- Film Remakes
In a group-think posted on David Bordwell's excellent blog site in 2007, the question of sequels—specifically, "part threes"—was smartly debated. The heading for the entry put the polemical line up front: "Live with it! There'll always be movie sequels. Good thing, too." The discussion counters the prevalent journalistic line, now a rather tired and thoughtless cliché, that sequels are always inferior to the original, always sellouts, always a sign of the imaginative poverty of contemporary blockbuster-and-franchise-crazy Hollywood.
Australian scholar Constantine Verevis's book is about remakes, not sequels. But both forms certainly call forth the same polemical battle lines: either remakes are a sign that there are no new ideas in commercial cinema (whether blockbuster, art house, or middle-ground genre cinema, judging by the current deluge of English-language remakes of foreign titles) or sequels/remakes indicate an artistic or cultural practice that is in itself interesting, valuable, perhaps even new.
However, Film Remakes does not begin by staking or arguing a claim in this debate, which would undoubtedly have made it easier to stick a sensational blurb on the back cover. The issue of originality—and the value we tend to place upon it—comes in for much critique along the way, but it is not what centrally powers the book. Instead, Verevis, a colleague of mine at Monash University, begins from a less sensational premise: that remaking is "both an elastic concept and a complex situation" (vii). This rather Foucauldian notion may betray the book's origins in a dissertation, but it is an idea to which Verevis wisely sticks. He is not out to prove anything about remakes, to sort out the good from the bad, the valid from the invalid; rather, he sets himself the more difficult, more painstaking task of sifting through the available frameworks and definitions and problematizing the lot. His book provides an invaluable guide through the forest of often hazy and contradictory accounts of the film remake.
Film Remakes is structured around three different fields or registers of this cinema object: remaking as an industrial category (the chapter "Commerce" offers a useful focus on cinema-television relations); remaking as a textual category; and remaking as a critical category. If there is a polemical slant to the project, it reveals itself right at the end in a conclusion merrily titled "Remaking Everything." Here a certain idea, implicit throughout the book, is finally brought to the fore: everything is a remake, and all remakes are good—or at least interesting and productive, inevitably and inescapably so—because every remake inscribes (it cannot do otherwise) the distance (in time, space, and cultural difference) between itself and its original source. And it is precisely from those intervals that the work of culture—and criticism—begins.
Verevis prefaces the book by acknowledging that contemporary Hollywood cinema is his main (although not exclusive) focus and that more cross-cultural work needs to be done; I did regret, as a reader, the absence of illuminating comparisons with those very different industries of "popular remaking" that structure, for instance, Hong Kong or Bollywood cinema. And I wondered, at moments, how crucially dependent Verevis's faith in "everything as remake" [End Page 60] is on a like-minded assumption about genre, that "all films are genre films," when this, it seems to me, is patently untrue or at least worth arguing out. However, rather than dwell on the absences of this book, it is better to engage with its core theoretical methodology and to speculate on its place within the current intellectual scene.
In a sense, Verevis's book is about one specific thing and another much larger thing. We could say that the specific thing is the remake, while the larger thing is the process of remaking, which, as Verevis indicates, expands the topic to include all modes of parody, pastiche, quotation, and so on. His work on the remake has its origins in a philosophical exploration of Deleuze's theories of difference and repetition. This philosophical edge is muted in the...