Thursday, January 7, 2010
Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies.
Today for my post on Old Hollywood and New Hollywood I want to talk about influences. Namely, which is better: replicating an old classic or modernizing one? I'll add a poll about it.
There are arguments to be made for each. To make immediate examples: Usher performed a tribute to Gene Kelly's "Singin' in the Rain." Now, on the one hand, it's pretty incredible that Usher learned all of the choreography and did the exact same blocking and everything. However, one could argue (and I've heard one do it), what's the point of replicating something that's already amazing? On the other side, inspiration can be a tricky line to toe as in Katie Holmes's rendition of Judy Garland's "Get Happy." On the one hand, Katie Holmes modernizes an old number and lends it her own spice of individuality and personality; on the other, she changed a classic!
Now, to take this debate to films, I'm going to discuss one of my favorite contemporary films: You've Got Mail (1998) which is a film based on The Shop Around the Corner (1940). (Warning, I have a few spoilers in here.) The modern version covers the same story: two penpals who despise each other even though they have unknowingly fallen in love through correspondence. You've Got Mail changes the story, however, when the guy and girl are not coworkers but competitive bookstore owners. The shift from written mail to email is an easy transition with the growth of technology, but I find that the change in relationship makes a significant difference to the storyline. Their animosity is a good deal more understandable: he's putting her out of business - of course she hates him! And she says nasty things about him in public - of course he hates her! Joe Fox's later wooing of Kathleen Kelly is a little more gently done, as well, as he doesn't manipulate her as much as Kralik manipulates Klara. He suggests that her penpal is fat, married, and many other things but it's mostly done as a joking matter - she never feels crushed by the loss of an ideal. Now, don't get me wrong: I just rewatched The Shop Around the Corner and I love it! I think James Stewart is incredible in it and Margaret Sullavan is adorable. But I found myself feeling sorry for Kralik (and also getting incredibly mad at him at the end) and sort of disliking Klara, whose meanness isn't explained until the final scene of the film. In You've Got Mail, I like both of the characters and I understand each's frustration. Joe Fox does not elicit the same kind of sympathy that Kralik does, but then the characters are completely different. Kralik is a clerk who loses his job just as he is about to propose, and we see his vulnerability peek out as he reads his recommendation letter. Joe Fox, on the other hand, is a multimillionaire who loses very little throughout the film. The basic plot is the same and there are many entertainingly replicated bits of dialogue, but I find that the overall feeling of the film, the characters and their relationship are very different. It seems as if the writers of You've Got Mail loved The Shop Around the Corner and wanted to pay tribute, and improve upon it at the same time. Which brings up some controversy.
Now, looking at the other form of flattery, you have the musical rendition, In The Good Old Summertime (1949), which is essentially The Shop Around the Corner with musical numbers thrown in. What's the difference? Do we watch the musical because we like Judy Garland and Van Johnson more than James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan - or vice versa? Do we watch one or the other because we prefer musicals or straight comedies? Or do we watch both because we love the story and the dialogue and the characters so much that we can't get enough of them? This is something I've wondered with a lot of the musical remakes - High Society (1956), Easy to Wed (1946), Silk Stockings (1957), to name just a few. There are so many of them and I can't decide how I feel about them. In some cases, it's nice to see a change in casting and if the music is great then, hey! Why not? But sometimes I wonder why they couldn't leave well enough alone and let some of those good non-musical films stand on their own feet. It's a tough call to make.
What do you think about the issue? Should we replicate the things that we love or change them to fit the changing times? Or should we just leave movies that we love alone and leave it at that?