Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Remake: Possibly the most dreaded word in all of film geek-dom.
Or if you prefer, reimagining...

Plenty of people would argue there are no good remakes. These people would be misinformed. A majority of people would cite that John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing is superior to the original 1951 version. Another group - myself included - would say Philip Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers is better than Don Siegel's.

I see it like this...

Stories have been passed down and retold in some form or another for centuries but only in this past one, the Goliath known as the 20th, have these reformed, redone, remade stories been scrutinized in such a mass way. Or perhaps not. I don't currently have any newspaper clippings from 1867 or literary journals from 1768 (Were there any lit journals in 1768), or soundbites from the man on the street in 1434 Florence from when I traveled back there in my time machine last August.

Now there is good reason for these remakes to be looked down upon because many are unnecessary and awful. Most are also "genre" pictures and high concept, which is an interesting little nugget to ponder, but this entry is not supposed to be about the minutia of such things, because that could/would turn into whining and this is supposed to be fun.

No, today I present to you the first of a slew of stories that could possibly be remade, adapted or what have you... and have a chance of being just as relevant, just as good, or even better than older versions.

Bold words? maybe... Let's get to it.

Carnival of Souls

Herk Harvey's and John Clifford's 1962 cult classic about a woman who survives a freak drag racing accident, and then is subsequently haunted by a ghoul of a man on her way to a new job in Utah has in fact already been remade... by Wes Craven! Scratch that, it was presented by Craven... Looking at the plot synopsis provided by the ever reliable IMDb (note sarcasm), this 1998 version doesn't even sound remotely like the '62 original, minus the title and a car crashing into a river. Perhaps more similarities would become apparent if I saw the thing, but I have no desire to. Not because it is a remake, but because it looks like plain old garbage.

The Ingmar Bergman and Jean Cocteau inspired surrealism of Harvey's film is really something special, so why try and repeat that? The picture is in the public domain so it'd be no problem copyright wise to go ahead, and the film's themes of alienation are certainly timeless and possibly more relevant now but...

... Let's set our remake in 1950s New York. A few years before Harvey's film. Now fans might say this is ridiculous, that much of the original's appeal came from the film's use of Saltair, an abandoned open air pavilion and amusement park on the Great Salt Lake. True enough.

Now if we set this in New York it might very well mean no carnival either, or drag race... So why even call it a remake? Let's call it a reimagining, then. And I guess we can't call it "Carnival of Souls"...

Candace Hilligoss' Mary Henry was an organist, so let's have our "Mary" be a jazz pianist and nightclub singer. Why not go for a wild card in casting, and choose eccentric musician Nellie McKay? She talks right out of an old radio show and exudes a certain paranoid and schizophrenic whimsy.

Let's take an atmospheric cue from Alexander Mackendrink's "Sweet Smell of Success." Nothing says bright lights big, bad city quite like this film.

But something's still missing... An ethereal, unsettling nature. We've got to capture the suffocating nightmare of the streets; everyday faces are strangers of the strangest kind. Each corner turned is fear incarnate. Alleyways are tunnels into the deepest darkness upon which Mary might never return. But life will go on... amongst this sense of not belonging to this world.

Our nightmare needs to be grounded in a certain reality. For this, let's turn to the example of Hiroshi Teshigahara's self proclaimed "documentary fantasy."

Watch the first part of this clip and then move onto the 2nd:

Granted, these are examples steeped in Japanese pathos circa the 60s, but what better national cinema to cite than that of Japan when addressing the feeling of not belonging? Well there is America...

In sculpting a retelling of Carnival of Souls, it is best to steer clear of modern horror elements such as excessive gore and cheap, jumpy scares. To honor Harvey and Clifford's original one must focus on the psychological unwinding of a woman who feels increasingly out of place in the world around her.

Stay tuned for next time when we will discuss... THEM!

In the meantime, why not comment with your own thoughts or remake ideas. Participation means a happier tomorrow.

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