of the Flynn epic. The linchpin of the new star vehicle was Kevin Costner, already a bankable star in the United States and about to become internationally bankable as the star of Dances with Wolves . Costner, in fact, arrived on Robin Hood set only three days after completing work on Dances . His involvement with the new film was mainly due to his personal friendship with director Kevin Reynolds. (See figure 8.)
The script of Thieves, mostly developed by Pat Denshaw, made no effort to remain faithful to the myth of Robin Hood. The basic strategy was to update the story with politically correct ideology and a stab at deconstruc-
tion. To those ends, Denshaw grafted racial and sexual liberation themes to the myth and opted for medieval muck and grit rather than medieval tapestry and pomp. Perhaps fearing comparison with Flynn, Robin was written as a clumsy everyman, more often confused than in command. Further complicating the script's design were elements intended to mock the genre itself. Any of these strategies might have produced an interesting film, but the amalgam resulted in a clumsy bag of tricks often in conflict with one another. If Adventures may be thought of as successful high baroque, then Thieves is failed rococo.
Characteristic of the film's mood is the dark lighting that renders even Sherwood Forest as a dismal place. Most drab is Robin himself, in costume, speech, character, and manner. Costner remains the country bumpkin baseball fan of Field of Dreams . His occasional attempt at an English accent is quarterhearted at best. He is awkward and witless, lacking charm as a military leader or lover. Scenes that try to give the character some mythic qualities are undone by realistic but unnecessary details that often lapse into the worst nationalistic excesses.
The film limps to a false start by placing Robin in the Holy Land as a Crusader. We first see him as a prisoner about to be beheaded in a Jerusalem dungeon. Through a not very convincing trick, he foils his executioners even as the fatal blade descends. The purpose of this contrived gambit is
to introduce fellow captive and escapee Azeem the Moor (Morgan Freeman). Thus, the conditions are set for a possible medieval version of the white guy/black guy buddy films such as the Lethal Weapon series, so successful in the 1980s.
In order to justify Azeem remaining with Robin, the film offers the notion that Azeem feels morally obliged to stay with Robin, who has just saved his life, until Azeem can return the favor. This white man's notion of Near East morality is even more bizarre as Azeem is otherwise shown as intellectually and technologically superior to all the European characters. Azeem proves to be too old to be Robin's buddy and too young to be his surrogate father. There is no chemistry between them and Azeem becomes a burden to the film's plot. Much like the huge ceremonial sword Azeem carries about as if it were a fighting weapon, the character of the Moor is just a gimmick that fails.
The two men return to England in a process mercifully left vague. Robin soon discovers that his father has been murdered by the sheriff of Nottingham (Alan Rickman) on the false charge of devil worship. The sheriff emerges as the major villain of the film as he plunders the countryside for personal profit while also lusting after Lady Marian. The Norman-Saxon plot line is totally ignored and Prince John's machinations are a side issue. Unlike the somewhat goofy sheriff of 1938, the 1991 sheriff is a psychopath who seems to have wandered into the film from a performance of the Theater of the Ridiculous. His confidant is the witch Mortianna (Geraldine McEwan), who may also be his mother. Mortianna comes with unsightly warts, black pots, snakes, and other Halloween-like paraphernalia. The two characters are so overplayed that the term camp would be generous. Against such silly and unworthy foes, even Flynn or Fairbanks would have had a hard time appearing heroic.
The Nottingham commoners are an equally uninspiring lot. They are presented as ignorant farmers, unaware of their economic rights under feudalism and totally unskilled in weapons. Robin has to cajole them to rebel, and he and Azeem must work very hard to make them even minimally competent as fighters. The filmmakers have no sense of the English yeoman tradition or the role of the English longbow in military history. Several scenes have Robin using a crossbow as if it were a pistol, a slighting of the longbow that works as poorly as Mortianna's concoctions.
Robin's followers arrive with wives and children who set up a tenement house din in the green. The individuals are a depressing lot often lacking in common sense and speaking in a variety of accents. Friar Tuck (Michael McShane) is the worst of the lot. Void of any political or religious dimension, he is loyal to whoever provides him free ale. His conception is too sophomoric to offer comic relief, much less add a note of cynicism. Not surpris-
ingly, the Sherwood camp is not very neat or ably defended. The sheriff locates it through a simple ruse, destroys it, and takes numerous captives.
In direct contrast to 1938, it is Robin who rides to the rescue of the masses. The key element in this action is a high-tech weapon of its day, gunpowder, which is miraculously provided by Azeem. Miraculous it must be, as gunpowder was not actually used in war for another fifty years. Azeem also comes up with a telescope four hundred years ahead of its time. The problem is not just feel-good black history, as the sheriff uses printed wanted posters more than two hundred years before the invention of the printing press. These elements are not offered as technological comedy as in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but as realism. This indicates either an inexcusable sloppiness in research or utter contempt for the viewing audiences' sense of history.
The ethnic sensitivity of the film is as threadbare as its historical accuracy. Having gone out of its way to honor non-European culture, the film has the Sherwood camp overrun by a horde of Celts imported by the sheriff. These men and women are as wild as the creatures that forced Hadrian to build his wall in pre-Christian times. One wonders how the Celts got to Nottingham undetected and what is to happen to them once the battle is over. Never for an instant do we think Celtic culture is anything but utterly barbaric.
The character of Lady Marian (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is also bungled. Her first encounter with Robin is contrived so that she can pass off her muscular maid as herself in order to get behind Robin and place a blade to his back while garbed in an outfit that appears to be left over from The Mark of Zorro . Her original suspicion of Robin is never clarified, and one wonders how long Robin has been away if he cannot differentiate between the curvaceous Marian and her hefty maid. Nevertheless, the two quickly fall in love. While more verbally and sexually liberated (on the surface at least) than previous Marians, the 1991 Marian proves helpless before the sheriff's intrigues. Robin must literally catapult himself over a castle wall to rush to her rescue as she is being raped by the sheriff. Azeem gets the job of dispatching Mortianna. Yet another odd twist to the tale involves the return of Richard the Lion-Hearted. The king plays no role in the plot, and when he shows himself in the last scenes, he is not Richard at all, but Sean Connery. That is, we are expected to respond to him as Connery, not as a character. We are to remember that he has played an aged Robin in Robin and Marian and that he is the quintessential Agent 007. Connery is not listed in the credits or any of the film's advertising. The manner of his presentation is cinematic self-reference at its most juvenile.
The film's subtitle is also meaningless. Robin is neither prince, nor thief. Never once do we see him rob the rich, much less give to the poor, the
essence of his modern myth. With religious, class, ethnic, and political issues absent, character motivation is largely individualistic. Rather than a bottom-up mass rebellion, the film shows trickle-down elite leadership. Without their clumsy former Crusader, the people of Nottingham would be hapless victims of the nutty sheriff, with nary a thought of Prince John or King Richard.
Critical reaction to Thieves was savage. The film was considered far too violent and sexually explicit for children and too artless for adults. But the studio's faith in the bankable star was vindicated. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had the good fortune to be released after the fabulously successful Dances with Wolves . Enough Costner fans were generated by Dances to make Thieves a financial success. For all its aesthetic shortcomings, Thieves was also in tune with many of the cinematic trends of its day. As the American century entered its last decade, novelty increasingly passed as originality, incoherence as style, plagiarism as homage, and cynicism as candor. Challenging gender and ethnic themes were toyed with but never seriously engaged. Literary and historical names were appropriated for their recognition value without much concern for their original context. Having lost faith in the future, American cinema also seemed to have lost faith in the past.
Bartlett, Neil. "The Voyeur's Revenge," Sight and Sound 2, no. 5 (September 1992). A light-hearted homosexual response to Flynn's Robin Hood.
Buehrer, Beverly Bare. "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves." In Magill's Cinema Annual,
1992. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1992. Strong on historical errors in the film. Bibliography provides references to eighteen popular reviews of the film.
Hirschhorn, Clive. The Warner Brothers Story. New York: Crown Publishers, 1979. Heavily illustrated studio history.
Holt, J. C. Robin Hood. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982. Traces the origins and evolution of the Robin Hood legend from before its first written expression in 1450. Cinema, however, is not discussed.
Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. New York: Charles Scribners, 1883. A rendering that had a huge mass audience in the United States for decades.
"Once More, from the Top":
Musicals the Second Time Around
Working on My Sister Eileen (1955), the musical remake of the 1942 comedy, actress Betty Garrett noted how often choreographer Bob Fosse made them repeat dance routines during rehearsals. "I never worked as hard in my life as I did with Bob. He never stopped. He had one phrase: 'Once more.' About five o'clock at night he'd give a little criticism and then say, 'Once more,' and at 7:30 you'd still be doing it once more" (Delamater, 205). With the musical perhaps more than with other genres the phrase "once more," often coupled with "from the top," so important in rehearsals of musical groups, seems the apt metaphor for remakes. Whether it is an attempt to strive for perfection, an opportunity to reinterpret familiar material, or a chance to modify a particular performance to suit different times, repeating the dance, the song, the musical routine, or—in this case—the entire film "once more" suggests that Hollywood periodically recapitulates its own artifice. Since the musical, above all, is a genre of artifice, that artifice reinforces the genre's basic purpose: to conceal conservative ideology with a formal innovation that often gives the illusion of progressive ideology.
The formulaic nature of all genres makes it possible to consider at least three different kinds of musical remakes. The first is simply another version of the original (like the 1951 Show Boat and the 1962 State Fair ), using essentially the same material but with a different cast and possibly different formal approaches. A second type takes a nonmusical entity and explores its material by introducing the genre's primary semantic elements—song and dance. (High Society  and Silk Stockings , for example are musical remakes of The Philadelphia Story  and Ninotchka  respectively.) A third type, the reinterpretations—what some choose to call makeovers—use the essential narrative material of an earlier musical but give it a new gloss with, as in the case of The Wiz (1978), more contemporary
music and an urban, ethnic identity. All three types continue the "once more" metaphor as they explore the nature of entertainment and the interaction of song and dance with narrative.
One trilogy of films, in particular, embodies many of the issues raised by the show-musical subgenreand by remakes. The 1937 melodrama A Star Is Born (itself influenced by the 1932 What Price Hollywood? ) was remade twice. Its second incarnation in 1954 is an illustration of a musical version of a nonmusical, while its third in 1976, also a musical, is probably best considered as a reinterpretation or makeover of the second version. (There was also a major, nonmusical, radio adaptation, starring Judy Garland and Walter Pidgeon, in 1942.) These three films demonstrate changes in how Hollywood has viewed itself (or perhaps more accurately how Hollywood has wanted itself to be viewed), the nature of changes in American popular music, and the role of remakes as vehicles for stars and as embodiments of the ideology of entertainment.
The turmoil striking Hollywood in the early fifties—turmoil brought on by the Paramount decrees in 1948 (causing studios to divest themselves of their theater chains) and by television's ascendancy as the primary form of American entertainment—resulted in a number of remakes as producers and studios attempted to cash in on the successes of the past. Warner Brothers' musical remake of A Star Is Born , directed by George Cukor, fulfilled two functions at that time. First, it gave Warner Brothers a chance to exploit an established star long associated with MGM, a studio renowned for musicals. Second, it gave them a chance to explore one of the new technologies—it was Warner's first CinemaScope film —then being used to compete with television. Reviewing the film several decades later provides an instructive lesson about the turmoil-ridden studios of 1954 as compared with the self-confident ones seen in the 1937 film. Warner Brothers' A Star Is Born suggests a last-gasp, nostalgic view, belied by the film's own production history. Earlier, in 1950 and 1951, the studio had radically restructured its operating system, terminating or renegotiating contracts, dismissing personnel, and generally reducing overhead (Schatz, Genius of the System , 437–38), and one of the ironies of this film is that it presents a picture of a system that the studio was then in the process of dismantling.
Although in the late forties and early fifties the studios introduced an occasional star within the system established years before, as was illustrated by Janet Gaynor's Esther Blodgett-Vicki Lester in the 1937 film, that route to stardom was becoming increasingly rare. Compared to what was really occurring in Hollywood, therefore, the path by which Judy Garland's Blodgett becomes Vicki Lester seems anachronistic. In both films the studio attempts to alter her appearance (although the movie star Norman Maine, her newfound friend, helps her resist and maintain her "natural" look) and changes her name without any consultation with her. Gaynor's Blodgett at
least listens to the process by which a choice of a new name is made, but the Garland Blodgett discovers the change when she goes to the pay window and is told her check is under L. Similarly in both films the studio sees Esther's marriage to Norman purely in terms of its economic value to the studio. Matt Libby, Niles Studio's public relations officer, says that they have no right to get married quietly; they are stars and have a responsibility to the studio and to the public. Although ostensibly criticizing the studio-controlled, star-making process, both films nevertheless emphasize the "special magic" of stardom (Dyer, 10), a myth that Hollywood long fostered as part of its perceived economic well-being. (See figure 9.)
Certain adjustments to a new, poststudio era are evident, however, in the 1954 version. Perhaps the most obvious concession to the problems affecting Hollywood occurs during Oliver Niles's discussion with Norman about his contract. Having been instructed by the "New York boys" to buy out Norman's contract, Niles says, "They can't afford you anymore, Norman. You're too big a risk. Those big, fat, blush days when a star could get drunk and disappear and hold up production for two weeks are over." He contin-
ues, "No one can afford it anymore. Things are too tough." The 1954 film also de-emphasizes luck as the essential factor in the rise to stardom. Gaynor's Blodgett in 1937, very much the girl next door, pines for Hollywood from afar, struggles to break into films when she does get there (through the generosity of her grandmother), and finally gets her chance: she is waitressing at a party where she catches Norman Maine's fancy. By contrast, Garland's Blodgett is already in show business: she is singing at the benefit performance for which Norman Maine arrives drunk and unable to perform. According to the film, it isn't just luck that creates stars. Obvious talent and hard work provide Esther with the opportunity to meet Norman Maine, and, a point that the "Born in a Trunk" number reinforces, people like her "can't quite be called an overnight sensation, for it began many years ago." In a limited way the 1954 A Star Is Born acknowledges that an era is ending, but it simultaneously camouflages the industry's difficulties in order to reassure its audience of the rewards of entertainment.
If Garland's Esther Blodgett inconsistently suggests someone rising to stardom in a milieu that was in disarray, Barbra Streisand's Esther Hoffman rises to stardom in a totally different milieu altogether. Movies no longer provide the means for stardom; indeed, by 1976 Hollywood has become less a metonymy for the movies than a metaphor for all of show business, with a special emphasis here on music and the recording business. Popular entertainment, once embodied in the movies almost exclusively, has become spread across a variety of media. The first two films reveal something of the workings of the film industry at two different periods whereas the last one depicts "the disorienting surge and psychic voltage of the concert world, its race and disarray" (Stewart, 180). The self-reflexivity implicit in the first two films' inquiries into the exploitation of film stars has become an affirmation, albeit illusory, of one individual's resistance to that kind of control. "Why should I want to change my name?" Esther Hoffman insists at one point, noting all the practical problems—like changing one's driver's license—that would ensue. Similarly, during a rehearsal for a show, she resists a planned walk down a flight of stairs and at another point comments, "They hire me—then they want to change everything about me." Despite her claims of independence, however, Esther Hoffman must yield to the financial exigencies of the music business when she agrees to cancel her long-desired tour with her husband. Streisand's Esther functions in a more inclusive world of show business and in a more socially conscious era than either Gaynor's or Garland's character, but the results are the same: stardom has its price, but entertainment provides redemption.
The motivation for remaking A Star Is Born in 1954 lay with Sid Luft, the film's producer (then Judy Garland's husband), and with Garland herself (Haver, 24), and the 1976 remake, although originally John Gregory Dunne's idea, became exclusively Streisand's project (Pierson, 49–50). Both
remakes accentuate the role of the star and the use of a given film to show-case a star. Each version of A Star Is Born may detail the rise of an unknown, but does so through extremely well-known performers, albeit ones at different stages of their careers. Janet Gaynor "was considered to have outgrown [her earlier] woman-child persona" by the time she made A Star Is Born , but Selznick thought her still capable of playing Esther; a similar return to former type was evident in Fredric March's Norman Maine, as well (Schatz, Genius of the System , 182). Ultimately the melodrama of 1937 has two leading roles of equal strength, but changing the film to a vehicle for Judy Garland in 1954 completely changed the film's emphasis. The melodramatic qualities of the story, evident in all three versions, nevertheless yield to musical ones because of the stars in the two remakes. Cukor's film was the means for Judy Garland's comeback as a movie star. Indeed, her first appearance, singing "Gotta Have Me Go with You," seems an allusion to her MGM films: "The song and performance would have nicely fit into almost all of the earlier Garland musicals" (Jennings, 329). Having been fired by MGM in 1950, however, Garland was beset by personal problems that had become part of her myth and even part of the singing persona that predominates in this remake. In "The Man That Got Away," the second song of the film, "singing becomes a means of expressing tragedy, heartbreak, alienation" (Feuer, The Hollywood Musical , 119), the underlying thrust of the film. (See figure 10.) Barbra Streisand, on the other hand, was at the height of her career in 1976. Her domination of A Star Is Born (she contributed to the writing and even, as Kris Kristofferson, her co-star, saw it, the directing [Burke, 208-9]) was another manifestation of a desire to play out aspects of her own life. The credited director has recounted at length how, during preproduction, Streisand debated the degree to which her autobiography should be reflected in Esther Hoffman (Pierson, 50). If James Mason's character in the 1954 film becomes through role reversal the "fictional counterpart of the neurotic, self-destructive person that Garland [had] become" (Jennings 333), then Streisand's Esther Hoffman directly fulfills everything that Streisand herself has become by 1976. Richard Dyer even suggests that among the "number of cases on which the totality of a film can be laid at the door of the star" the case can be made "most persuasively" for Streisand's A Star Is Born (Dyer, 175).
The resemblances among the three films lie almost exclusively on the narrative level and emphasize the melodrama of the films; what makes the two remakes most interesting, however, is their commitment to the principles of the musical. Certain scenes from Wellman's film are almost duplicated in Cukor's film, for example, and fragments of dialogue similarly recur, but the two musical remakes operate on a different level of intertextuality, one that stresses the semantics of the genre. The Garland and Streisand films use music as a way of exploring the main character's rise to
stardom, as the means to define the relationship with the man who discovers her, and as an illustration of the star's innate ability. Janet Gaynor's Esther is first seen in the Blodgett farmhouse defending her fascination with Hollywood, whereas Garland's Esther and Streisand's Esther, already residents of Hollywood, are both introduced singing. Prophetic of her subsequent role in the film, Garland's Esther, lead singer of a group, replaces Maine at the Actor's Relief Fund Benefit; she then has to battle him into submission when he tries to interrupt their performance. Streisand also has to battle her Norman—Kris Kristofferson's rock star is named John Norman Howard—when they first meet; after his behavior has interrupted her performance of the song "The Queen Bee," she confronts him: "You're blowin' my act!" In both cases the first song each sings—even though spoiled by their soon-to-be leading man—functions to define who they are. Garland's "Gotta Have Me Go with You" truly replaces Norman when considering the lyrics, which sound like his later appeals to her; in other words, Garland's Esther even sings Norman's song for him:
Hey there, shy one, come be my one.
You want a love that's truly true,
You gotta have me
Go with you.
You want to live high on the wire.
You want to have bells that'll ring
You want to have songs that'll sing
You gotta have me go with you.
Streisand actually sings two first songs—both disturbed by John Norman—that clearly identify her in terms of her future relationship with him and in terms of her ambitions. (See figure 11.) In "The Queen Bee" she yearns for a man in an overtly sexual way:
It is so frustratin'
When you're really into matin'
And there ain't no lovin' man around.
Her second song becomes a statement of her goals:
I want to learn what life is for.
I don't want much,
I just want more.
Ask what I want, and I will sing.
I want everything, everything.
Whatever the melodramatic implications of the narratives, both remakes subordinate those implications to other concerns at the outset and demonstrate that the female lead is a singer and performer and a star soon to be reckoned with.
Similarly the Garland and Streisand characters get their big breaks through singing, and this moment helps further to move the remakes away from their roots in melodrama and to define them as musicals. In the 1937 film, Norman, in a discussion with Esther in the studio cafeteria, describes the need for an actress who clearly fits Esther perfectly, and then the two together—with little persuasion—convince Oliver Niles that she should play opposite Norman in his next film; by contrast, the 1954 and 1976 films use totally different but strongly persuasive musical constructs. In both cases the male is the catalyst for the big break, but the situation demonstrates that the character is a latent star—and the performance demonstrates that the performer is a real star. In the 1954 film, knowing that the studio is desperately seeking a replacement singer for a leading role, Mason's Norman sets up a situation for Niles to overhear Garland-Esther singing. Garland-Esther has previously demonstrated to Norman and to the film's audience that she has "that little something extra" that makes star quality; now she needs to do so to the studio head, which she does by
reprising "The Man That Got Away," the song by which she had earlier proved herself to Norman. Streisand's Esther has also previously proved herself to both John Norman and to the film audience, but, whereas the two earlier Esthers also needed the imprimatur of a studio head, this Esther needs the acclaim of a concert audience, an audience within the film. John Norman provides her with that opportunity by, in a singular moment of selflessness, setting up the situation for her to sing at his concert. This is clearly not a spontaneous whim; he has even recruited the other members of her former singing group, the Oreos, to back her up at her stage debut. Everything about the performance—within the film and through the film—suggests that the rising star Esther Hoffman is the fully established star Barbra Streisand. As she prepares to begin her song, the camera shoots her from behind, glamorously silhouetted against the lights aimed at the concert stage, her hair highlighted with the aura of a halo. As she sings (one important line is "They can hold back the tide, but they can't hold back the woman in the moon"), she captivates her audience while simultaneously demonstrating that nothing will hold back this Esther from fulfilling her goal of attaining "everything, everything." While fulfilling the function of the character she plays, Streisand foregrounds herself and the demonstrable reasons that she is, in fact, a star.
In certain respects only the 1976 A Star Is Born provides the opportunity for the male lead also to participate in the film as a musical. Throughout all three films the nature of the love relationship of the two main characters and Norman's systematic physical and psychological deterioration are akin to those melodramas in which "the well-meaning patriarch [is reduced] to a confused helpless victim of his own good intentions" (Schatz, Hollywood Genres, 239). In the 1954 film the musical rituals of courtship and romance remain solely Garland's province, thereby confining James Mason's character to the melodrama of the film. Although Norman Maine proposes to her within a musical background (Esther in a rehearsal has just made it clear through the lyrics of a song that she is open to his proposal: "To share a journey that leads to Heaven's door / You'll find is what I'm here for"), he is far more the observer of, than the participant in, their relationship. In the 1937 film Norman and Esther (by now Vicki Lester) do appear together in a film, but in 1954 they don't even do that. Norman's observer role is especially noticeable during her performance for him at home when she sings "Someone at Last." This all-stops-out performance, characterized by hopeful lyrics ("Somewhere there's a someone for me" and "With my someone I'll be someone at last"), is belied by what is actually occurring in the characters' lives. She has become someone because of him, but as he sits there observing her being someone, he realizes that he has become a no one; at the end of her show for him, having just been called Mr. Lester by a delivery boy, he gets himself a drink—the first since their marriage. In con-
trast, Kris Kristofferson's John Norman does participate in their musical rituals of love and courtship. Although he too is the observer during Esther's first concert performance (and her second song, "I Believe in Love," is one of her strong solo statements of their relationship), previously, following the conventions of the genre, they performed love duets. The first occurs when she plays her own composition on his piano and he improvises lyrics ("Then you came inside my life / Now I'm lost inside of you") to her music, leading directly to their first physical contact and love making; the second occurs during her first recording session when he joins her—albeit hesitantly—in singing "Evergreen," a real declaration of their commitment. Photographed in a single take with both of them together, sharing the frame equally, "Evergreen" shows one side of their relationship. In the subsequent scene, when he has subordinated his performance to give her the big break, they are presented separately through crosscutting as he watches her; the unity of "Evergreen" has given way to what will be the divisions of their separate careers.
One of the most revealing comparisons of the three films concerns the externally imposed "house husband" role that the three Normans assume after their careers have ended. In the first two films the scenes are narratively and formally very similar, even beginning with the close-ups of golf balls that Norman is hitting somewhat indolently. By contrast, John Norman persists in his business: he is playing the guitar and then, with ominous resonances from the earlier movies, begins composing a song, "One More Look at You," the line with which the first two Norman Maines exited as they left to commit suicide. Significantly it is a love song, more appropriate for Esther to sing; just as John Norman throughout the film has given Esther her opportunities, likewise Esther has influenced John Norman's song-writing style, which will—in the end—become his chance for musical immortality. Nevertheless, for all of its contemporary references (John Norman has a problem with alcohol and cocaine), its ostensibly updated modifications of the male-female interaction, and its adherence to the semantics of the musical genre, the 1976 film still implies, as did the earlier films, that being reduced to "house husband" is the prelude to suicide. Women can succeed in these films only at the expense of a man, and the films always present this as an innate tragedy.
In their endings all three demonstrate commitment to the genre, but the third also demonstrates this commitment throughout. After Norman Maine has committed suicide, Esther Blodgett receives a lecture in the show-must-go-on philosophy. Her grandmother delivers it to her in the 1937 film, her friend and former band partner Danny McGuire in the 1954 film. In both films, however, the dictates of melodrama supersede those of the musical. As Esther steps up to the microphone to say a few words to her public, the film ends with her proudly asserting her subordination to
a man, to domesticity, and to a way of life that she has never really known in Hollywood: "Hello, everybody, this is Mrs. Norman Maine." The 1937 film underscores that irony when, reminiscent of the film's opening, it cuts to a shot of the last page of the shooting script, allowing the audience to read what it has just witnessed and simultaneously to hear the swelling music that the script says should accompany the ending. The 1954 film is less reflexive but no less melodramatic. After the audience at the Actor's Relief Fund Benefit (the cyclical nature of the experience suggested by returning to the scene of the film's opening) gives Mrs. Norman Maine a standing ovation, the camera frames her center stage then pulls back into extreme high-angle long shot; on the sound track a choir sings "It's a New World," Vicki's hit song, which she sang for Norman on their honeymoon and which she was singing as he prepared to die for her, a song that in its initial use reinforced the "new-found promise" of her marriage and her career. Its use here is ambiguous, however, and reinforces her obsession with the past, with Norman. Had Vicki-Garland herself sung, as in fact the announcer had said she would when introducing her, the strengths of the genre would have carried other implications, that Vicki has overcome the past and can now move on—the show really can go on. Having no final song for the star, however, reinforces the sense that the film may not be a musical at all; it ends as melodrama. Having originally subordinated her identify to the studio's patriarch by accepting a new name, she further suppresses her identity as a star by reveling in being Norman Maine's widow.
The 1976 film, therefore, is the only one to deliver a fulfilled musical destiny to the lead character at the end. Esther Hoffman doesn't need a lecture to recognize her obligations as a star (the equivalent inspiration to carry on is her discovery of the tape John Norman made of "One More Look at You"), nor does she subordinate herself to another person. As she steps out onto the stage for a memorial concert, an announcer intones, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Esther Hoffman Howard"; she has combined her identity with his, as it were. Moreover, this is to be a performance, one that recapitulates their relationship through song. Debuting "One More Look at You," the song he had written because of her influence, she allows his memory to continue through her performance; subsequently she segues into "Watch Closely Now," one of his signature pieces, which she delivers in his hard-rock style. Rather than giving in to the victimization of the melodrama heroine, Esther Hoffman is redeemed through performance, for the genre has always suggested that "the achievement of personal fulfillment goes hand-in-hand with the enjoyment of entertainment" (Feuer, "The Self-Reflective Musical," 171). Garland's Esther says, "I somehow feel most alive when I sing," but it is Streisand's Esther who demonstrates the necessity of that for the musical star. "This movie does not merely come alive in song; it is about lives lived, linked and ended in a lyric" (Stewart, 178).
Surely one of Streisand's motivations for wanting to do A Star Is Born was her view of herself as an heir to Judy Garland's musical legacy. The intertextual resonances of prior films that exist in all remakes would have been strong between the 1954 and 1976 versions of the film, particularly as embodied in the two female stars. (Although the general populace may have had strong memories of the 1937 film, Janet Gaynor, who in 1954 had made no films since 1938 and who was not a singer, certainly had no following comparable to Garland's and Streisand's). Streisand's Esther had to give the illusion of an updated, popularly feminist character, however. Her Esther, for example, proposes to John Norman, but it is still only an illusion since one implication is that her redemption through stardom resides in John Norman. Moreover, Streisand's Esther must sing in a currently popular, rock-music idiom (by comparison one is reminded that Garland's film was being made just at the outset of the rock era), even though Streisand herself has always kept alive loyalties to older forms of popular music. At the end of the film, as Streisand sings Esther's tribute to John Norman, the ultimate conflation of character and performer breaks "down the barriers between art and life" (Feuer, "The Self-Reflective Musical," 171): The audience within the film does not applaud after Esther sings (indeed, the audience is never shown again once she starts singing). Instead by implication the audience of the film is invited to applaud Streisand at the end. Unlike Gaynor's Esther-Vicki, who is relegated to a scripted character at the end of the 1937 film, and also unlike Garland's Esther-Vicki, whom the diegetic audience does applaud (but for being Mrs. Norman Maine, not for her singing), Streisand's Esther (seen in freeze-frame close-up as the credits roll) affirms the power of popular entertainment by making the audience watching the film feel part of the process of entertainment. The musical's self-reflexivity and self-conscious heightening of emotion through song and dance become reinterrogated the second—and third—time around, but even when the films seem contemporary and fashionable, they still result only in the conclusions that have long sustained the genre: in this case, life is fulfilled through the illusions and myths of entertainment and popular culture.
Altman, Rick. The American Film Musical. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
Burke, Tom. "Kris Kristofferson Sings the Good-Life Blues." Esquire 86 (December 1976): 126–28ff.
Delamater, Jerome. Dance in the Hollywood Musical. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981.
Dunne, John Gregory. "The Coast: Gone Hollywood." Esquire 86 (September 1976): 30 ff.
Dyer, Richard. Stars. London: BFI, 1979.
Feuer, Jane. The Hollywood Musical. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.
———. "The Self-Reflective Musical and the Myth of Entertainment." In Genre: The Musical , edited by Rick Altman, 159–74. London: Routledge, 1981.
Graham, Bill, and Robert Greenfield. Bill Graham Presents: My Life inside Rock and Out. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Haver, Ronald. A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration. New York: Knopf, 1988.
Jennings, Wade. "Nova: Garland in 'A Star Is Born.'" Quarterly Review of Film Studies 4, no. 3 (summer 1979): 321–37.
Lang, Robert. American Film Melodrama: Griffith, Vidor, Minnelli. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.
McGilligan, Patrick. George Cukor: A Double Life. New York: St. Martin's, 1991.
Pierson, Frank. "My Battles with Barbra and Jon." New York 9 (November 15, 1976): 49–60.
Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Film-Making in the Studio Era. New York: Pantheon, 1988.
———. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking and the Studio System. New York: Random House, 1981.
Stewart, Garrett. "The Woman in the Moon." Sight and Sound 46, no. 3 (summer 1977): 177–81f.
The Ethnic Oedipus:
The Jazz Singer and Its Remakes
Apart from its initial popularity, The Jazz Singer (1927) ought to have held little appeal for remakers: the novelty of introducing talking and singing to a mass audience must have worn off rather quickly; changing racial attitudes ought to have made a narrative involving blackface obsolete if not off-limits; the title's reference to jazz should have discouraged studio bosses once jazz ceased to be a popular music in the 1950s; the emergence of the state of Israel in 1948 drastically altered the issues of Jewish assimilation that are crucial to the film's plot, as J. Hoberman (1991a) has argued; and the personality of Al Jolson weighs so heavily upon the 1927 film that any re-creation would seem to be impossible without him. Finally, in an article that was the inspiration for this paper, Michael Rogin (1992) has shown that the original film dramatized several subjects that Hollywood abandoned after the 1920s, most notably the rags-to-riches ascent of American Jews who broke out of the ghetto, some of whom "invented Hollywood" (Gabler, 1988).
Yet filmmakers repeatedly return to The Jazz Singer . Warner Brothers celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the film's release with a 1952 remake directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Danny Thomas; playing a dramatic role for the first time in his career, Jerry Lewis appeared in a Ford "Star-time" production directed by Ralph Nelson for NBC television in 1959; and Neil Diamond played the title role in a 1980 film directed by Richard Fleischer. There are also several films that seem to have much in common with the first Jazz Singer even if they do not bear the same title. Films such as The Jolson Story (1946), The Benny Goodman Story (1955), St. Louis Blues (1958), and even La Bamba (1987) raise questions about biopics and remakes in general and about the pivotal role of The Jazz Singer in particu-
lar. Almost by accident, the 1927 Jazz Singer provided filmmakers with a uniquely American template for dealing with oedipal and ethnic issues.
In arguing that a number of films are unconscious or unacknowledged remakes of The Jazz Singer , I am cautioned by the exchange between Seymour Chatman and Barbara Herrnstein Smith (Mitchell, 1981) that was first carried out in the pages of Critical Inquiry . Chatman posits a binary model of story and discourse, arguing that a "deep structure" or "basic story" can be transposed from one "discourse" to another, regardless of form, mode, or media. As an example of a basic story he cites Cinderella , which has existed "as verbal tale, as ballet, as opera, as film, as comic strip, as pantomime, and so on" (Chatman, 1981, 18). Smith seizes on this example to charge Chatman with subscribing to a "versionless version" of Cinderella that resembles a Platonic ideal: "unembodied and unexpressed, unpictured, unwritten and untold, this altogether unsullied Cinderella appears to be a story that occupies a highly privileged ontological realm of pure Being within which it unfolds immutably and eternally. If this is what is meant by the basic story of Cinderella , it is clearly unknowable—and, indeed, literally unimaginable—by any mortal being" (Smith, 1981, 212).
After quoting several folklorists who have assembled international catalogues of Cinderella stories, Smith finds that no rules exist to distinguish versions with most elements of the "basic story" from versions with only a few. As folklorists pile up more and more Cinderella stories from around the globe, Smith begins to suspect that if one of the folklorists had continued long enough, "all stories would have turned out to be versions of Cinderella ," and that Cinderella would turn out to be basically all stories (216). Like Raymond Bellour (1979), I occasionally suspect that all films are versions of the Oedipus story, and after recently immersing myself in musical biopics, I sometimes believe that all Oedipus stories are versions of The Jazz Singer .
Smith is right that the term "basic story" is so highly contingent as to be of questionable value, especially if narratologists do not rigorously examine the "hierarchies of relevance and centrality" (217) that they construct in order to arrive at basic-ness. Smith ends her essay by asking for a more thorough theory of narration that is more attentive to the cultural contexts in which narratives take place: "[I]ndividual narratives would be described not as sets of surface-discourse-signifiers that represent (actualize, manifest, map, or express) sets of underlying-story-signifieds but as the verbal acts of particular narrators performed in response to—and thus shaped and constrained by—sets of multiple interacting conditions" (222). On the one hand, my attempts to establish common threads running through the first Jazz Singer and its various remakes is not a search for basic-ness among texts composed centuries and continents apart. I will be looking rather at films produced in one country by a single industry over the relatively short span
of fifty-three years. Furthermore, identifying the kernel of the 1927 film is somewhat different from positing a basic Cinderella since there is already a fully realized version of The Jazz Singer in contrast to some stripped-down, unembodied, Platonic version of Cinderella . On the other hand, a psychoanalytic reading of the Jazz Singer texts suggests that the strongly marked oedipal elements in the films constitute something like a universal core. But the oedipal tensions in the film and its remakes are inseparable from obsessions with popular music, ethnicity, assimilation, and reconciliation that are quite specific to America in general and to Hollywood in particular. Furthermore, the oedipal and racial dynamics of the films are deeply entwined not only with optimistic narratives of assimilation through music but also with the specifics of each era in which filmmakers (and critics) operate. As Smith might argue, it is impossible to separate out a "deep structure" of oedipal themes from the "surface-discourse-signifiers" unique to each text. Smith might also argue that any paraphrase of The Jazz Singer says as much about the paraphraser as it does about the film. So, I lay a few cards on the table at this point and declare my commitment to a flexible model of psychoanalysis that acknowledges the impact of cultural change on American obsessions as they are repeatedly played out in popular narratives. I also assert that the first Jazz Singer occupies a special role in American cinema, in effect establishing a set of conventions for narratives about race and oedipal conflict in which the hero transcends his ethnic background through success as a popular entertainer imitating African Americans. An especially large number of subsequent films have been based closely enough on these conventions to be called remakes.
For my purposes then, the defining plot elements of The Jazz Singer (1927) are as follows: 1) in 1920s America, a boy from 2) a working-class 3) Jewish family with 4) strong feelings toward his mother wants to 5) sing popular songs or "jazz," much to the chagrin of 6) a father who is a cantor and who insists that his son follow in his footsteps. The father disowns the boy only to 7) forgive him on his deathbed. Helping the son in his singing career is 8) a young and attractive gentile woman who is more advanced in show business and who soon becomes the love interest for the son. A not incidental element in the story is the polysemous moment when the son 9) masquerades as an African American male just as he must simultaneously confront his romantic ties to the shiksa and the oedipal crises in his own family. As Rogin (1992) has argued, the blacking up of Jack Robin (Al Jolson) endows him with a more overt sexuality at the same time that it eases his path to assimilation by concealing his Jewishness. At the optimistic, multiculturalist conclusion, the son is able 10) to combine his commitment to "jazz" with his love for his family and their heritage by singing Kol Nidre with vaudeville body English. (Compare Jack's gesturing at the synagogue
with the comportment of the eminent cantor Josef Rosenblatt who stands motionless when he sings in The Jazz Singer , unwilling to make any concessions to show business beyond appearing in the film.)
Obviously my scheme of ten elements can be expanded and numerous subcategories can be teased out of each element. I have not, for example, mentioned any secondary characters, any details of the son's progress toward stardom, or any effects of the film's racism and sexism. I have tried rather to identify the crucial constitutive elements of The Jazz Singer that are most likely to be restated in subsequent films and most relevant to my theses about the role of music in fables of Oedipus and assimilation. My scheme has the further advantage of lending itself to the following table, in which I have marked with an x each element that a remake shares with the original.
I have deliberately omitted the reference to America in the 1920s, the first element on my list above, because all of the films take place at different times in America: like most remakes, the first three take place in the same present as when they were made, and the four biopics are anchored in the life history of a famous individual. There also appear to be no films resembling The Jazz Singer that center on women, unless we include films like Coal Miner's Daughter and Sweet Dreams , in which a lower-class, rural milieu might supply the heroines' ethnicity. Given Hollywood's insistence on gender hierarchies, any female variant of The Jazz Singer would almost certainly have to focus on the moment in which the heroine upsets the apple cart by surpassing her male lover. The various versions of A Star Is Born , in which the success of a female star results in the suicide of her husband, may provide a better example of what happens to The Jazz Singer when its gender roles are reversed.
I have also omitted the reconciliatory conclusion, the last element on my list, because I consider this to be the sine qua non for any remake of The Jazz Singer: virtually all of the films on the table exhibit some version of it. If, to use Rick Altman's terminology, the table summarizes the semantics of the film and its remakes, The Jazz Singer 's conclusion is essential to the film's syntax (Altman, 1986). To distinguish it from the "fairy-tale musical" and the "folk musical," Altman describes the "show musical" as a narrative about a show business couple whose onstage romance and backstage love affair culminate in a final production number (Altman, 1989). For Altman, the semantics of the show musical involve the production of a play, a revue, a film, or some kind of show while the syntax involves the dovetailing of a love plot with the success of the show. As a film from the early stages of the show subgenre—Altman (1989) places the film first in his chronological listing of show musicals—The Jazz Singer splits the finale into two small production numbers instead of one large one: after Jack receives his father's blessing at the old cantor's deathbed, he sings his jazzy Kol Nidre in the
synagogue; a title card then explains that "the season passes—and time heals—the show goes on" just before Jack is seen on the stage of the Winter Garden theater singing "Mammy" under cork while his mother and Mary Dale, his gentile lover, look on adoringly. As David Desser (1991) has argued, "[A]n overdetermined form of mother love represses the intermarriage component" (399), one of several elements in the conclusion that could easily disrupt the film's utopian view of assimilation. "Success in the American mainstream, a breakthrough into stardom, a breakout of the ghetto, 'naturally' brings with it the WASP woman. Intermarriage becomes secondary to assimilation" (Desser, 1991, 399).
Significantly, Jack Robin's final return to the stage, along with the reaction shots of doting Jewish mother and shiksa lover, is not in Alfred A. Cohn's original shooting script for The Jazz Singer . Nor can these scenes be found in the principal sources for the film—Samson Raphaelson's 1922 short story, "Day of Atonement," and his play, The Jazz Singer (Carringer, 1979). The shooting script ends with Jack in the synagogue where he may have ended his show business career by walking out on the opening night of a Broadway show. Although Raphaelson wrote "Day of Atonement" with Al Jolson's own story in mind (Carringer, 1979, 11), the story ends with the hero actually choosing to remain a cantor. The triumphant but slightly incoherent "Mammy" finale was added to the film by Warners, if only for the sake of a more upbeat ending. Like most show musicals, nearly all of The Jazz Singer remakes are more economical, placing the weight of the reconciliation primarily in a concluding stage act: the protagonist may in fact return to the synagogue or its equivalent, but the final stage performance is more clearly motivated, with the father usually surviving to enjoy the show along with the rest of his son's adoring fans. What the father eventually comes to understand is what the hero and the story (in most of the remakes) have been saying all along, "that Jack's jazz singing is fundamentally an ancient religious impulse seeking expression in a modern, popular form" (Carringer, 1979, 23). Or as the film itself states in its first title card, "[P]erhaps this plaintive, wailing song of jazz is, after all, the misunderstood utterance of a prayer."
This kind of oedipal reconciliation may be unique to American popular culture. In contrast to the reassuring ending of America's The Jazz Singer , Hoberman (1991a) has found a turn-of-the-century Yiddish tragedy from Poland that foreshadows the plot of the film even though Raphaelson probably had no knowledge of it when he wrote "Day of Atonement." In Der Vilner Balebesl , later filmed in Yiddish as Overture to Glory (1940), a talented cantor's desire to see the world leads him to a successful career as an opera singer and eventually into the arms of a Polish countess. When he returns home to his village, however, he finds that his wife has gone mad and his child has died. "In Europe, the fruits of assimilation were seen as madness, ruin, and death. In America, of course, it was a different story" (Hoberman 1991a, 64).
Robert B. Ray (1985) has placed Hollywood's paradigm of reconciliation alongside "American myths of inclusiveness," part of the fundamental belief that options are eternally available in the New World: "Often, the movies' reconciliatory pattern concentrated on a single character magically embodying diametrically opposite traits. A sensitive violinist was also a tough boxer (Golden Boy ); a boxer was a gentle man who cared for pigeons (On the Waterfront ). A gangster became a coward because he was brave (Angels with Dirty Faces ); a soldier became brave because he was a coward (Lives of a
Bengal Lancer )" (58). Similarly, a jazz singer who abandons his family for the stage can also lead the congregation in prayer on the most solemn of holy days, then return to the stage as a great success and still have the love of his mother and a beautiful shiksa. (See figures 12, 13, and 14.) (Although the myth implies that limitless possibilities are open to all Americans, the vast majority of American films suggests that Hollywood is willing to extend such wide-ranging freedom only to white males, even if they are Jewish.)
Even after the upbeat ending was added to the 1927 Jazz Singer, there was still the tragic possibility that Jack Robin could lose the stage career he so desperately sought; both his manager and Mary Dale follow him to his parents' apartment to caution him firmly about walking out on an opening night. In the remakes, however, the jazz singers face no such crises; rather, the heroes of the 1952 and 1980 versions arrive at their respective synagogues with little anxiety about career-ending absences on Broadway. In the 1952 version, when the summons to sing Kol Nidre comes on the same afternoon as the hero's important opening night, a quick call for the understudy is issued, and the heroine expresses only sympathy when the Danny Thomas character departs for home; no title card or expository dialogue is necessary to explain the jump from Danny singing in the syna-
gogue to Danny singing in the theater. In the 1980 version, Jakie Rabinowitz (Neil Diamond) has just ended a rehearsal by telling his musicians to take the day off for Yom Kippur when his father's friend arrives with the plea that Jakie replace his ailing father back home: singing Kol Nidre has no effect whatsoever on the progress of the singer's career. Whereas the cantor in the 1927 film declares his love for his son but never articulates his acceptance of Jack's vocation as a singer, the father in almost all of the remakes comes to accept and actually appreciate his son's music.
As many critics pointed out, the path to reconciliation in the 1952 remake is so smooth that little tension remains to drive the narrative. Edward Franz, who plays Danny Thomas's father in the 1952 version, is not a poor cantor in a Lower East Side ghetto, but the well-heeled leader of a congregation in an affluent section of Philadelphia. Not only is the cantor thoroughly assimilated into urban society; he also appears to be quite comfortable with popular culture, at one point singing every word of a rapid-fire soap commercial that his son recorded for radio. The father's demand that
his son follow in a family tradition of several generations of cantors takes on the marks of a neurotic symptom, a familiar convention during Hollywood's romance with psychoanalysis in the 1950s (Gabbard and Gabbard, 1987). Coming to his senses on his sickbed just before his son sings Kol Nidre, the cantor himself delivers the film's message that the popular entertainer can express a divine spirit. After giving his blessing to Jerry's show business career, the cantor adds, "Only I want you to remember that wherever you sing, always lift your head high and raise your voice to god, the
way you did in the temple." Even the problem of intermarriage is solved by having Peggy Lee, Danny Thomas's love interest, drop a line about attending a seder to hint that she too may be Jewish.
Although Laurence Olivier's cantor in the 1980 Jazz Singer leads a less affluent congregation on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and although he is never overheard equating popular music with religion, he is entirely won over when Jakie shows the old man a photograph of his grandson, "Charlie Parker Rabinowitz." The reference to the canonical jazz saxophonist and composer seems motivated primarily by the anachronism of the film's title and by the vestiges of white appropriation of black culture that seem obligatory in a Jazz Singer remake. The largely perfunctory citation of Charlie Parker may also have stemmed from Diamond's desire to shore up his dubious claim to hipness. In the decidedly unhip conclusion of the film, Olivier is caught up in the crowd's semi-Dionysian abandon while Diamond sings "Coming to America," a hymn to assimilationism so unproblematic that the Democratic Party adopted the song for its national convention in 1988. Diamond's American melting-pot jingoism is expressed symbolically in the finale by his red, white, and blue outfit set off by a scarf worn like a prayer shawl.
If the 1952 and 1980 films tilt toward easy reconciliation, Jerry Lewis's 1959 television production retains a sense of the tragic possibilities in the story of the ethnic Oedipus. Lewis plays a clown, rather than a singer, who is about to appear in his first national TV program when he is called back to the synagogue. With no time to wipe off his makeup, the son arrives at the last minute to sing Kol Nidre in clown face as his father expires and the film ends. Scott Bukatman (1991) has attributed the bizarre, nonresolution of the program's ending to Lewis's own "unresolved conflicts of identity" (192). Whatever his reasons, Lewis remained true to the original spirit of Raphaelson's story and play, both of which emphasized the assimilating Jew's dilemmas rather than his successful negotiation of career and oedipal conflicts. Like the authors of the 1952 remake, Lewis appeared to be uninterested in the original film's appropriation of black culture.
Even accounting for the inevitable changes that characterize the vast majority of remakes, the 1952 and 1980 Jazz Singer s respond powerfully to agendas unknown to filmmakers in 1927: as Smith (1981) would argue, each new Jazz Singer was radically refashioned as its "narrators" formulated new stories to accommodate the profound changes in American culture. Danny Thomas appears in uniform at the opening of the 1952 remake, a GI faced with the problems of adjustment reminiscent of those in successful predecessor films like The Pride of the Marines (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and The Men (1950). Although the film was also made in the shadow of several problem films that dealt with anti-Semitism, such as Gentlemen's Agreement (1947) and Crossfire (1947), hatred of the Jews is
hardly an issue in Curtiz's film. In fact, the film is so careful to avoid Jewish stereotypes that the principals might as well be Episcopalians.
The 1952 film also omits any reference to African Americans, either real or mimicked through blackface. My research has turned up nothing to indicate that Warner Brothers made a conscious decision to eliminate any reference to blackface, and almost without exception the reviews of the film make no mention of the omission. By 1952, the civil rights movement may have been sufficiently successful with its consciousness-raising to have made the practice forbidden, even in a film that must have quickly brought to mind Al Jolson, the best-known of all blackface performers, whose long and highly visible career had ended with his death just two years earlier.
Richard Fleischer's 1980 version was motivated primarily by the personal fixations of Neil Diamond, who insisted on script changes throughout production in order to bring the story more in line with his own life story (Wiseman, 1987, 256). The most significant omission is the protagonist's mother, so essential to the oedipal hysteria of the original and most of the remakes. Blackface, on the other hand, returns. Diamond and Fleischer may have intended a tongue-in-cheek homage to the 1927 film when they inserted an early scene in which Jakie Rabinowitz reluctantly puts shoe polish on his face in order to replace the missing member of an African American singing group that is performing his songs in a black nightclub. At least initially, the scene is played for laughs as Jakie tries to conceal his misgivings with the black makeup. At the dawn of the era of Reagan and Bush, however, the sequence is especially disturbing in its invocation of racial stereotypes that were soon to become more pervasive than they had been during previous decades. If in 1927 blackface authorized sexuality and emotional vulnerability, in the 1980 Jazz Singer blackface appears to authorize violence against obstreperous blacks and the fantasy of loyal retainers fighting alongside the white hero: after an angry black man in the audience notices that Jakie has neglected to put color on his hands ("That ain't no brother; that's a white boy!"), he rushes the stage and sets himself up for a sucker punch from the hero. As members of the soul group come to his aid and the entire club breaks into pandemonium, the film activates clichés from bar fights in westerns as well as from myths about the natural inclination of black people to violence. The film also upholds Hollywood's old racial hierarchies by suggesting that a group of black singers is dependent on a white man for their music. Although there is no question that whites in general and Jews in particular have made substantial contributions to the evolution of jazz and black popular music, the film acknowledges the crucial role of African Americans in jazz history only in the name of Jakie's son.
If each of the three titled remakes departs substantially from the semantics and syntax of the original, the four biopics in table 1 line up more agreeably with my characterizations of the 1927 film. On the one hand, this
phenomenon may be related to the need for self-identified remakes to update their plots in order to separate themselves from the original. The frequently hagiographical biopics, on the other hand, tend to be more conservative and consequently fall back on well-established conventions. The Jolson Story (1946), for example, represents a self-announced biography of Jolson after a progression of Jazz Singer texts—story, play, screenplay, and final film—each moved closer to Jolson's own story. Almost all of the semantic elements of the 1927 film reappear in The Jolson Story , although the syntax begins to break down in the film's final third, which chronicles the star's temporary retirement, his separation from his wife, and the beginnings of his comeback. The reconciliation with father comes quickly and easily even before the young Asa Yoelson changes his name to Al Jolson: after the child runs away from home, he is taken to a Catholic boys' home where his parents arrive to see him singing "Ave Maria." When the elder Yoelson complains, "[S]inging without his cap on," an Irish priest strikes the principal ecumenical note of all The Jazz Singer films when he says, "It's not so much what's on the head as what's in the heart, is it, Cantor?" The father's smile indicates his agreement and concession to his son's wishes; with the film less than fifteen minutes old, the man becomes the ardent follower of his son's career, thus setting an example for the 1952 and 1980 titled remakes. On one of the boy's visits home, the father even tells his son that he need no longer wear a yarmulke. Jolson's real father passed away when Jolson was quite young (Goldman, 1988). The oedipal aggressiveness of the first Jazz Singer surely became less appealing after so many Jewish fathers had died in the Holocaust, perhaps motivating the makers of almost all the post-1945 Jazz Singers to allow the fathers to live on and achieve satisfying reconciliations with their sons.
In addition to anticipating the much greater attention to career progress that characterizes the subsequent remakes of The Jazz Singer, The Jolson Story goes farther than any of the films in exploring the significance of blackface. For reasons that are never really explained, Jolson first blacks up while appearing in a variety show that features a blackface performer. When the white minstrel man is too drunk to perform one night, Jolson spontaneously replaces him; coincidentally, Lou Dockstader, the leader of a well-established minstrel troupe, is in the audience. Jolson's desire to work in blackface appears to grow out of his interest in African American music, but the film offers no evidence that the young Jolson has previously heard blacks in performance even though he begins improvising and syncopating his vocal solos early in his career. Only after he has joined Dockstader's minstrel show does Jolson arrive in New Orleans and wander into a gathering of blacks to hear a fairly slick version of Dixieland jazz. Jolson has a revelation, that the staid repertoire of the minstrel troupe can be transformed by actually playing black music in blackface. He tells Dockstader
that he wants to sing what he has just experienced: "I heard some music tonight, something they call jazz. Some fellows just make it up as they go along. They pick it up out of the air." After Dockstader refuses to accommodate Jolson's revolutionary concept, the narrative chronicles his climb to stardom as he allegedly injects jazz into his blackface performances. This of course allows the audience to appreciate Jolson's foresight in predicting the popularity of jazz, but it also suggests that this ethereal music—picked out of the air by simple black folk—needs the genius of someone like Jolson to give it solidity and validity. After the brief scene in New Orleans, African Americans are never seen again, nor is there any subsequent reference to jazz and Jolson's appropriation of black music. In the scenes that follow, however, the blacked-up Jolson is granted license to play the trickster, impishly but endearingly rewriting stage shows as they unfold in front of audiences. Whereas blacking up allowed a certain freedom of sexual expression for Jolson in the first Jazz Singer , in the Jolson Story it becomes associated with harmless mischief.
Once we accept a semantic change from singing to playing the clarinet, The Benny Goodman Story becomes an almost transparent reworking of The Jazz Singer . The hero never puts on blackface, but he does have critical encounters with black musicians in which their proximity seems to act upon his sexuality and emotional expressivity. The mythological characteristics of African Americans that Jack Robin puts on along with burnt cork are acquired by Goodman when blacks are simply nearby. When the young Benny plays his first job with a white dance band on a riverboat in Chicago, he is introduced to a young woman who is about to become his first date until she ridicules him for wearing short pants. Almost immediately he wanders into a performance by the black intermission band led by New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory (played by Ory himself) and notices that the musicians have no music. "We just play what we feel," explains Ory. "Playing the way you feel," muses Goodman. "Say, could I sit in?" Immediately, the young clarinetist becomes an accomplished improviser, presumably finding in African American music the perfect means for overcoming his wounded feelings.
Donna Reed is later introduced into The Benny Goodman Story as Alice Hammond, the gentile woman from New York society whom the mature Goodman (Steve Allen) eventually marries. Their romance is off to a slow start until Benny has returned to Chicago at the pinnacle of his first great success. Standing next to Fletcher Henderson, the black bandleader whose arrangements contributed mightily to Goodman's success, Goodman is reintroduced to Kid Ory, who offers the praise, "You have the best band I ever heard anyplace." At this moment, Alice walks in, and Benny is about to approach her in earnest. Reversing the situation of his first sexual humiliation, Benny quickly thanks Ory for his compliment and then hands
his clarinet to Henderson, adding, "Fletch, could you hold this, please?" Now a more fully sexualized individual, Goodman no longer needs black musicians to tutor him about feelings, although the film does seem to relate their proximity (and easy dismissal) to his romantic energies.
For all the patronizing and marginalizing of black jazz artists in The Benny Goodman Story , the film does in fact acknowledge the contribution of Henderson as well as Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton (both played onscreen by themselves) to Goodman's career. The appearance of Wilson, Hampton, and Buck Clayton with Goodman at the re-creation of the triumphant 1938 Carnegie Hall concert that ends the film is a dramatic change from the mimicking of black performers that concludes the 1927 Jazz Singer . The end of The Benny Goodman Story , with its several black performers, is one of the most inclusive of the many reconciliatory finales in the cycle of show musicals. As in The Jazz Singer , this unorthodox performance by a jazz musician is presented as a gamble that might endanger his career. Appropriately, the romance plot culminates at this concert when we are told that Goodman is asking Alice to marry him by means of a clarinet solo, a proposal she accepts by nodding her head. This wedding proposal doubles the marriage of jazz and classical music symbolized by a Carnegie Hall concert attended entirely by socially prominent New Yorkers, who depart from their usual behavior at concerts by tapping their feet in rhythm. Goodman's adoring mother is seated next to the clarinetist's fiancée at the concert, recalling the reaction shots of Jack Robin's mother and lover at the end of The Jazz Singer .
The Benny Goodman Story is of course another film about successful assimilation by a Jewish musician. Its perhaps unconscious debt to The Jazz Singer suggests that the 1927 film had definitively established the rules by which such a story should be told, even one alleged to be true. Although there is no Kol Nidre at the conclusion of the film, The Benny Goodman Story also follows The Jazz Singer in forging a rapprochement between Jewish culture and the mainstreams of American culture. The word "Jew" is never uttered in the film, though the accents of Benny's parents provide one of several obvious references to the family's Jewishness. At another point, Mrs. Goodman has a brief moment of hesitancy about Benny's courtship of the upper-class, gentile Alice, in which she tells the younger woman, "You don't mix caviar and bagels." Generally, the film displaces anxieties about social class and ethnicity into a conflict over musical tastes—a conflict that is of course much more easily resolved both here and in the many Jazz Singer narratives in which music is the preferred path to assimilation. Since Alice prefers classical music to jazz, her admiration for Benny grows substantially when she discovers that he is capable of what the film identifies as an expert reading of Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.
But there are a number of subtle signs that Benny has also retained his
Jewish heritage in his "hot music." At several transitional moments in The Benny Goodman Story , Benny plays a melancholy tune alone at night on the rooftop of his building. Anyone with a passing knowledge of Goodman's music would be able recognize the tune as "Goodbye," a song written in fact by Gordon Jenkins that became the closing theme for the Goodman band. When played solo by Goodman (who dubbed in all clarinet solos for Steve Allen), the minor melody of the song also bears the signifiers of Jewish folk music. Even more strikingly, the final Carnegie Hall concert features a performance of "And the Angels Sing" with the famous trumpet solo by Ziggy Elman that quotes from the Jewish klezmer tune, "Der Shtiler Bulgar," part of an earlier version of the song entitled "Frahlich in Swing" (Sapoznik, 1987). With the echt WASP Martha Tilton taking the vocal chorus on "And the Angels Sing," Jewish is married to American even if klezmer does not quite accomplish the mixture of the sacred and the profane that ends The Jazz Singer .
A case can be made that remakes of The Jazz Singer can involve non-Jewish groups so long as they are sufficiently marginal. With slight semantic changes, St. Louis Blues (1958) and La Bamba (1987) address many of the same questions as the original 1927 film. In the former, Nat King Cole plays W. C. Handy, the African American man who was the first great popularizer of the blues. Handy's father is a minister who strongly disapproves of secular music and insists that his son pursue a respectable career as a school teacher. Although the hero's mother is dead, he is frequently indulged by his Aunt Hagar (Pearl Bailey). Like all the mothers in the Jazz Singer texts, surrogate mother Aunt Hagar inevitably sides with the boy in his oedipal struggles with father.
In St. Louis Blues , the young W. C. Handy is fascinated by the work songs he hears from black laborers and begins writing songs that show the influence of these songs: even when the protagonist is black, American cinema is able to find an otherness in black music. Handy is soon playing and singing his songs in a cabaret whose featured performer is the sensually purring Eartha Kitt. Her otherness from Handy's strict Christian background puts her in much the same relationship to the hero as Mary Dale bears to Jack Robin. Kitt is certainly more outside the protagonist's tribe than was Peggy Lee in the 1952 Jazz Singer . In the final moments of St. Louis Blues , Handy appears in a tuxedo—in some sense, a cultural disguise—and sings the title tune before a symphony orchestra while his father stands backstage, accepting at last his son's vocation. Although the film's religious crisis is displaced into issues of social class and the sacralization of the concert hall, the ending resembles that of other Jazz Singer remakes in its suggestion that the son can be true to his artistic convictions and to the demands of his father.
In La Bamba , Ricardo Valenzuela (Lou Diamond Phillips) grows up playing rock and roll in Southern California in the 1950s, and his highly sup-
portive mother takes an active role in his career. Although the boy's father is dead, the protagonist has a relationship with an older brother that adumbrates the conflict between father and son found in earlier Jazz Singer films: in fact, the film creates additional oedipal tension by indicating that Ricardo feels affection and later sympathy for the woman who is married to his brother, a former convict given to violent outbursts. Before he crosses over to success under the name Ritchie Valens, the Mexican American hero has already established a relationship with Donna, a blonde girl whose father strongly disapproves of the young man's ethnic and lower-class origins. Significantly, Ritchie has grown up in America listening to rock, specifically to black artists such as Little Richard, and never learned to speak Spanish. When his older brother takes him on a trip to Tijuana he hears a norteña band playing the old folk tune "La Bamba." The trip was arranged by the brother to take Ritchie to a brothel for his first sexual experience, part of the brother's attempts to acquaint Ritchie with the cultural heritage that Ritchie regards ambivalently (like the jazz singer's bar mitzvah?). In the film's multicultural solution, Valens sings the Spanish words to "La Bamba" while transforming the song with a rock beat and stage mannerisms borrowed from black rhythm-and-blues performers. As an assimilated Hispano-American, Valens draws his sexual power from blacks and his ethnic legitimacy from the Mexican band that he first heard in a bordello. The film ends when Ritchie dies in a plane crash at the height of his popularity, still adored by his mother and his blonde girlfriend and recently reconciled with his brother. Like the various jazz singers before him, Ritchie has successfully negotiated his ethnic and oedipal crises before the end of his short life.
By adding the "Mammy" finale to the originally scripted ending for The Jazz Singer , Warner Brothers helped cement a tradition that we now call the classical Hollywood cinema. Hoberman (1991a, 65) quotes one reviewer who attributed the revised ending to the persona of Jolson: "No audience would really expect to see Al Jolson give up show business—even in a film." A more general explanation of the change has been offered by Carringer (1979): "The story is transformed from a fable of adjustment (how the new generation finds its place in a cultural tradition) to a more characteristically American fable of success—open revolt against tradition, westward movement, the expenditure of energy, triumph, and the replacement of the values of the old by the values of the new." (27) I would qualify this characterization by adding that the resolution of oedipal tension must accompany the revolt against tradition if the fable is to be sufficiently appealing. Furthermore, the hero's appropriation of black American music may also be an essential part of the original Jazz Singer 's lasting influence: as Rogin (1992) has argued, Jack Robin does not sing the jazz of "The New Negro" and urban sophistication: instead he sings of a nostalgic return to
the mythological plantation with its infantilized black slaves. Jack Robin puts on a mournful demeanor with the burnt cork that is highly inconsistent with the cheerful opportunist we first meet at Coffee Dan's, where Jack practically dances as he eats his breakfast. Along with everything else it offers, blackface gives Jack a dimension of solemnity and filial piety that are otherwise absent in his single-minded pursuit of assimilation. The hero's return to the stage at the end is substantially less abrupt because of Jack's impersonation of a mournful and loyal momma's boy: the crime of Oedipus becomes less abhorrent. And by simultaneously hiding his Jewishness and putting on the satyr's mask, Jack can move closer to his gentile love object. If the upbeat finale of The Jazz Singer is crucial to the film's syntax, so is the borrowing of emotional and sexual capital from African Americans. This exchange of sexuality is especially significant in a culture that stereotypes blacks as hypersexual at the same time that it characterizes Jewish men as undersexed.
In this sense, the 1952 and 1980 remakes are not as close to the original as are The Benny Goodman Story and, to a large extent, St. Louis Blues . In the W. C. Handy film, the hero's final success resolves the oedipal crisis with his father; although Benny Goodman's father is absent at the end, the culture of the father is never abandoned as the son moves into gentile society. The regular proximity of Goodman to black musicians like Wilson and Hampton allows him to make this move without losing his soul, just as in St. Louis Blues , the devotion of W. C. Handy to the folk art of "simple" African American working men preserves his authenticity even as he stands in his tuxedo before a symphony orchestra. And as in The Jazz Singer , black vernacular music provides both protagonists with an acceptable context for their sexualization. By contrast, Danny Thomas and Neil Diamond have only the most tenuous connection to black culture both inside and outside their respective narratives. (Both Steve Allen and Nat Cole had substantial ties to jazz artists.) It has not been my intention in this essay to valorize films that exploit the "surplus symbolic value of blacks" (Rogin, 1992, 417) or for that matter the surplus symbolic value of gentile women. I am interested rather in how a seemingly unique film like the 1927 Jazz Singer can become a paradigm for American success stories, regardless of what they are called.
I thank Lewis Porter, Christine Holmlund, Ilsa Bick, Scott Bukatman, Robert Eberwein, and Louise O. Vasvari for their many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.
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———. "What Novels Can Do That Films Can't (and Vice Versa)." In Mitchell, 117–36.
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———. "The Show Biz Messiah." In Vulgar Modernism: Writing on Movies and Other Media , 64–68. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.
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Raiders of the Lost Text:
Remaking as Contested Homage in Always
Harvey R. Greenberg, M.D.
You cannot speak "on" such a text, you can only speak "in" it, in its fashion, enter into a desperate plagiarism.
Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of The Text
In poker, when cards are poorly shuffled and redealt the result is often a "ghost hand." If the last hand was good, its ghost is likely to be a poor, watered-down thing better left unplayed. In their long Hollywood history, most remakes of earlier films have been ghost hands, shallow attempts to trade on an original's smash success by using new stars, new technology, sometimes a new setting—but the remake is rarely as profitable as the first movie and artistically is best left unmade.
By no means is remaking necessarily dictated by pursuit of gain alone. The new version may be sincerely or ironically intended as homage or satire; it may be intended to open up psychological-political possibilities latent in the original movie that its makers were unaware of, or that could not be pursued because of censorship (e.g., Blake Edwards's Victor, Victoria —a remake of a now forgotten German film of the thirties with a much more suppressed homoerotic subtext).
Steven Spielberg's purposes in rehashing the World War II chestnut A Guy Named Joe (1943) into Always (1990) would appear to be located well beyond the profit principle. That war has been the director's preferred locale in many of his pictures: 1941 (1979), two of the Indiana Jones cycle (Raiders of the Lost Ark  and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade ), and the underrated Empire of the Sun (1987).
Spielberg's father served as a radio operator with a B-25 bomber squadron in Burma as a young man (Tallmer, 1). Spielberg is proud of his parent's military career but has not spoken about any impact it might have had upon specific filmmaking choices. He clearly admires the hometown and frontline virtues commended by the media of the time—all that boyish spunk and good-humored doing without. He's been particularly enchanted by A Guy Named Joe since adolescence, has seen the film numerous times,
and greatly admires its director, Victor Fleming. He says he's always wanted to make an old-fashioned love story like the one in Joe , instead of the action spectaculars that have been his hallmark (Steranho, 46).
A Guy Named Joe was actually a slight piece of business scripted rather lumpishly by Dalton Trumbo and redeemed by Victor Fleming's crisp direction. Daredevil pilot Spencer Tracy, madly in love with free-spirited air-person Irene Dunne, loses his life diving on a Nazi ship, then joins a spectral squadron of dead heroes with a mission to instruct a new generation of live ones. Tracy's prize student, Van Johnson, falls for Dunne. By the conclusion, Tracy has renounced his jealousy, recapitulating the renunciation theme privileged in Casablanca and other World War II movies. He proudly lets Dunne go "out of my heart" into a star-spangled future with Johnson.
Tracy's sidekick in A Guy Named Joe is the sturdy Ward Bond. (See figure 15.) John Goodman, as an oafish replicant of the sidekick character, Al Yackey, that Bond played, asserts at the beginning of Always that there's no good war to be found in contemporary America:
AL: What this place reminds me of is the war in Europe . . . which I personally was never at, but think about it. . . . [T]he beer is warm, the dance hall's a quonset, there's B26's outside, hotshot pilots inside, an airstrip in the woods. . . . It's England , man, everything but Glenn Miller! Except you go to burning places and bomb 'em until they stop burning. You see, Pete, there is no war here. This is why they don't make movies called Night Raid in Boise, Idaho , or Firemen Strike at Dawn . And this is why you're not exactly a hero for taking the chances you take. You're more of what I would call—a dickhead.
As implied in Al's speech, Spielberg's enterprise is to have the war refought, but by brave pilots who put out raging forest fires with chemicals dropped from ancient planes, like the ones his father flew. There are such outfits, and they do run enormous risks. But the director reduces his relocated narrative to negligible sound and fury—roaring piffle unable to carry the weight of the original's perilous combat context.
As leads, Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter own all the sexual spark of Peanuts kids. (See figure 16.) They bed tastefully, without a jot of sensuality. Both are literally dwarfed by their earlier counterparts. Spielberg nods to feminism by using Hunter in a role that clearly means to reprise her feisty producer in Broadcast News (1987), much as he used Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark as a tough-minded foil for Harrison Ford. By the end
of Raiders , Allen had been reduced to an impotent screaming meemie. In Always , whether due to direction or scripting, Hunter's Dorinda has become a querulous tomboy. Dunne's read of the character is vastly more adult, competent, and sensuous on or off the ground. Intriguingly, her (and Tracy's) eroticism gains a keener edge from the implicit lack of consummation to their passion.
In Always , the couple's dialogue aims for the lucid sassiness of thirties and forties movies that conspicuously foregrounded equal footing between the sexes. But all too often lines reprise The Goonies (1985) rather than Adam's Rib (1949). Lacking the poignant edge of universal wartime insecurity, Dreyfuss and Hunter indulge inane New Age chatter about commitment, your thing, my thing, and so forth. The oddly juvenile—and asexual—quality of their relationship infects Spielberg's work more definitively than ever, thoroughly subverting the unabashed romanticism of his project away from the bedroom as well.
In A Guy Named Joe , Tracy slow dances with Dunne at the officers' club, while a single flyer eyes her speculatively. In Always , at a dance in the fire-fighters' canteen, Hunter is besieged by a horde of grimy smoke jumpers who ogle and paw at her like moonstruck Boy Scouts. The sequence could have been filmed at sleep-away camp.
In the main, Always rates as an unfortunate ghost hand (about ghosts). The screenplay unwittingly telegraphs its own obituary via Yackey's admonition to Pete. Always is instructive about Spielberg's increasing blind spots: his childlike predilection for wretched excess, visually and aurally; his simple-minded admiration for male-bonded professionalism celebrated in the movies of Howard Hawks and John Ford; and, above all, his unreflective hankering—similar to Pete's—after what he evidently valorizes as an ideologically simpler era he never lived through (Spielberg was born in 1947) but chiefly experienced via its pop culture artifacts.
Essentially, Always interprets as a postmodern fantasy based on an agitprop version of the war—one cracked mirror held up to another, Baudrillardian simulacra both. Whatever its shortcomings, A Guy Named Joe did possess a substantive ideological agenda. The film sought to console audiences that their loved ones weren't really dead—merely translated to a newer realm of struggle (Kael, 92–93). It aimed at alleviating the guilt of women who found new men after their husbands or boyfriends had been killed. It virtually elided any notion of fear or panic in combat, purveying the message that no matter how rough the fighting got, an American soldier would still acquit himself with grace and good humor even as he died. Finally, A Guy Named Joe strongly promoted the value of teamwork over rugged individualism. In a sense, Pete had to die to learn from his ghostly new compatriots that the war could not be won by a seat-of-the-pants soloist.
Compared to its source, Always is radically drained of ideological freight.
Yackey's "dickhead" speech reads as a Barthesian "inoculation" against the recognition that practically nothing except tepid romance is at stake in this juvenile text with its infantilized characters. Spielberg centrally privileges nostalgia and pastiche, that mimesis of dead styles from the "imaginary museum" addressed by Jameson and other cultural critics.
The film is resolutely ignorant of or uncaring about actual history; for all its feminist pretensions, its sexual politics are deeply, if unpolemically, conservative. It is profoundly informed by the "aesthetic frisson in emptiness" so often encountered in recent remakes and sequels. I have elsewhere addressed the articulating psychosocial factors and film industry practices implicated in this monumental vacuity, which emerged during Hollywood's virulent pursuit of blockbuster profits in the late seventies and eighties (Greenberg, 1993).
My specific psychoanalytic interest in Always is the intensely rivalrous spirit inhabiting Spielberg's "homage." Harold Bloom (1973) has theorized that many of the strongest poets were compelled by their anxiety about a predecessor's power to deviate sharply from his praxis. Instead of employing Bloom's "swerve," Spielberg plunges unabashedly into A Guy Named Joe . The metaphor is literally fleshed out in the establishing sequence of Always, a peaceful scene of two men fishing on a lake. Behind them, a hug PBX seaplane descends. Its foreshortened image slowly fills the screen, wavering ominously in the lambent air, until the anglers, alerted by the sudden, terrifying roar of its engines, dive out of their canoe, barely escaping destruction as the plane swoops down upon them.
This arresting sequence is extremely difficult to place within the film's narrative schema. It can only be linked diegetically with an anecdote Dorinda-Hunter relates to her new lover more than halfway through the film, about a flying vacation she took with Pete-Dreyfuss in a PBX seaplane rigged as a "scoop" craft. From the air, Pete saw a fire in a small town court-house. He scooped up water from a nearby lake, dove upon the conflagration, completely missed the courthouse and disastrously flooded the town. Dorinda bubbles with laughter as she relates the episode. Her humor rings curiously callous for a character presented as so empathic, especially when one considers the misery that must have resulted from Pete's blunder.
The introduction may have been intended as a "raid" on audience sensibility reminiscent of the thunderclap establishing sequence of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); perhaps the opening was also meant to anticipate Dorinda's tale about Pete's scooping water from the town lake. The connection in the conscious narrative between the two cinematic events is at best obscure. I suggest that this very tenuousness, along with Dorinda's unsympathetic humor, may be understood analytically as symptoms of an intriguing textual uneasiness, that it exemplifies strategies of isolation and crude denial, defenses against the occulted awareness within
the film's text of its own bristling competitiveness with the original narrative. Under this rubric, the men in the boat, the town, and its people can be taken as one entire symbol of the source film, which Spielberg has raided and swamped in transgressive adulation.
Throughout Always, Spielberg and his writers tamper egregiously with scenes from A Guy Named Joe that worked adequately, adding a punched-up sound track and overwrought visuals. To cite but one example: in the original film's climax, Dunne steals the plane Van Johnson was supposed to pilot in a solo suicide mission, and bombs a Japanese ammunition dump, aided by the ghostly Tracy. The special effects in the sequence are modestly spectacular, thoroughly in style for a war film of the time. As Dunne returns to home base, Tracy speaks eloquently of the wonderful life waiting for her. She lands, and Tracy bids her good-bye.
Spielberg has Hunter steal the plane to extinguish a blaze that has trapped a platoon of smoke jumpers in a hard-to-reach mountain site. The pyrotechnics and acoustics of Hunter's overflight rival Luke Skywalker's run at the Deathstar. Afterward, Dreyfuss gives the Tracy farewell speech, virtually unchanged. The plane then stalls, crashes into the water and sinks like a stone. Hunter, in extremis and goggle-eyed, momentarily sees Dreyfuss. He pulls her to the surface, a few feet from the runway where her new lover is waiting. She walks toward him, Dreyfuss bids her good-bye, end of story.
Spielberg obviously must have believed these hyperbolic, clumsy changes (of which making Dreyfuss visible is the most risible, the latent rendered absurdly blatant) were artistically justifiable, satisfying elaborations. But inflicting them upon the yeoman work of the original appears as questionable as the enterprise of the Yiddish theater entrepreneur who earlier in the century advertised his company's production of Hamlet as a "shoyshpil fun Vilyam Shekspir—farendert un farbesert "—drama by Shakespeare, changed and improved. One cannot know if the impresario was only repeating a hoary theatrical precedent: convincing himself he was after all only doing for Shakespeare what he believed Shakespeare had accomplished for Hollingshead.
The central issue for the purposes of this discussion is not the merits of Always relative to A Guy Named Joe; rather, it is the extraordinary merit the latter has "always" held for Steven Spielberg, along with the attendant possibility that an unconscious, oedipally driven competitiveness comprises the dark side of Spielberg's intense admiration for the original and its director. Some evidence can be adduced on this score from several anecdotes in Spielberg's biography.
The senior Spielberg has a background in electrical engineering, and he helped design early computer technology. He comes across as a pragmatic, hard-driving individual intensely passionate about scientific prog-
ress, equally passionate about conveying the wonders of the universe to an impressionable and admiring youngster: "With Dad everything was precision, accuracy. . . . He had the fastest slide rule in Arizona and spoke two languages: English and Computer. When I was a five-year-old kid in New Jersey . . . my dad woke me up in the middle of the night and rushed me into our car in my night clothes. . . . He had a thermos of coffee and had brought blankets, and we drove for about half an hour. We finally pulled over to the side of the road, and there were a couple hundred people, lying on their backs in the middle of the night, looking up at the sky. My dad found a place, spread the blanket out, and we both lay down. . . . He pointed to the sky, and there was a magnificent meteor shower . . ." (Margolis and Modderno, 102). This potent memory would later form the organizing stimulus for Close Encounters of the Third Kind .
Spielberg's first filmmaking experience involved emulation of, and competition with, his father: "A long, long time ago, I became interested in movie-making simply because my father had an eight-millimeter movie camera, which he used to log the family history. I would sit and watch the home movies and criticize the shaky camera movements and bad exposures until my father finally got fed up and told me to take over. I became the family photographer and logged all our trips" (Margolis and Modderno, 142, 144).
It would not be untoward to suggest that Spielberg's father thus inadvertently launched his son's career. Another episode speaks more pointedly to youthful rivalrous feelings. When Spielberg was eleven, his father came home and gathered the family in the kitchen: "He held up a tiny little transistor he had brought home and said: 'This is the future.' I took the transistor from his hand. . . . And I swallowed it. Dad laughed, then he didn't laugh; it got very tense. It was like the confrontation scene between Raymond Massey and James Dean in East of Eden . One of those moments when two worlds from diametrically opposite positions in the universe collide. It was as if I was saying, 'That's your future, but it doesn't have to be mine'" (Spielberg 62).
Spielberg's quotation from East of Eden is illuminating. In the movie, James Dean gives a classic performance as Cal Trask, a rebellious late adolescent desperately struggling to overcome his father's perennial displeasure, while wrestling with his own formidable ambivalence. The father is a stern, religious farmer who, like Spielberg's parent, worships scientific progress. He sustains massive losses in an ill-advised effort to send iced-down vegetables cross-country by rail. The scene Spielberg alludes to occurs after the father refuses to accept the gift of "dirty" money Cal made in crop-futures speculation during World War I. One notes that Cal's "tainted" agricultural enterprise was a spectacular success, whereas the father's failed abysmally, albeit "honorably," from the latter's censorious viewpoint.
Steinbeck's novel and the film derived from it are elsewhere singularly rich in oedipal resonances. Cal competes keenly with his brother Aaron for the father's love, as well as for Adam's fiancée. He seeks out his mother, a promiscuous hellion disowned by the father, now turned brothel owner, borrows money for his agricultural ventures from her, and later exposes her to Aaron after his father's rejection. Aaron's "good" persona obviously prefigures the preternaturally upright, idolized envied/resented paternal imago for Cal.
One may wonder if Spielberg discovered an analogous idealized father-rival in Victor Fleming. The leitmotif of A Guy Named Joe is the struggle in its hero's heart with another aviator over the same love object. Did a similar competition exist in Spielberg's psyche with Fleming, "possession" of the original film its aim, anxiety upon the prospect of fulfilling that aim inevitable?
From this perspective, Pete's "accidental" flooding of the town in Dorinda's tale takes on the ambiguous valence of a Freudian slip, where conflicted motive lies concealed beneath a gratuitous facade. Pete's surprising incompetence may be construed as a mask for Spielberg's ambivalent designs on A Guy Named Joe and its creator. It may be speculated that the director aimed consciously to "hit the target," that is, exhibit appropriate obeisance toward Fleming and his work, but could not resist indulging in a species of cinematic overkill and went considerably wide of the mark.
No proof should be drawn from the above that Spielberg is particularly "neurotic." One speaks here only to the presence—and possible influence—of unconscious conflictual residues in the director's films. On the evidence of biographical material as well as his own brief autobiography, he seems an engaging, assertive individual, who has labored exceptionally well under the stresses of his idiosyncratic craft, devoted to family and friends off the job.
Setting aside the incidents previously described, there seems to have been little overt serious conflict between Spielberg and his father. He speaks of him consistently with affection and evidently remained close to him following his parents' divorce in his mid-teens. Spielberg has spoken of his mother with equal approval and not a little awe: "She had more energy than a hundred mothers her age. The image I have of her is of this tiny woman climbing to the top of a mountain, standing there with her arms out and spinning around. My mom was always like a little girl, who never grew out of her pinafore. . . . [S]he left a large wake" (Spielberg, 62).
While somewhat estranged from peers during late childhood and adolescence—accounts of the nature, degree, and hurtfulness of his alienation vary considerably from one report to the next—Spielberg indicates that life at home was generally happy. The temperamental differences between his parents did cause him distress, related by the director with characteristic
boyish diffidence: "My mom and dad were so different. That's probably why they were attracted to each other. They both love classical music . . . [but] aside from that, they had nothing in common. . . . My mother was a classical pianist. She would have chamber concerts with her musician friends, in the living room, while in another room my father would be conferring with nine or ten other men in the business about how to build a computerized mousetrap. These opposite lifestyles would give me circuit overload. My tweeters would burn out and my only insulation would be my bedroom door[,] which remained closed for most of my life. I had to put towels under the jamb so I couldn't hear the classical music and the computer logic. . . ." (Spielberg, 62).
Spielberg's account could have been drawn from the pages of a Thomas Mann novel. He depicts himself as a suburban Tonio Kroger, his identifications riven between an artistically inclined, emotive mother and a burgher-like father firmly anchored in scientific and business reality.
It can be reasonably argued on the basis of available sources that the director emerged from the oedipal vicissitudes of early childhood with balanced, loving perceptions of his father—indeed of both parents. Against this favorable background, with further unstinting parental affection he was able to weather the internal turmoil and external stresses of his adolescence. Drawing upon his native creative endowment, he eventually forged a primary identification with his mother's artistic inclinations, but also internalized his father's scientific interests and business acumen. The result is the adult of today: an auteur-producer-entrepreneur extraordinaire, exceptionally skillful at Hollywood's intricate business and passionate in advancing the technical parameters of filmmaking, whose eyes are fixed literally and figuratively upon the stars.
However even an immensely successful, stable son who enjoys a harmonious relationship with his parents may still harbor considerable unconscious fantasy referable to childhood traumata, including the oedipal struggle. When that son is an artist, such fantasies may fuel his art, successfully or quite otherwise. For instance, Spielberg has little to say about the impact of his parents' separation, but its signature is written poignantly across the characters of Elliot in E.T. and Carry Guffey's wonderful toddler in Close Encounters .
Both are children of divorce, each the apple of his mother's eye (like Spielberg), uncontested victor on the oedipal field—a contest no little boy really wants to win. Each bears the stigmata of paternal loss—loneliness and longing openly articulated by Elliot and wordlessly by the younger child in his delighted tropism toward the blinding presence on the other side of the door. Recuperation of the father's absence is accomplished for both in a relationship with alien voyagers, themselves condensations of omnipotent father and achingly vulnerable child.
Human paternal surrogates in these and other Spielberg films are frequently portrayed as impersonal authoritarian oppressors or benevolent facilitators. Alternately, positive and negative paternal images are condensed in a single character. In Close Encounters, the polarization is manifested on the one hand by the officers who attempt to thwart Roy Neary and his fellow visionaries from realizing their quest, and on the other by Lacombe, the luminously intelligent director of the secret mountain project whose intervention sends Neary across the galaxy.
In E.T., Keys, the leader of the team dispatched by the government to apprehend Elliot's "visitor," initially is presented as a cold, impersonal bureaucrat (Spielberg deliberately keeps him and his minions faceless in their early appearances). As the tale unfolds, Keys evolves into an increasingly sympathetic character. He can empathize with Elliot's neediness because of his own childhood yearning for an "E.T."
These divided representatives may be taken as embodiments of the child Spielberg's ambivalent perceptions of paternity—oedipally shaded, as-yet-unintegrated imagos of the powerful, beloved father who unveils the heavens to his adoring son, or the no less powerful, harsh authority figure who seeks to impose his iron will upon his resentful offspring. The negative side of the equation is further darkened by the specter of paternal abandonment, which appears to persistently haunt the director's imagination: abandonment through divorce in E.T. and Close Encounters (Spielberg's adolescent experience, projected backward upon those films' youngsters?), or through rank indifference in the case of Indiana Jones's work-obsessed father and of the neglectful, fast-lane yuppie lawyer that a middle-aged Peter Pan has become in Hook (1992).
I have noted in an earlier essay on Fellini that "the connection between the artist's triumphs or disasters in his creative life or his mundane affairs is incompletely understood at this stage of psychoanalytic theory" (Greenberg, 1975, 67). Pathobiography is an especially risky venture, often vitiated by dubious reportage, bias (including the myths artists spin around themselves), and scant clinical information. Freud himself acknowledged the limitations of interrogating Leonardo's oeuvre on the basis of a few historical details and a single, if trenchant, dream.
Acknowledging the fragmentary and inferential nature of supporting evidence, I submit that an oedipal gloss does offer modestly plausible grounds (internally plausible, that is, in terms of depth psychology) upon which to explicate the overreaching and excessive contrivance of Always . The only Spielberg film to treat heterosexual romance at length imbricates sexuality in a triangulation between two heroes and the woman they both love. The theme is common and ancient—and one that would seem to have proven particularly thorny for the director.
Other causes within and external to Spielberg's psyche life that may have
contributed to the film's aesthetic deficiencies must also be properly recognized: these include other directorial psychodynamics and the dynamics of collaborators; financial and other "realistic" exigencies; and the creative limitations of other major or minor players in the production.
Setting aside Spielberg's specific difficulties in remaking A Guy Named Joe, it does not seem untoward to suggest that an intrinsic oedipal configuration lies deeply embedded in the remaking process, waiting to be evoked in the triangle between remaker, maker, and the original movie—the more troublesome to the degree that the source is perceived by its remaker as a mysterious, ultimately unavailable plenitude. Barthes's remarks on the text as maternal object, and the oedipal thrust of narrativity seem apposite here:
The writer is someone who plays with his mother's body . . . in order to glorify [and] embellish it. (Barthes, 37)
Doesn't every narrative lead back to Oedipus? Isn't storytelling always a way of searching for one's original, speaking one's conflict with the Law, entering into the dialectic of tenderness and hatred? (Barthes, 47)
Pace other contributing factors, one speculates on the extent to which the shape (perhaps the quality as well) of remaking depends upon the project's oedipal significance for the remaker—notably, on how competitive strivings evoked by the maker and source are processed intrapsychically and artistically. (An oedipal dynamic would clearly have greatest impact when a director or another personality under its sway exerts central influence over the remaking project.)
Depth exploration of this issue lies beyond the scope of this inquiry, but several possible outcomes can be tentatively advanced for those cinematic "cases" where the original may have a significant oedipal meaning for the remaker:
1. The text exists under the sign of unwavering idealization; the remaker forswears competitive designs and remains unreflectively, even stultifyingly "faithful," to it.
2. The remaker, analogous to a creative resolution of childhood and adolescent oedipal conflict, eschews destructive competition with the maker, taking the original as a point of useful, relatively unconflicted departure.
3. The original, as signet of paternal potency and maternal unavailability-refusal, incites the remaker's unalloyed negativity. This precipitates a savage, contemptuous attack upon the original, in which its significant elements are erased, disfigured, and/or parodied.
4. The remaker, simultaneously worshipful and envious of the maker, enters into an ambiguous, anxiety-ridden struggle with a film he
both wishes to honor and eclipse. Caught up in contested homage, he eclipses his own native gifts—one ventures that this was the case with Spielberg in Always —dwindling to a hopelessly compromised raider of the lost text.
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.
Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.
Carroll, Noël. "The Future of Allusion: Hollywood in the Seventies (and Beyond)." October 20 (spring 1982).
Dorfman, Ariel. "The Infantilizing of Culture." In American Media and Mass Culture: Left Perspectives, edited by Donald Lazere. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.
Druxman, Michael B. Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1975.
Greenberg, Harvey R. "8 1/2: The Declensions of Silence." In The Movies on Your Mind: Film Classics on the Couch from to Frankenstein. New York: Saturday Review Press/E. P. Dutton, 1975.
———. "On the McMovie: Less Is Less at the Simplex." In Screen Memories: Hollywood Cinema on the Psychoanalytic Couch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
———. "Spielberg on the Couch." Movieline, December 1992.
Holland, Norman N. "The 'Willing Suspension of Disbelief.'" In The Dynamics of Literary Response. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Jameson, Frederic. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." In Postmodernism and its Discontents: Theories, Practices, edited by E. Ann Kaplan. New York: Verso, 1988.
Kael, Pauline. "Review of Always. " The New Yorker, 8 January 1990.
Luhr, William, and Peter Lehman. Returning to the Scene: Blake Edwards, Vol. 2. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1989.
Margolis, Herbert, and Craig Modderno. "Interview with Steven Spielberg." Penthouse, February 1978.
Menand, Louis. "Don't Think Twice: Why We Won't Miss the 1980s." The New Republic, 9 October 1989.
Mott, Donald R., and Cheryl McAllister Saunders. Steven Spielberg. Boston: Twayne, 1986.
Ray, Robert B. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema, 1930–1980. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985.
Smith, Dian G. "Steven Spielberg." In American Film Makers Today. Dorest, Mass.: Blandford Press, 1983.
Spielberg, Steven. "The Autobiography of Peter Pan." Time, 15 July 1985.
Steranho, Jim. "Behind the Camera: A Candid Conversation about the Past and Future Films of Steven Spielberg," Prevue (November 1981): 46.
Tallmer, Jerry. "Jawing with Steven Spielberg." The New York Post, Entertainment Section, 28 June, 1975.
The Role of Allusion in Cinema
When, with the corpse of Agamemnon sprawled at her feet, the vengeful Clytemnestra confesses his murder, the unrepentant queen compares to morning dew the blood that spattered her as she struck the mortal blows against her husband: "I exulted as the sown cornfield exults / Drenched with the dew of heaven when buds burst forth in Spring" (1391–92). The bitter irony of the image would have echoed for Aeschylus's fellow Athenians far more innocent lines in the Iliad (Garner, 180): "And Menelaos was refreshed at heart / as growing grain is, when ears shine with dew, / and the fields ripple" (23.597–99).
For well over twenty-five hundred years, Western writers have invoked the authority of earlier works through the trope of allusion. Though the etymology of allude (deriving, of course, from the Latin ludere ) may suggest a certain playfulness in the exercise of this device, the function of allusion has most often served the essential task of investing a work of literature with a lineage, a tradition, quite literally a context, within which an interpretation may be grounded. Thus provided, the reader will discover in the transposition of the old, known text onto the new, unknown text a dialectic of correspondences that will illuminate both works, demonstrating the relevance of the old and confirming the authority of the new. Allusion is, therefore, one of the primary mechanisms by which authors themselves establish and maintain the canon.
However, the richness of the Western tradition poses its own problem. Working in genres that have existed for millennia, the contemporary author faces a dilemma similar to that of which Italian poets complain—everything rhymes. It is virtually impossible today to pluck a note on the poet's lyre that will not reverberate all along our three-or four-thousand-year-old tradition.
The filmmaker, however, working in a medium barely a century old, does not dance among so many graves. Though we speak of "classic" films, the adjective has far less resonance than in older art forms; cinema, after all, is in its infancy. So it is especially surprising to discover how common are allusions in films and how diverse is the taxonomy of cinematic strategies of alluding.
Though one might expect the construction of visual images to serve as the fundamental mechanism of alluding in films, the various forms of literary allusion are frequently employed. In fact, direct references to classic literary works, such as the Bible, are common. But gaining in frequency with the growth of mass media are allusions to popular culture. Music, both classical and popular, serves as another means of buttressing a film with an earlier work of art. But, far and away, cinematic allusions most frequently point to other films. Whether it be a direct reference by title or the inclusion of an actual clip from another film, a similarity to a famous character or a repetition of a classic shot, an imitation of a well-known scene or an allusion to an entire film genre, filmmakers demand of their audiences a knowledge of the history of cinema. These subtle strategies of creating a subtext in a film through allusion constitute, in a very literal sense, the briefest form of "remaking."
As just noted, the filmmaker has the opportunity to use allusions of both literary and visual varieties. The visual arts have an ancient tradition of their own in the use of allusions. In the twentieth century, a tradition of "appropriations" has been established, running back at least to Marcel Duchamp's 1919 L.H.O.O.Q., his famous altering of the Mona Lisa with a goatee and mustache. Is it mere vandalism or is it allusion writ large? Eschewing Duchamp's impudent wit, Francis Bacon demonstrated in his 1953 Study after Velazquez' Portrait of Pope Innocent X just how serious a work of art appropriation could engender. In fact, in the entire series of paintings Bacon completed based on the Velazquez portrait, we discover something of the same relationship of the contemporary to the classic as we do in film remakes.
However, the visual allusion often results in the creation of an icon, which, as Peter Wollen explains in paraphrasing Charles Sanders Peirce, "is a sign which represents its object mainly by its similarity to it; the relationship between signifier and signified is not arbitrary but is one of resemblance or likeness" (122).
From André Bazin to Christian Metz to Erwin Panofsky, the defense of realism as the vocation of cinema has been waged at the expense of the significance of iconography in cinema. Along with Roland Barthes, they castigate any attempt to employ imagery as a rhetorical strategy (Wollen, 147). Essentially, the visual is impugned as primitive. As Wollen notes, "[F]rom
the early days of the film there has been a persistent, though understandable, tendency to exaggerate the importance of analogies with verbal language. The main reason for this, there seems little doubt, has been the desire to validate cinema as an art" (140). This argument finds its origins in the criticism of Baudelaire, who condemns photography to serve as the mere "handmaid of the arts" (297). But it is obviously self-delusion to minimize the visual in hopes of equating film with literature by asserting that it is fundamentally an extension of the verbal tradition. Wollen concludes his argument with an enthusiastic defense of imagery: "The film-maker is fortunate to be working in the most semiologically complex of all media, the most aesthetically rich. We can repeat today Abel Gance's words four decades ago: 'The time of the image has come'" (154).
If we are willing to join with Sergei Eisenstein and Josef von Sternberg in affirming the visual as a legitimate vocabulary and grammar in its own right, then we must not stop with verbal allusions in film but instead examine those images that convey references to other works of cinematic art.
But let us at least begin with the strictly literary allusions that are offered in films. Here, as elsewhere in a consideration of allusions, we are engaged in a meditation on the obvious. However, a patient examination of the obvious sometimes yields the unexpected.
The bitter prologue of Wolf Biermann's poem at the beginning of Lina Wertmuller's Seven Beauties (1976) is so integral to the work that it might not even be considered an allusion. However, the references in My Own Private Idaho (1991) to Shakespeare's Henry IV (as well as to Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight  seek to lift the small story of a band of male prostitutes into the company of such immortal tales of love and betrayal as Shakespeare's. Here literature is at its most useful to the filmmaker, elevating the merely sad to the tragic.
Similar in function are cinematic allusions to popular culture. In Honeymoon in Vegas (1992), Jack Singer, the mark in a gambling con, wins a pot with a full house of aces and eights, the "dead man's hand" that Wild Bill Hickok was holding when he was shot in the back; the attentive viewer will anticipate the ill fortune about to befall the young man. If one misses the allusion, which goes unremarked in the film, little is lost. But in Children of Paradise (1945), a similar reference to popular culture will soon require a footnote for its viewers. In the police inspector's questioning of Garance, there is an exchange about playing the violin like Monsieur Ingres. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres was a fine painter, but his pretensions as a violinist were the joke of nineteenth-century France. Just as Jack Benny is still remembered for his wretched fiddling, poor Ingres was still invoked in scornful reproach of dilettantes in the first half of our century. Unfortunately for Marcel Carné, he hitched his wagon to a dying horse. With each
passing year, those lines of the film become ever more obscure. Whenever an allusion on which a scene depends fades from memory, a lacuna spreads across the screen like a hole burning in a jammed frame.
Another nonvisual strategy, the self-consciously false elevation of light material through musical allusions, is the source of much parodic humor. How many times since the hero of Rocky (1976) first climbed the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has the audience of another film endured his trumpet theme? Similarly, when the Big Kahuna rides a monster wave in Back to the Beach (1987), is anyone surprised to hear the march from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)? However, though an allusion to classical music rather than to another film, the use of Beethoven's setting of Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in Die Hard (1988) when the German terrorist succeeds in opening the vault perhaps offers a bit of comic relief in the intense action adventure.
But the most obvious method of cinematic allusion is literally mentioning another film. In Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991), the company of affable ghosts who invade the flat of a former lover of one of the deceased argue about whether to watch Five Easy Pieces (1970) or Fitzcarraldo (1982) on the VCR. Here the good taste of the departed goes a long way in establishing a new and modern characterization of ghosts. In My Blue Heaven (1990), Vinnie Antonelli, resplendent in a white suit, passes in front of a movie marquee advertising White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) as he escorts an attractive district attorney and her two sons to a baseball game. Always in question in the film is Vinnie's sincerity, so when the viewer sees him hauling the proceeds from a charity drive under the marquee a few days later, with only "Black Heart" visible overhead, the likely conclusion is drawn. Of course, the happy ending of the film contradicts our expectations, which have been established in part through the allusion to the title (rather than the film itself) of the current offering at the local movie house. As is often the case, these simplest allusions are directed to some narrow aspect of the film mentioned.
Some films employ a kind of cinematic quotation by working in clips from other films, a form of alluding only slightly less obvious than actually naming the other works. In The Grey Fox (1982), Bill Miner, an outlaw fresh from a stretch in the penitentiary for the robbery of a stagecoach, is inspired to change with the times when he sees his first movie, The Great Train Robbery (1905). In Home Alone (1990), clips from Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (dubbed in French) fail to transform the hugely successful film into a Christmas movie. Though John Hughes does work in a sentimental holiday reunion of an old man and his estranged son, the film follows traditions that are very different, as I will argue below, from those in the classic holiday movies to which it alludes.
A film that uses a clip, among other strategies, in the development of a
highly allusive structure is Mario Van Peebles's New Jack City (1991). Following an opening sequence that begins with the Statue of Liberty, Van Peebles introduces a thematic motif through allusions to I Corinthians 6:9–10 (edited to exclude the "effeminate" and the "covetous" from the iniquitous whom Saint Paul condemns). The Biblical verses, painted on the side of a ghetto building shown just after the opening sequence, return midway through the film in the sermon of the preacher at a police informer's funeral and again on the lips of an avenging old man in the conclusion. While Van Peebles works hard to demonstrate the morality of his message (even prefacing the video version with a monologue about the film's good intentions), he seems much more interested in placing his work in the long tradition of American gangster films. As Gee Money, the gang leader's lieutenant, crows after his discovery of crack cocaine, "Brother, we gonna come off like the mob."
The most unmediated allusion Van Peebles employs (in which an interpolated clip of another film functions as a kind of Greek chorus counterpointing the hero's hubris) is a private exhibition of Scarface (1983) in the midst of a New Year's Eve party. As Nino Brown and his gang watch the Marielito refugee and cocaine king Tony Montana in his final shoot-out, the woman who will eventually prove the gang's undoing assures Brown that "[t]he world is yours, Nino. Only you won't be as careless as Tony Montana." As he dances with the woman, who has now begun a striptease in front of the screen, the image of the dying Montana flits across Brown's shirt as he repeats, "The world is mine."
After his drug empire begins to crumble following police infiltration, he calls his lieutenants together. In a clear homage to Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987), Van Peebles seats the gang at a large table as Brown circles with a dog chain and cane, trying to establish blame for the disaster. In a sequence similar to a scene in which Al Capone beats one of his lieutenants to death with a baseball bat in retaliation for the loss of one of his illegal operations, Brown suddenly turns on his own responsible underling. But instead of continuing the allusion to The Untouchables, Van Peebles switches to one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather (1972). Drawing a sword from the cane, he drives it through the hand of his unfortunate accountant; then, as the surprised man writhes, Brown wraps the chain around his neck and is prevented from strangling his terrified victim only by the other gang members. The attack clearly mimics the murder of the Godfather's devoted bodyguard.
Finally, in the most explicit allusion to the tradition of gangster films, Brown exults, as he frolics in a huge indoor pool, that his life has turned into "some George Raft, some James Cagney type shit." Van Peebles is obviously quite anxious to drape New Jack City in the distinguished Hollywood mantle of the immigrant-turned-gangster tradition. Thus the film closes
with a shot that flees the Manhattan skyline and leaves behind the Statue of Liberty, as if to reject the immigrant dream promised in the opening shot of the film.
In yet another motif developed through allusion, Van Peebles uses camera angles to enforce a sheer verticality in some of his shots. In the opening sequence, following a bird's-eye view of skyscrapers, the viewer witnesses Brown execute a man by having him dropped from a bridge. When Brown finally falls in the end, he is seen sprawled at the bottom of a spiraling staircase, in a shot reminiscent of Vertigo (1958). Through internal allusions to earlier shots, Van Peebles is able to suggest the rise and fall of Nino Brown.
The possible allusion to Vertigo raises the interesting question of whether certain shots become so well known that they cease to serve as allusions and become mere conventions. Hitchcock's film has little to do with New Jack City, and up to this point in his film, Van Peebles has chosen his allusions very carefully. It makes little sense to insist upon every boom shot of a spiral staircase as an allusion to Vertigo .
Many apparent allusions may, in fact, fulfill quite different functions. Dream On, a situation comedy on HBO, intercuts very brief clips from cinema and television to comment on the action or to dramatize the hero's thoughts. Serving as a kind of Greek chorus (as in New Jack City ), these clips are actually closer to the metaphoric device developed in Morgan! (1966), where encounters with humans engender images of animals in the mind of the hero (a device that harks all the way back to Eisenstein's Strike (1924)). If the reference does not invoke the subject of the work itself or at least its title, it makes little sense to describe it as an allusion. Thus, the singing kitchen boy in the vast, vertical sets of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) cannot be said to allude to a similar singing boy and high sets in the little-seen Scrooge (1935). Nor can the Paula Abdul music video Cold Hearted (1989), whose choreography echoes the dance staged in the rehearsal hall for nervous investors in All That Jazz (1979), be said to allude to that film. Although the two highly erotic dance sequences are similar in the use of scaffolding, pilot's hats, group groping, and flustered spectators, the music video is interested only in the choreography, not the subject, of the Bob Fosse film. Perhaps it is best to consider such coincidences a homage to the earlier work rather than an allusion.
A similar problem presents itself when a filmmaker alludes to his or her own work. In A Clockwork Orange (1971), Stanley Kubrick impishly includes the sound track to his own 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the rack behind Alex when the nasty teenager picks up two girls in a record store midway through the film. Though clearly meant as no more of a joke than Hitchcock's brief appearances in his own films, the sharp-eyed viewer will not find the distraction a positive contribution to the film. Less disruptively, in
A Little Romance (1979), George Roy Hill hides his young lovers, awaiting their chance to kiss at sunset beneath the Venetian Bridge of Sighs, in a movie theater playing The Sting (1973), his earlier hit. Also, the film's opening montage includes Hill's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) along with clips from films starring Humphrey Bogart, Burt Reynolds, and John Wayne. Movie allusions are so much a part of the characterization of one of the two children that the director may be forgiven for slipping in his own films. Another of such self-references appears in Cat's Eye (1985), based on a trio of Stephen King stories. When a father returns from tucking in his daughter, who is troubled by bad dreams, his wife is reading King's Pet Sematary . The humor of the inside joke leavens the horror of the tale by hinting at a kind of self-deprecating irony.
Since a sequel is, by nature, a self-referential allusion to an earlier work, it is not surprising to find numerous references to the first film included in the second. In fact, promotional materials for a sequel invariably focus on such allusions. The well-known signature line of Tobe Hooper's successful Poltergeist (1982) is the whining "They're he-ere!" Early trailers for the sequel, Poltergeist II (1986), began with the cute face of the same little girl who had been the object of the poltergeists' affections in the first film turning away from the static of a television set to inform us, "They're ba-ack!"
Steven Spielberg demonstrates a more innovative approach to allusion in his sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark . In Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), the eponymous hero is confronted by a pair of adversaries who approach him with a dazzling display of swordsmanship in assuming an en garde position. Jones, smiling, reaches for his revolver, as he had done to dispatch a similar virtuoso of the sword in the earlier film. This time, however, there is no gun: his holster is empty after he has bounced through a death-defying roller coaster ride in a coal hopper. So, with a smirk that he shares with the audience, the hero is forced to fight the two swordsmen. The pleasure of Jones's simple solution to the problem of an untutored modern man facing a master of a centuries-old martial art delighted viewers the first time but would have bored them if repeated. The second time around, the joke has to be on Jones. (It is tempting here, but mistaken, to suggest an allusion to the death by gunfire of the master swordsman in Seven Samurai . The melancholy image of the exquisite world of the samurai shattering in a burst of gunpowder is Kurosawa's nostalgic lament for a time when a master of an art could not be overcome by a ruffian with superior technology. Untroubled by melancholy, Spielberg knows it is unlikely that a Western audience, devoted as we are to such technology, will pause in our laughter over the corpse of the elegant and well-schooled swordsman of Raiders of the Lost Ark to consider what it is, precisely, that we applaud.)
Few contemporary filmmakers have so reveled in the use of cinematic
allusion as Brian De Palma. Throughout his career, he has yielded to this device over and over again, thus presenting an excellent test case to see cinematic allusion in action.
There certainly can be no doubt about De Palma's intentions in his use of a baby carriage tottering on the broad marble steps of a railway station as federal agents shoot it out with mob goons in The Untouchables . Those viewers with even the vaguest notion of film history will recognize a homage to Eisenstein's most famous montage from The Battleship Potemkin (1925). While Eisenstein uses the Odessa Steps sequence to indict the cruelty of Czarist troops against the Russian people, the allusion in The Untouchables demonstrates the bravery and compassion of the state's representatives as they defend citizens against ruthless mobsters (who, in the first scene of the film, murder a child in the bombing of a shop). In both instances, the filmmakers wish to portray the unbridled savagery of a cruel regime—whether led by Nicholas II or A1 Capone—and to imply that their own, current governments, in having opposed these earlier regimes, prove the morally superior authority. Though the villains are reversed—in one case the state and in the other the enemy of the state—the motive remains the same, and so the allusion succeeds.
However, when, in the more recent Raising Cain (1992), De Palma repeats the allusion to Eisenstein (and—ironically, one must suppose—to his own earlier use of the image in The Untouchables ), its function is far more problematic. Detached from its original context and treated more as parody than as allusion, the baby carriage ceases to resonate as an image of society in jeopardy. Instead, the director's clumsy, self-conscious handling of the carriage destroys the suspense of the film's climax. In fact, it is difficult to explain the maniac's movement of a baby carriage, not down stairs but on an elevator, as anything other than a kind of in-joke for cineastes.
In De Palma's two homages to Eisenstein, the double edge of allusions is revealed. When an appropriate reference to an existing work is knit seamlessly into the fabric of a new film, the director invokes a context that enriches the film. But when the allusion is merely a wink and a nod to knowledgeable viewers, the effect is likely to undercut the narrative line of the film through the self-consciousness of the device. At its worst, it is a condescending gesture on the part of the director to acknowledge that he or she is superior to the material being presented: it becomes a snide joke for the elite.
Eisenstein's imperiled infant finds a brother, of sorts, in another endangered child of the cinema. In this film, however, both structure and subject depend upon allusions. The enormous success of this box-office hit suggests how fundamental allusions can be in the creation of a film.
In Home Alone , writer and producer John Hughes (in collaboration with his director, Chris Columbus) tells the story of an abandoned child who is
menaced by two larcenous adults. Such a tale obviously descends from both a literary genre, the fairy tale, and a cinematic genre, the cartoon. In both traditions, the archetypal story recounts the adventures of a small and vulnerable creature who is imperiled by a large and fierce predator. To draw upon the rich psychological resonances of the fairy tale and the comic visual strategies of the cartoon, Hughes quite rightly resorts to allusion.
Kevin McCallister, the child who angrily wishes away his family and wakes to find his wish fulfilled, is typical of the young and resourceful heroes of "Hansel and Gretel" and "Jack and the Beanstalk." Facing the monstrous villainy of wicked adults, the children, separated from their parents, must save themselves by wit alone. The fate awaiting these innocents, once they are properly fattened by the warty witch or slobbering giant, is cannibalism. The profoundly dark intimations of a story in which adults feast on children need not be dredged up for examination in this discussion; it is enough to note that, as the climax of Home Alone approaches, the infuriated villain lifts the child's hand to his mouth to make good his threat to bite off the boy's fingers, one by one.
Having invoked the tradition of the fairy tale through such structural allusions, Hughes turns to the most famous endangered child of the genre, Little Red Riding Hood, to save Kevin from the devouring jaws of the wicked burglar. In both "Hansel and Gretel" and "Jack and the Beanstalk," the children effect their own escape from the clutches of their evil captors. But the moral lesson embodied in the tale of a self-sufficient child, superior to adults and fully prepared to survive without his family, might trouble parents (and they, after all, are the ones who pay for the tickets to the movies). So Hughes rather gracelessly hands over Kevin to his enemies, to sport with the boy according to their vile whims. Hung from a peg, Kevin endures a terrifying recitation of how the villains plan to punish his temerity in opposing them. But at the very moment they are about to take their revenge on the helpless child, an old neighbor, whom Kevin has earlier encouraged to reunite with his estranged son, brings his snow shovel down on the heads of the robbers. Like the woodsman who slaughters the voracious wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood," an adult bursts in at the climactic moment to save the imperiled child. Thus Kevin is restored to the bosom of his family, and (at least until the sequel opens) everyone lives happily ever after.
The joyous conclusion of the film masks a much darker drama that has been played out between child and tormentor. Hughes might very well be accused of exploiting the molestation of a child by evil adults in order to titillate an audience that has been primed by a decade of hysteria about child abuse. To escape such an indictment, the filmmaker demonstrates an awareness of the implications of his story through a stylization of its violence that is drawn from animated cartoons. In the process of buffering his
audience from the frightening potential of his subject through obvious allusions to the slapstick sources of his mayhem, he subtly points to another film against which Home Alone can be understood as a serious, if subtle, exploration of the child as prey. Through this brief allusion, Hughes succeeds in placing his comedy in a context that transforms our understanding of the film.
The booby traps with which Kevin bedevils the efforts of the burglars to gain entrance to his house are likely to remind many members of the audience of those children's cartoons in which an intended victim, such as the Road Runner, turns the tables on a hapless villain, such as the forlorn Wile E. Coyote. The key moments of each episode involve the plotting of the villain's nefarious plans, the intended victim's reversal of those plans, the attack (which the audience already knows is doomed), the close-up in which the villain's face reveals his late recognition that the violence prepared for the victim is about to engulf the perpetrator himself, the act of violence accompanied by exaggerated sound effects, and the exasperated retreat of the foiled villain, who hobbles away bearing the visible mutilations of the violence—only to return in the next scene for yet another variation on the same theme. (See figure 17.) Hughes's careful choreography and editing of the burglar's assault on the McCallister house clearly invoke
this animated tradition. In doing so, he displaces the horrendous violence to a stage on which we know that no scar is ever permanent, no wound is ever fatal, and—as with contemporary versions of fairy tales—no villain ever prevails.
Though there are many examples from which to choose, one scene adheres, virtually without variation, to the traditional form of the cartoon. Having blindly yanked an overhead string, Marvin, the luckless assistant of the evil mastermind, Harry, is caught in close-up as he peers up a laundry chute at a heated iron that is plunging toward him. After he is struck (with appropriately enhanced sound effects), we discover that his whiskered, hangdog visage has been branded by the hot metal; as he stalks off, he carries the impression of the iron on his face. From the close-up recognition of impending doom to the crushing injury to the visible mutilation—the hapless Marvin reenacts the fate of all cartoon villains.
Hughes' allusions to two genres in which violence against the vulnerable is safely contained—the fairy tale and the cartoon—are certainly of use in defusing the explosive ramifications of his subject. However, in the midst of constructing these concurrent systems of allusion, Hughes refers to a classic film that provides a context through which we might come to a much more serious view of his work.
Kevin has cleverly heated his house's monogrammed doorknob with a charcoal lighter. When the nasty Harry grasps the knob to enter the McCallister house, he burns his hand. Leaping back down the steps, he plunges his hand into the snow, and then holds up his palm to his face. Branded into his flesh is the letter "M." Even the least imaginative student of film will recognize Hughes's allusion to Fritz Lang's masterpiece, M (1931), the story of Hans Beckert, a child murderer.
Kevin McCallister shares similarities with Beckert's first young victim, Elsie Beckmann, and all the other children who have been menaced by adults in the history of cinema. But, unlike Lang, Hughes holds out the happy possibility that the innocent may prevail. Though the brief allusion succeeds in counterposing Home Alone to M , it also serves to darken the character of Harry by suggesting a parallel to him in Hans Beckert. Thus, Hughes hints that Kevin is in greater jeopardy than first supposed, increasing the suspense for the sophisticated viewer of the film. Finally, the allusion to M attempts to lift the film from the humble ranks of popular culture to the ethereal realms of serious art, where even a boffo box-office bonanza like Home Alone is self-conscious of itself as a work of art.
But what if the M on the doorknob were unintentional, a mere coincidence? And if it were unintentional, would it even be an allusion? John Hollander, echoing Quintilian, insists that "one cannot in this sense allude unintentionally—an inadvertent allusion is a kind of solecism" (64). We need look no farther than the sets of Hollywood productions to find evi-
dence of such inadvertence. As John Bailey, the distinguished cinematographer of such films as Ordinary People (1980) and Mishima (1985), complains, "[I] have to worry whether or not I should mention to this director that this scene is similar to a sequence in Beauty and the Beast or A Man Escaped " (Schaefer, 70).
If one is merely trope hunting, it is difficult to distinguish the intentional from the accidental. But if the allusion underscores elements buttressed elsewhere in the film through other allusions or related devices, then intentionality becomes irrelevant. Are we limited in our interpretation to those relationships that the director consciously wove into the fabric of the film? It seems a rather simpleminded stance, and one that most artists would reject. A perhaps apocryphal anecdote about Robert Frost circulated for years at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. According to the story, a woman had objected to a critic's elaborate explication of a poem, demanding to know whether Frost had actually intended all the meanings ferreted out by the ingenious critic. The curt old poet assured her, "Madam, if he read it, I wrote it."
Similarly, the diversity of cinematic modes of alluding and the sheer number of allusions themselves in films ought not to be ignored merely because intentionality cannot be proved. Rather, acknowledging the fundamental role of allusions in cinema, we should remember, as Flaubert reminds us, that "even Homer had his Homer" and seek out the intertextualities of films that do indeed demonstrate the relevance of the old and confirm the authority of the new.
Aeschylus. Agamemnon. In The Oresteian Trilogy , translated by Philip Vellacott. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959.
Baudelaire, Charles. Selected Writings on Art and Artists. Translated by P. E. Charvet. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
Carroll, Noë. "The Future of Allusion: Hollywood in the Seventies (and Beyond)." October 20 (1982): 51–81.
Garner, Richard. From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry. London: Routledge, 1990.
Hollander, John. The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981.
Homer. The Iliad. Translated by Robert Fitzgerald. Garden City: Doubleday, 1974.
Rabinowitz, Peter J. "'What's Hecuba to Us?': The Audience's Experience of Literary Borrowing." In The Reader in the Text: Essays on Audience and Interpretation , edited by Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.
Schaefer, Dennis, and Larry Salvato. Masters of Light: Conversations with Contemporary Cinematographers. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.
Wollen, Peter. Signs and Meaning in the Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.