- Remaking and the Film Trilogy:Whit Stillman's Authorial Triptych
The trailer for the 2006 Melbourne International Film Festival features a scruffy, bespectacled teenager sandwiched between two suited Hollywood executive types in the back of a limousine. As the car moves through a neon-lit streetscape, the execs use a nonquestion initially directed at the kid—"Okay, so your script is a sequel, right?"—to launch into a breathless exchange concerning the relative economic benefits of sequels, prequels, and postsequel prequels before deciding between themselves that a sequel remake (which they term a "sequel-sequel") is the way to go with this project and turning again to the kid to ask him how much he wants for the trilogy or, better, the tetralogy, reassuring themselves and him that "he can stretch . . . he'll stretch . . . we'll stretch it . . . yeah, yeah." The scene fades to black over their final mumblings, and the tagline for MIFF 2006 comes up: "It's a long way from Hollywood."
This trailer raises a number of pertinent issues relating to the field of film remakes and sequels. First, and most obviously, it gestures toward the actual ubiquity of sequels, prequels, and remakes in Hollywood right down to the parodied categories of "quadrilogies" (Scary Movie 1–4 [Keenen Ivory Wayans/David Zucker, 2000–06]), "sequel remakes" (Dawn of the Dead [Zack Snyder, 2004]), and "postsequel prequels" (the second Star Wars trilogy [George Lucas, 1999–2005] or the parody-worthy case of the couplet Exorcist: The Beginning [Renny Harlin, 2004] and Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist [Paul Schrader, 2005]). Second, the parody, notwithstanding the fact that it is parody, expresses the longstanding tendency within "serious" film circles to conceptualize the film remake and series in only such commercial terms—as, precisely, Hollywood typified. And third, in much the same way that the humorously specific categories actually reflect contemporary Hollywood output, the confusion the breakneck scene evokes over their differentiation can suggest one way of approaching remakes, sequels, and series, namely, as terms between which there is a considerable amount of slippage. In the trailer this slippage is indicated literally in the way one type morphs seamlessly into another: a remake of a sequel is interpreted as a sequel-sequel, eliminating any suggestion of difference between the terms, and this in turn is understood as a series, a trilogy that is stretched into a quadrilogy. The trailer's parody of Hollywood lies in the understanding that, for the blockbuster industry, the types are of interest only for their monetary value, and one can easily be marketed or stretched into another to improve a product's commercial chances. The types are considered as the furthest things from critical forms.
What the trailer, perhaps inadvertently, raises, then, is a number of questions about these types of films. To what extent can remakes, sequels, and series be approached as critical forms? Does slippage actually exist amongst the categories, and, if so, is this slippage specific to a commercial system? Even beyond Hollywood, is a remake always a type of sequel (as the trailer suggests) and vice versa? And can a series, as an example of multiple sequels, also be approached as a type of remaking? This article takes a specific interest in the last question by way of a discussion of the film trilogy, a type that, arguably, exemplifies a coincidence of the sequel and the remake. Throughout film history, the trilogy can be approached as a type closely associated with auteurism, a link established largely through the films and discourses of the European art cinema. Through an examination of Whit Stillman's three films Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), and The Last Days of Disco (1998) I hope to describe how the evolving norm that Thomas Elsaesser describes as the "international art cinema" (18) can offer an imaginative take on this association and suggest new directions for both auteurism and serialization. [End Page 14]
Remakes and Sequels
Before turning to the specific trilogy form, though, we might usefully examine the terms in which the types of sequel and remake have been discursively differentiated. Broadly speaking, the sequel and remake are typically distinguished on the basis that a sequel continues...