Seven— Raiders of the Lost Text: Remaking as Contested Homage in Always
1. Michael B. Druxman's Make It Again, Sam: A Survey of Movie Remakes remains the most comprehensive investigation of Hollywood remaking practice to date. Druxman views remaking as a function of industry pragmatism, variously undertaken because of "product" shortages; the cost effectiveness of recycling previous scripts; the profit potential of deploying new stars and techniques in proven vehicles, et cetera. He describes the transformation of some thirty films at length and cites many other remakes briefly. His approach is avowedly more anecdotal than hermeneutic.
The following common remake categories are based upon Druxman's work, and my overview of the subject:
The acknowledged close remake: The original film is replicated with little or no change. Advertising and press book material may inform viewers of the remaker's intention to hew to the previous movie's narrative and characters. Verisimilitude often constitutes a strong selling point. Notable examples are found in the Biblical epic subgenre (e.g. Ben Hur, 1907, 1925, 1959).
The acknowledged transformed remake: Transformations of character, plot, time, and setting are more substantive than in the acknowledged close remake. The original movie is openly, but variably, mentioned as a source, and mention ranges from a small screen credit to significant promotional foregrounding. Remakes in this category during the past two decades include A Star Is Born (1976), Heaven Can Wait (1978), Stella (1990), and Always (1990).
The unacknowledged, disguised remake. Major alterations are undertaken in time, setting, gender, or—most particularly—genre. The audience is deliberately uninformed about the switches. Disguised remaking peaked roughly from the thirties through the early fifties—the heyday of the studio system, when the relentless demand for new films, wedded to a perennial lack of fresh "material," compelled frequent reuse of earlier screenplays. Any list of disguised remakes would be formidable. See Druxman, particularly pp. 13-24, for examples. [BACK]
2. The second volume of William Luhr and Peter Lehman's study of Blake Edwards's oeuvre ( Returning to the Scene ) undertakes an elegant inquiry into the complex, usually unacknowledged aesthetic and ideological premises of remaking. Edwards is cited as a consummate improviser who refuses to valorize the original as a historically fixed, forever completed project. He assays "not so much . . . to remake the film as . . . to replicate the conditions that allowed the film to be made . . . [returning] to the creative moment when the original film could have developed in any number of directions" (209-210). Again, his "remakes often question the premises of what they reprise, and often attempt to reformulate the mainstream cinema of which they are a part . . ." (224). break
Corollary to Luhr and Lehman's theories, Robert Eberwein suggests that a remake always exists under the sign of erasure, effecting "a kind of reconstruction of the original. . . . Erasing it [presents] an opportunity to recuperate the voyeuristic lack we experience in our viewing of the original . . ." ("Remakes Writing under Erasure," presented at the Florida State University Conference on Literature and Film, 1988, 3). Eberwein suggests that the remaker's efforts invade implicitly forbidden territory, analogous to the child's "invasion" of the primal scene.
Allusions to material from previous films have been escalating in American cinema since the seventies. In effect, these comprise remakes in miniature, embedded pars pro toto in the "parent" film's associative matrix. Noël Carroll's authoritative study of allusions provides valuable insights into the remaking of an entire film, as well as the citation of its parts (51-81). [BACK]
3. Spielberg's production team consulted with government and private fire-fighting agencies during the making of Always . The film's numerous departures from fire-fighting realities thus do not proceed from ignorance, but rather seem to have been dictated by a combination of melodramatic license (for instance, had Pete actually dropped chemicals from his craft upon Al Yackey's burning plane, the latter would most certainly have crashed), the director's penchant for hyperbole, and sexism. Holly Hunter's Dorinda is one of a few female personnel at the fire-fighting station and related locales, whereas the percentage of female smoke jumpers actually ranges from twenty-five to thirty. Pilots, however, are exclusively male as of this writing. (Information supplied by Arnold Hartigan, Public Affairs Officer, Boise Interagency Fire Center, 3905 Vista Avenue, Boise, ID 83705). [BACK]
4. In A Guy Named Joe, Pete is still subject to military discipline after his death. His squadron of ghostly "advisers" is commanded by an anonymous general (Lionel Barrymore), probably modeled after Billy Mitchell. He rebukes Pete for letting his jealousy affect his tutelage of Van Johnson, with a stirring homily about making the world safe for democracy. Corollary to its transformation of Joe's protagonists into New Age post-Reaganites, Always metamorphoses the squadron and its commander into Hap, a female angel-cum-EST facilitator (played with tooth-grinding sweetness by Audrey Hepburn). She gently chides Pete for his samsaric attachments with no-brainer epigrams that could have been culled from the back of Celestial Seasons tea bag packages. [BACK]
5. I am indebted to Professor Krin Gabbard for these observations. [BACK]
6. Robert B. Ray explores the tutoring of the American "loner" in films like Casablanca and Air Force (1943) on the communitarian values required for winning the war. [BACK]
7. Ariel Dorfman comments tellingly on the trend toward infantilization in the mass culture of late-twentieth-century capitalism (145-53). Dorfman's arguments are exceptionally pertinent to Spielberg's oeuvre as director and producer in recent years. [BACK]
8. "Pastiche is . . . the imitation of a peculiar or unique style, the wearing of a stylistic mask, speech in a dead language . . ." (Jameson, 16).
" . . . [I]n a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles, to speak through the masks and with the voices of the styles in the imaginary museum . . ." (18). break [BACK]
9. "[T]he very style of nostalgia films [is] invading and colonizing even those movies today which have contemporary settings: as though . . . we are unable today to focus on our own present, as though we have become incapable of achieving aesthetic representations of our own current experience . . . an alarming and pathological symptom of a society that has become incapable of dealing with time and history. . . . [W]e seem condemned to seek the historical past through our own pop images and stereotypes about that past, which itself remains forever out of reach" (20). [BACK]
10. "American political life has never been a consistently reliable source of sustenance; and most people who grew up in the '50s and '60s have come to count, for their sense of value and style and even identity, on the ambient culture that has given postwar American life its special richness. . . . [T]his culture seems to have reached a very high level of technical accomplishment, and then to have run out of anything fresh to say. . . . [It] seems thrillingly vacant. The wonderful package has nothing inside. . . . There is a genuine aesthetic frisson in emptiness . . ." (22). [BACK]
11. I am indebted for this transliteration to Zachary Bayer, chief librarian of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1048 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028. [BACK]
12. Inter alia, above interviews; Mott and McAlister Saunders; Smith, 135-45. [BACK]
13. According to the history supplied by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Professor Henry Jones is a noted medievalist caught up with proving the historical reality of the holy grail. The death of his wife left him to raise his son. His scholarly obsession and unremitting criticism made the latter revolt against his authority. During his teens, Indy left home to pursue his own peculiar archaeological ambitions. The stormy relationship of Jones Senior and Junior echoes the fractiousness of Adam and Cal Trask in East of Eden, previously cited by Spielberg in describing the signatory moment of rebellion against his own father.
The Last Crusade openly portrays angry division between father and son as in no other Spielberg film to that date. The Joneses' search for the grail is a rather heavy-handed symbol of their quest to heal their rift. Their mutual competitiveness is enormous; vis-à-vis the oedipal motif in Always, the film has Indy unknowingly sleep with the same woman his father had bedded in aid of finding the grail. [BACK]
14. In Hook, business pressures and the strain of repressing his fabulous past have diminished Peter Pan—now Peter Banning—to a dim shadow of his former self. He is specifically estranged from his latency-age son, whom Hook woos after kidnapping him with promises of being a better father.
In an overview of Spielberg's career, I noted that every privileged Spielbergian psychological theme is folded into Hook: childhood as paradise, heart over head, the middle-class family menaced from without and within—and chiefly a father who has to rise above his failings to save the day. I further speculated that Spielberg may have identified both with Banning-Pan and the son, insofar as Hook was meant to rescue the director himself from a midlife creative stall. The film arguably afforded him an opportunity to continue the project of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: to process again a variety of youthful traumata, including his parents' divorce, and, centrally, to heal the narcissistic wounds caused by the failure of Always with another blockbuster success (44-48, 80, 83). break [BACK]
15. Such as, for instance, a preoedipal-oral relationship between the remaker and the original film, informed by primitive wishes for incorporation by, and fusion with, the "materialized" source. In this regard, see Holland's analysis of the reader's oral relationship with the literary text (63-103). [BACK]
16. My remarks are obviously pitched at the oedipal relationship between a male remaker and his subject, predicated upon the industry-driven reality that virtually all remaking has been done by men of films made by other men. I have so far been unable to discover remaking of a "male" original undertaken by a female director or other key female cinema figure (and I welcome information on this subject). In the highly unlikely circumstance of a woman remaking another woman's film, the elaboration of an Electra configuration around the source movie, corresponding to the male oedipal dynamic, seems plausible. [BACK]
17. The articulation between neurotic conflict and artistic effectiveness must be viewed as exceptionally problematic. It is analytically naive to suppose that in every instance a serious oedipal conflict related to the original film would necessarily compromise the aesthetic effectiveness of the remake. For instance, an oedipally motivated hostile "defacement" of the source film could still be accomplished through great art, if in a spirit of great contempt. [BACK]
18. Since emerging as a major force in Hollywood, Spielberg usually wields this sort of influence over the pictures he directs. While in most cases he has not written the screenplays of his films ( Close Encounters was a notable exception), crucial conceptual, narrative, and visual elements often reflect his choices. He is intimately bound up with script selection, then rewriting and/or interpretation during film production. Thus it may reliably be assumed that, much like Hitchcock, the salient psychodynamics of the screenplays he chooses to process closely reflect his own preoccupations. [BACK]