Remaking a Remake
Reappropriating existing representations . . . and putting them into new and ironic contexts is a typical form of postmodern . . . critique.
Linda Hutcheon, The Politics of Postmodernism
Pedro Almodovar's High Heels (Tacones Lejanos, 1991) is a work that might be placed within the emerging genre of "postmodern" film. In fact, a review of it by Roger Ebert notes how "the writers of New York weeklies" regularly link that term to the film's director. As Linda Hutcheon makes clear, one of the hallmarks of the postmodern aesthetic is its radical intertextuality—its tendency to quote and recycle tropes and thematics from the discursive past.
Almodovar has acknowledged this inclination. He has deemed himself a creative "mirror with a thousand faces" that "reflect[s] everything around [him]" (Morgan, 28). While admitting a penchant for homage, he notes his citations are not the "tributes of a cinephile." Rather, they arise "in a lively and active way" as organic features of the text (Morgan, 28).
It is within this framework that we might envision High Heels as a remake of Douglas Sirk's canonical film, Imitation of Life (1959). Many have recognized Sirk's influence on Almodovar's style. The latter bemoans the devaluation of melodrama and calls Sirk a "genius" (Morgan, 29). To characterize Almodovar's theatrical mode, Roger Ebert deems it "inspired" by Sirk (44). Dave Kehr sees, in the Spaniard's "bold, ironic use of color," a tribute to the Hollywood legend (F7).
Clearly, however, there are specific aspects of High Heels that solicit a comparison to Imitation of Life . Both films take a female performer as their heroine. Imitation traces a decade in the life of Lora Meredith (Lana
Turner), and aspiring actress who eventually achieves success on Broadway and the silver screen. High Heels follows the character of Becky Del Paramo (Marisa Paredes), a singer who is already a star when the narrative begins. In both cases, the protagonist has a tense and troublesome relationship with her daughter. In Imitation, Susie (Sandra Dee) accuses Lora of parental neglect and becomes enamored of her mother's lover—a circumstance that brings the women's conflict to a head. In High Heels, Rebecca (Victoria Abril) similarly accuses Becky and marries (then murders) her mother's former lover, Manuel.
In both texts, there is a subplot involving another parent-child dyad. In Imitation, it involves the family of Lora's maid, Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore). In High Heels, it concerns the menage of Judge Dominguez (Miguel Bose), the man investigating Manuel's homicide. In both cases, the child involved in the subplot is a performer whose vocational choice mocks that of the heroine. In Imitation, Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner) becomes a burlesque dancer; in High Heels, Dominguez goes "under cover" as a female impersonator. In both instances, the parent in the subplot is involved with the star performer. In Imitation, Annie serves as Lora's backstage confidante and dresser. And in High Heels, Senora Dominguez keeps a fan album of clippings on Becky's career.
At times, the parallel between the films is even tighter. Both open with sequences involving a beach locale and a lost child. In Imitation, Lora frantically searches a Coney Island boardwalk for Susie, who has disappeared. In High Heels, as Rebecca awaits the arrival of her mother's airplane, she recalls running away as a youth during a seaside vacation. Both films end in heart-wrenching deathbed scenes. In Imitation it is that of the black domestic; in High Heels it is that of the heroine.
High Heels' status as a remake is made more complex by the intricate "genetics" of Imitation . Originally written by Fannie Hurst in 1932 as a piece of serialized magazine fiction, it was published as a book in 1933. It was first adapted for the screen by John Stahl in 1934, then later refashioned by Sirk. Hence, High Heels constitutes a remake of a remake, a copy of a copy, an imitation of an Imitation . (See figure 24.)