Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 4/31: "Everything is a remake of something before" vs. "Everybody's rebooting existing characters/universes with new stories" (suggested by @oneswellfoop on Twitter)

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander

Film The use of the word “remake” can be puzzling and inconsistent so I'd like firstly to define what I mean when I say remake. What I think of a remake is when a story, which originated as a film is remade as a film. The Steven Soderbergh's Solaris is generally spoken of a remake even though the director went back to the original source book and went from there. New film adaptations of Shakespeare plays are increasingly referred to as “remakes” even though that’s silly. Comics adaptations are also pegged as such even though again they’re just another look at the material. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a remake. So’s Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not and neither is the American adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

With that out of the way, from flicking through the December issue of Empire magazine, the one with the motion captured Tin Tin on the cover, you could assume that the only product in production at major studios are adaptations, reimaginings, sequels and remakes. Nearly every page includes news, views and interviews in relation to some adaptation of a comic or book or television series or in some cases a sequel to what was an original idea. In a review section that includes the likes of Machette, Paranormal Activity 2 and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, the Mike Leigh film, Another Year with its publicity still of a couple of retirees tucked up in bed looks like an oasis of integrity in a desert of opportunism.

The implication of the original statement that adaptations and sequels and remakes are a recent phenomena, this is some new opportunism. They are not. It is not. In the silent era, films were sometimes remade (and this is the purest form of remake) out of necessity because the original copy had worn out, or were pirated by another company by filming them again (which eventually led to the likes of Edison placing their logo within the set to demonstrate it was an original). It wasn’t too long after sound became flexible enough that whole film series sprang from comics, the likes of Batman poorly recreated in black and white serial shorts.

Much of the product in the original old Hollywood studio system was based on something, a stage play, a book and very often newspaper or magazine articles. The recently reissued It Happened One Night, the ancestor for decades of screwball romantic comedies was based on a short fiction, Night Bus by Samuel Hopkins Adams, admittedly extensively reworked by Capra and his collaborator Robert Riskin. It was rare for Hitchcock to produce something original from his early silents through the close of his career. Truly original ideas are rare. Even the so-called original screenplays nominated at the Oscars are most often inspired by real life events or are biographies.

Because you can’t argue with the metrics. Inception is an anomaly. All of the highest grossing films of the past twenty years and even before, both by year and together in a chart are based on existing properties or franchises; even Pirates of the Caribbean began as a theme park ride. Adapt something already in existence, especially if it's a best selling book or well visited theatre production and you have a built in market and if you’re able to grow what you’re selling beyond its core audience you’re onto a winner. Hollywood and beyond makes these things, and has always made these thing because we want to see them, or at least some of us do. Even if the result is rubbish.

Finally watching Transformers 2 recently, I think I’ve witness the nadir of the type (though I’m willing to accept that as we’ll see which ever film raped your childhood you’ll no doubt consider your nadir). Not able to really afford the toys, I was still an avid reader of the British comic from the first issue onwards until it finally went out of print years later. What Simon Furman and his fellow writers accomplished there was astonishing; they took a toy line, developed a mythology and managed to give all of the robots specific personalities, a code of honour and importantly make us care.

The first film, despite importing some of the human characters, trashed that mythology, mostly ignored the personalities and generally had little regard for what had gone before, resulting in a work that was everything Furman et al had been fighting against. In the second, the original machines are barely on-screen and entirely interchangeable, the new, messy character designs no help in trying to identify them. The central story, a fairly derivative quest narrative is driven by the human characters, the accompanying Transformers, all new creations simple (and on two counts racist) comic relief.

In other words a film demonstrating everything that is wrong with this kind of film. Its box office was still huge, but even now analysts are wondering how many of those people actually enjoyed watching the film; the criticism of both its star and director are telling. No wonder there’s a collective groan whenever some new piece of cultural heritage is being ploughed over. My previous nadir, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy failed because it took everything that was right and funny and quotable about Douglas Adams’s original scripts, words worked over tortuously and slowly until they passed his stringent standard and paraphrased them.

Yet somehow I still have a high sense of anticipation for the new version of Judge Dredd, the aforementioned Tin Tin, Tron Legacy and even have a vague hope that the next Transformers will be the best of the series. Because years ago, even before the first Transformers, I came to the conclusion that Hollywood could adapt or remake whatever it likes. It could even take a crack at Doctor Who if it wanted to or offer up a remake of When Harry Met Sally. Cultural sacred cows, I have a few, but everything is up for grabs, and they can do what they want with the mythology, change everything.

Because actually, in the end, the extent to which the property matches its source is less important than if the resulting film is good. The Lord of the Rings films took many liberties with the original text but I haven't met many fans of the books who hate the films. Same with Harry Potter. Robert Downey Jnr’s Tony Stark is barely recognisable from the figure in the comics yet readers of the Iron Man comic have embraced him. Offering another adaptation of Solaris would seem like sacrilege beyond Tarkovsky’s definitive presentation, yet Soderbergh created something that respected both properties and produced something new and very special. Indeed.

About the only real argument one could logically against the concept of adaptation per-se is in relation to books. A book is a one-to-one communication between the author and reader; the former controlling and crafting the experience and imagination of the latter. After a film adaptation, that experience is irrevocably interfered with; it’s impossible to read Pride and Prejudice without your favourite actress inhabiting the character of Elizabeth Bennett and I’ve recently heard adults chatting nostalgically about the time when they had their own version of Harry, Hermione and Ron in their heads instead of the actors who’ve made the characters their own.

So you never know, the rem- ... sorry ... reimaging of Buffy might be quite good. It's possible.

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Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 3/31: Review two "atypical" anime series: Kemonozume (full of japan-ised french "new wave" moments & explosive surrealism) and Kino no Tabi (full of elegy & parable) (from Konstantinos in the comments)

Kino's Journey

Animation Kino no Tabi, or Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World is in the tradition of the highly episodic “caravan” series, stories in which a character or team of characters turn up in a new locale every week and create change, either in their environment or themselves. Usually the goal is either adventure (Doctor Who, Wagon Train), home (Quantum Leap, Star Trek: Voyager, Ulysses 31, Red Dwarf) or as is the case in this, spiritual enlightenment.

Kino’s a teenage girl who travels a techno-fantasy world riding Hermes, a talking motorcycle, experiencing and learning about the customs of each of the countries she visits, spending at most three days and two nights tere because she assumes that this will be quite enough time to learn almost everything you’d need to know about a place. It’s an animated travelogue of sorts but instead of offering interesting trivia and cultural observation ala Ewan McGregor, it’s more concerned with investigating parable.

The anime series, of which I’ve managed to see a few episodes, is adapted from manga and I suspect betrays the original’s wordiness. Each of the stories pinions around a scene in which Kino sits before a representative from a given culture who reveals their customs to her; she doesn’t do much “investigating” exactly because travellers between these countries are such a rarity, they’re only too happy to offer some exposition to them as a way of making them understand.

In other words, it’s a show which, though unconcerned with plot and character in the strictest sense is still very much about storytelling. Where it not for the sudden burst of violence (there’s a rather bloody stand-off in one episode), this would be ideal for children, who as I did when listening to Michael Horden read Kipling’s Just So Stories on Jackanory, can really tap into the allegorical elements noticing for example, how religion can impact on our daily lives, directly or indirectly.

Kids too would probably overlook the fact that to an extent it’s also really rather boring. Though I can understand that the storytellers are attempting to offer a series which is meditative yet satirical, and there are some quite emotive moments too, Kino’s a bit of a blank presence and her dialogue with Hermes, full of repetition and aphorism lacks the element of the absurd that makes the likes of David Lynch or Beckett so compelling (admittedly that's a rather unfair comparison but it'll do).

On the other hand, the animation is superb. Though often quite static, the landscapes are invitingly picturesque, especially in the opening episode when Kino drives through a deserted city looming Inception-like overhead. The third episode features four stories in completely different locales, one inspired by Venice, a gondola drifting through narrow flooded streets.  It's certainly ambitious and I would imagine, also because of the sheer number of character designs required, a labour of love.

Checking for other opinions, Kino’s Journey does seem to be an acquired taste. Plenty of people welcome this experimental reliance on atmosphere, especially anime connoisseurs who can see its points of difference, one even suggesting that it “stands out as an incredible testament to the power of the medium” which is the kind of praise usually saved in the west for PiXAR. Nevertheless Kemonozume sounds like much more kind of thing. Do you know where I can find it?

"whole sheep and whole cows"

People Say what you like about the leaked US embassy cables, the writers aren't without a certain sense of humour and storytelling ability. A perfect example is this report on a wedding feast in Dagestan, whose author is like a modern Samuel Pepys:
"Though Gadzhi's house was not the venue for the main wedding reception, he ensured that all his guests were constantly plied with food and drink. The cooks seemed to keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragments of the carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room. Gadzhi's two chefs kept a wide variety of unusual dishes in circulation (in addition to the omnipresent boiled meat and fatty bouillon)."
Though a link doesn't appear on the main page, there is an RSS feed for all The Guardian's coverage of the cables here.

Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 2/31: Who is the real Stuart Ian Burns ? (from Jen in the comments)

open book pages

Psychology He is a failure. He’s socially inept, tiresome, fundamentally disappointing when you meet him and swiftly outstays his welcome. He’s never entirely sure how far to take a conversation and has the suspicion that he’s often still talking well past the moment when interesting becomes boring becomes can I leave now please? That’s because he desperately wishes that he was more intelligent and erudite than he is, that he’d read more of the right kinds of books so that consequently he’d have the ability to speak with fluidity on subjects that matter rather than those that probably don’t. In other words, he’s constantly in a state of over-compensating.

He’s also physically repulsive, the kind of person fellow passengers on buses do their utmost to avoid sitting next to and who leads to tutting when he sits next to them. His smile is creepy.  He has a big nose.  His hair is never quite right because he has an oddly shaped head which is too small on top and over big at the bottom. He’s never particularly had any dress sense, favouring a tie-dyed multicoloured shirt and blue polyester jacket as his undergraduate apparel, polo-shirts through the late nineties and has now settled on white t-shirts and the kinds of jeans he's always worn, only rarely varying the colour of a jumper when necessary.  He’s also scruffy.

He lacks ambition. His self-esteem issues stretch back many years and to such a degree that he de-values his own achievements and is self-deprecating to a fault. He’s too busy explaining why he can’t do something to notice what he can accomplish, wallowing in pity to such an extent that he’s stagnating. He’s even answering this question in the third person in an attempt to disassociate himself from himself but knows that despite the self-flagellation he’s purposefully not really answering the question anyway. He knows that all of the above is open to change but lacks the initiative or drive to go through with any of it.  He's tired, jaded and scared.

Review 2010: The Opinion Engine: 1/31: Are the Liberal Democrats facing decades in the political wilderness after shooting themselves massively in the foot by alienating their largest area of voting support ie. students and first time voters? (from Franchesca Pueller via Facebook)


Politics You would think so given the vitriol which has been directed at the party and its leader Nick Clegg over the past few months. The Lib Dems have gone from being the party “everyone” ignores, to loves, to hates within the space of about six months or the space of a single series of Have I Got News For You, which isn’t bad going considering they’ve already generally been in the political wilderness for a couple of decades without much influence at least on a national level.

After being a supporter for nearly two decades, I’m currently in a kind of ideological limbo, absolutely understanding why they decided to enter a coalition with the Tories (rather than a simple "understanding"), accepting the reasons for many of the cuts, appreciating that to an extent they’ve become the political fall guys for another party which is attempting to show a human face, but also unable to defend many of the more idiotic decisions, such as the garotting of the arts and the BBC.

To an extent, especially in relation to the tuition fee debarkle (for want of whichever word you're thinking of), the Lib Dems have been unlucky because they’re being criticised for the very thing that set them apart from the other two main parties during the last election and before – being specific about their manifesto pledges.  The Tory manifesto is a bit tentative on the point and has this to say on the subject (including repayments):
- consider carefully the results of Lord Browne’s review into the future of higher education funding, so that we can unlock the potential of universities to transform our economy, to enrich students’ lives through teaching of the highest quality, and to advance scholarship; and,

- provide 10,000 extra university places this year, paid for by giving graduates incentives to pay back their student loans early on an entirely voluntary basis.
With an additional promise to “pay the student loan repayments for top Maths and Science graduates for as long as they remain teachers” (something we've not heard much about since). The Lib Dem Manifesto, though mentioning the word "student" less, dedicates a whole section, employing much more direct language:
Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income. We will immediately scrap fees for final year students.
In government, the coalition have cut funding to universities and are effectively making up the shortfall by letting the universities increase tuition fees three fold saddling students with the extra debt (though they won’t have to pay the required loans back until they’re earning £21k up from £15k).  Which is a bit different to Scotland where tuition fees have been scrapped altogether.  Now, what's unfair?

Essentially, if the Lib Dems had blanded things out and not done what they’ve always done which is make eye-catching pledges and silly photo-opportunities in a desperate attempt to get noticed, pledges they assumed they'd never have to put into practice (still generally only managing to be eighth in the news running order even on the Today programme), they wouldn’t be in the position of being charged with giving up their principles or some such now.

I don't know the extent to which this will effect the young vote.  Many of the students protesting now and saying that they'll never vote Liberal Democrat again will be in a different life position in four years time and although we all have the ability to hold grudges, as we've discovered time and again, people also have very short memories when it comes to politics.  Voter intentions can flip in a matter of days, even hours, especially in this mad new wired world.

To give a specific answer to your question, at a local level, things definitely are shifting. Councillors are defecting and strongholds like Liverpool have fallen to Labour who will no doubt have a resurgence as the curious split between who people will trust with their bin collection and who they’ll trust with their defence heads off in a different direction favouring red rather than gold with independents and small fringier parties also reaping some of the benefits.

But I don’t think the Westminster Lib Dem vote is actually going to wobble that significantly next time, despite the exodus too of some disgruntled ex-Labour voters back to their natural home. Even though Lib Dems like me don’t like the many of the cuts and don’t like what's being nodding through, we're also still so anti-Tory and anti-Labour that we’re really rather stuck. We might go Green, or we might not bother to vote, but we inherently want to take part properly in the political process which means holding our noses if we have to.

To take that a step further, here’s my prediction for what will happen in 2015.  Because of the cuts, the Tory vote will decrease, the perennially undecided heading to Labour instead, but because of uncertainly over an untested party leader, not enough for Labour to have a majority, the proportion of the vote we saw last time essentially reversing with the Lib Dems piggy in the middle again. Then it’ll be up to Milliband and Labour to decide whether they believe the Lib Dems aren't too toxic to form a coalition with or if they’ll just go it alone...
About Review 2010 begins tomorrow. Sadly, the long introduction I was going to write will have to wait because, well wouldn't you know, considering the weather, I think I have cold coming on (sore throat, tummy upset, tiredness, everything).  Luckily, the first salvo are all written and set to auto post. I hope you enjoy them.

Liverpool Biennial 2010: Epilogue

Art The Liverpool Biennial completed yesterday and though I missed the closing moments due to work, like Sachiko Abe's final performance at AFoundation, I did think of it and wondered why it had effected me so much this year. Was it that the main theme "touched" had worked its teeth into me or just that because I'd decided to really work at seeing as much as I could for the benefit of this blog, it has just repaid me in kind.

After day one, the excitement continued with the launch in the main hall of St George's Hall, the most entertaining moment of which was watching Lewis Biggs battle against the racket of a performance work, a pile of steel drums being erected in the centre of floor (see above), only once stumbling over his words, then the expectation of the crowd that music would ensue only to find the volunteers posing for pictures.

As my bus passed up Renshaw Street on its usual route into town this morning, I couldn't help peering at the visitor centre hoping for signs of life, that perhaps the Biennial had decided to give it just one more week.  Just one more.  But apart from signs of a final party last night, bottles and paper plates on the picnic tables, the interior lights were off for the first time months.  All gone now.

Eyewitnesses: When Jacobi Met Burton.

Derek Jacobi talks to The Observer on the occasion of his first Lear and offers this touching anecdote I've not heard before about meeting his childhood Hamlet, Richard Burton:
"it must have been 1977, I did a couple of days on a film with Burton and I reminded him of this schoolboy Hamlet and he said, very sweetly, that yes, he remembered. And he said, 'What are you doing now?' And I said, 'Well I'm about to play Hamlet at the Old Vic.' And he said, 'I'll come and see you.' And he did. And he came around afterwards and said, 'Do you want to go out for dinner?' And I said, yes, great, and as we were walking out of the dressing room, he said, 'Do you mind if we go and stand on the stage? I haven't stood on that stage for 25 years.' So we stood on the stage and I said, 'As a schoolboy, I sat up there and watched you playing Hamlet on this stage.'"