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Lights, Camera, Cut and Paste

If Gus Van Sant remakes Psycho shot for shot, it’s called an homage to Hitchcock.

If Devo covers (I can’t get no) Satisifaction, it’s not just a cover of a Stones song, it’s a creative remix.

If I re-write Huckleberry Finn in a different font, I’m a plagiarist. However, if I imagine the entire story in outer space, voila!, the work is suddenly a creative interpretation and I am heralded as a genius.

Since mankind’s earliest days, stories have been recycled, handed down or even re-interpreted. Even the Bible is chock full of “borrowed” tales. Noah, the resurrection of Jesus, virgin births? Any Bronze Age editors and publishers reading the early drafts of the Bible would have been right to say, “Um… I think I’ve seen this book, before” or even give a sassy, “Been there, done that!”


“I dunno, Ma. The whole ‘virgin birth’ thing sounds too much like Krishna and Buddha. Heck, even the Egyptian story of Horus. It just seems that maybe…”
“Shut up, dear.”

But, hey, a few names were changed, places were switched and it became a big hit with the dozen or so literate people in the world, at that time. Why? Because even an old story is always going to be new to somebody.

No more guilty than anyone of rehashing old ideas is Hollywood. Yes, Hollywood. That glimmering epicenter where original ideas come into contact with sociopathic financiers, who then go off on week-long coke binges, forget to meet their own deadlines, then walk into their multi-million dollar meeting and pitch the laziest thing they can think of: a remake. The producer, also coming off his own week-long coke binge, waves an agreeable hand before requesting that his assistant locate the world’s largest aspirin.


Minutes away from their pitch with MGM producers, Gary and Carl try desperately to come up with an idea out of the blue. “So, what about this? There’s two guys and one of ’em has a pencil and he, you know, he writes on paper. The other fella, he has a cigarette. Are you getting this down, Carl?”

Whether it’s a television show from their own childhood, an older movie they accidentally saw while scrolling past Turner Classic Movies or they simply don’t believe a movie is any good once it’s past the five year mark, somebody somewhere is working hard to “update”, “revamp” or “reboot” an idea that someone else already had. Why not? The hard work (the part where characters are created, a story is developed, a mood is set) is already done. All you need to do (you being a Hollywood up-and-comer) throw on some new effects, a young and hot leading couple, some more special effects, incorporate some contemporary passing fads/trends to insure that your film is dated before it ever flickers on a screen and you’ve got yourself a bonafide blockbuster, Buckaroo!

Sometimes, though, it isn’t a blockbuster. Sometimes you end up with a horrible, cringe-worthy film like Leave It To BeaverGodzillaKarate KidLand Of The LostWild Wild West, etc. The list goes on. Oh, dear, sweet Jesus, how the list goes on.

For all of the failed reboots, though, there’s always one Ocean’s 11 or 21 Jump Street and so the shotgun blast approach remains in place because the bigger the scatter, the more likely you’ll hit the target once.


In this still from the original Magic Mike film from 1950, the cast leaves little doubt why the 2012 remake was an improvement.

The world continues to spin, the sun continues to set and Hollywood will continue to forever be lazy, unoriginal and enormously wealthy.

I am not above watching a remake, though. I’ll give it a chance. I won’t see it in a theater, but I’ll watch it online or dvd, usually over dinner.

What’s for dinner, you ask? Well, tonight’s dinner will be based on an earlier dish from the night before, but it’s been revamped, reheated and, well, frankly, it’s way cooler than the original. Technically, they’re leftovers, but I like to think of them as remade meals. It’s got everything you loved about the original dinner, but with a flavor and taste all of its own.

About calahan (6 Articles)
A writer who is living the dream. It's unclear whose dream it is, though. Stay tuned.

60 Comments on Lights, Camera, Cut and Paste

  1. I would LOVE to see you rewrite Huckleberry Finn in outer space! New York TImes best seller for sure!


  2. Hear, hear! Your last paragraph says it all.


  3. Not a big fan of remakes, either, unless it’s a remake of a really old movie I’ve never seen. I avoid those old black-and-white films like I avoid classic novels. I know that’s wrong, and I shouldn’t admit it, but I knows what I likes, and classics ain’t it…


  4. Unfortunately, like most remakes, leftovers are never as good as the original. Especially where french fries are concerned–what were they thinking casting those rubbery things in place of the crisp, salty original cast?


  5. dental eggs // September 20, 2013 at 10:46 am //

    If anyone attempts a remake of any ‘Gamera’ films there’s going to be hell to pay.


  6. Wonderful post!


  7. And Joseph Campbell rolls over in his grave yelling at Hollywood “that’s not what I meant!”


  8. love this and i think it may be a ‘re-hash’ of another post i read 47 years ago. all good.


  9. You wonder if there will ever be a time when Hollywood has to actually start creating original work. I guess cable is doing that now, in the few spare moments that I can actually watch something. Leftovers can be quite delicious or have you searching the fridge for something else. Great post!


    • Every once in a while, Hollywood surprises you with an original idea. That idea is usually how to raise ticket prices, but it’s still an idea.


      • Avatar 3D is a good example. The movie was more or less a new idea by itself (“blue people with tails and USB braids are the good guys”), and as a meta-idea to charge people extra $5 for the privilege of wearing someone’s dirty plastic glasses.


        • I never saw it in the theater, so missed the dirty glasses aspect of the experience. I have my own dirty glasses, thank you very much. Stupid long eyelashes…


  10. After reading this, I was shocked o go back and find that Attack of the Killer Tomatoes is actually a remake of Three Days of the Condor, which itself was based on the first draft of Steamboat Willie.

    Fascinating take on the situation.


  11. They say there’s nothing new under the sun. Popular entertainment requires (by definition) mass appeal. Why challenge the audience and risk losing money when you can play the safer bet and rehash something?

    A couple of notes regarding re-hashes. Some are better than the original. A couple examples from the horror genre are John Carpenter’s “The Thing” and the Donald Sutherland version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

    Also, Devo’s “Satisfaction,” doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with Van Sant’s Psycho because it truly is a new exploration of that song, colder, detached. See also Johnny Cash’s version of NIN’s “Hurt.”


    • Good points, but even “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was remade a third time, so obviously it had room for improvement (according to someone somewhere).

      Like I said, I think the “Ocean’s 11” remake was better than the original. In some cases, it works. Other times, it’s usually a studio’s loss of 10’s of millions of dollars or more.


  12. Excellent post.

    I have a low tolerance for both pain and Hollywood film fare, I find most contemporary mainstream films so dismal. A non-mainstream film that impressed me very much is Woody Allen’s latest, “Blue Jasmine” which seems heavily influenced by “A Streetcar Named Desire.” In the hands of a truly talented filmmaker, “influenced by” works, but in the hands of some cocaine-fueled Hollywood hack, this would be yet another formulaic cliche-soaked snooze-fest. As for remakes, they do lurk primarily at the bottom of the idea cesspool, but my friend, Milton, heard that there might be a remake of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” If that lands in the hands of someone with genuine film making talent and the casting is inspired, that one might be a gem. Might.

    Something else I utterly loathe is colorization; had to throw that in there.


    • Is colorization still a thing? If so, you and I should turn modern movies into B&W’s. Avatar in black and white and 2D, maybe?

      Some remakes work, I agree. The original “Little Shop Of Horrors” was really bad. If they do redo Baby Jane, I suspect someone’s ghost might come back and beat a few producers with wire hangers.


  13. If anyone could write something original, Mike, it’d be you. Now let’s start a religion!


  14. Chili is always better the next day. I just thought I’d throw that out there. Oh, and I love North by Northwest, too. But who doesn’t? Great film. Cary Grant was easy on the eyes, too. Even my daughter is transfixed when Cary Grant pops on the tube.


    • Never just throw chili out there, Michelle. Depending on the amount of tomatoes used, it can be very acidic and could potentially burn someone’s eye.

      No joke, my dream suit is Cary Grant’s grey suit from that movie. I love that suit.


  15. So kind of like NASA space meals. They have to be rehydrated to tap into any kind of flavor.


  16. Completely agree. The ending was a very nice summary. (I thought it would only be proper to revamp someone else’s comment for this post, it’s, like, a day old already!). But seriously, I’m one of those people for whom Hollywood makes the remakes. I was kind of late to the whole classic movie & TV party, and just reading your post and comments I was shocked to find out that Wild Wild West (the Will Smith’s one?), Ocean’s 11, and Little Shop of Horrors (if that’s the one with Rick Moranis), are all remakes.


  17. I’m still in therapy from when I heard they were doing a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Hearing that news was traumatic enough; hearing that they were casting Keanu Reeves as Klaatu was what pushed me over the edge and had Mr. Weebles calling in the nice men in the white coats.

    And rumor has it that on really really quiet nights, you can hear the ghost of Michael Rennie swearing up a storm.


    • Funny you should mention him. I saw him in an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode and couldn’t place him, until he was standing absolutely still and not talking, then I said, “It’s the Day The Earth Stood Still guy!”


  18. I want to say the last pic was a still from a concentration camp tryout video but I won’t because that would be the most tasteless comment ever made on a blog.


  19. You’re right. The Virgin Mary thing has been overdone. I think I’ve seen Carl’s movie about the pencil-wielding writers.


  20. Mike,
    The line on that caption with the dudes brainstorming was fucking laugh out loud funny, for realz. I just said for realz…


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