Wednesday, March 26, 2014

But They Deserve to Be Done a Second Time. By Chris Brecheen

Editor's Note: This article is the second part of a two part series on the subject of Hollywood Remakes. Check out Part One, by Jon Cain, here.

Anyone know how many plays Shakespeare wrote without looking it up on Google? The answer is 38 or 40, depending on if you count the two we know have been lost. However, here is a more interesting question: do you know how many of those plays were original stories of Shakespeare’s own design?

The answer is one.

Here is arguably the greatest playwright of all time, and he is almost exclusively retelling stories. This is the Elizabethan version of Hollywood’s many remakes. But does anyone besmirch Shakespeare his reimagining?

In The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall parses a recent study in which the fundamentals of our brains have been examined using the latest in brain imaging technology. What neruo-biologists, increasingly, have discovered is that telling and retelling stories is fundamental to who we are. It is our most powerful tool for transferring culture—which then becomes a way humans can “evolve” many times faster than we would biologically. It is as fundamental to our basic humanity as language itself.

Furthermore, anyone who has ever studied an oral tradition finally committed to print (like Beowulf) can tell you that there are often competing narratives in such accounts (in Beowulf it is a tension between Anglo Saxon and Christian value systems). We don’t just tell and retell stories exactly in the same way—we reimagine them constantly for our audience. We co-opt other stories, adding details, ignoring others, emphasizing what we want our audience to get from the story.

The Anglo Saxon scops would focus on retribution, while the Christiandom bards would emphasize forgiveness, in the same way that thirty years ago a director made Robocop a Christ symbol, and today, he is giving voice to increasing cultural anxiety about how much humanity is farming out to computers. This trend to take the stories and make them what we want for our time—to fit them into a new set of values—is as old as language, and really even humanity itself.

There will always be the drive in storytellers to tell it better than it was told to them. And there will always be people who say “You tell the story; you do it better!” That is fundamentally who we are, and the day we stop telling and retelling stories, I think we will no longer quite be human anymore.  I can’t imagine we can expect Hollywood to ever stop rebooting, resetting, remaking, and reimagining. Just don’t forget, if you take your ten bucks to the independent theater down the street, you will probably get all the originality you can handle.

But at least Jon and I can agree on one thing. Fuck Michael Bay. He should have been required to hand in his director’s chair after Pearl Harbor.

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