I read on the internet today that Hollywood is going to remake the Elia Kazan classic East of Eden, and that the guy who directed John Adams is going to direct it. Whoops. That sounds like a terrible idea. John Adams was great, and clearly the guy who directed it is good at directing, and I hope that he has a long career directing tons of other great projects. But boo. BOOOOOOOOO.
Remakes, of course, are classically bad. It is Hollywood at its cash-grabbing, cynical worst. But for the most part remakes are limited to the sacred realm of nostalgic pop culture, and you could make an argument for how that is justified. Example: the reason that people are upset this week over the incoming casting announcements for the Karate Kid remake (namely Jackie Chan as Mr. Miyagi, which is obviously terrible) is because adulthood is hard and it keeps getting harder and most of the time it feels like the world is just fucking with you, or even worse, fucking at you, and it would be nice if there could be one tiny corner of your existence that remains protected from this stupid place (world) and that tiny corner is usually your childhood memories. And somehow it’s doubly painful not only to have your childhood memories tarnished by another Hollywood money party (where people come and give Hollywood money, you know, a party), but to have your childhood memories tarnished by JADEN FUCKING SMITH.
The argument that can be made, though, is that Karate Kid is not actually that great of a movie. THERE, I SAID IT. It was great when you were a kid, and so it might seem great now, kind of like when you look through your high school yearbook and the people who were seniors when you were a freshman still look old to you even though they were actually children. Karate Kid is a pop artifact, and the whole point of pop is that it’s disposable, replaceable, that you can write on top of it, or cut it up with scissors. So if you can momentarily set aside that Jaden Smith is involved, why not allow a whole new generation to enjoy the underdog story of the Karate Kid, if it’s so great? You can complain all you want about it not being as good as the original, but kids don’t want to see that shit anyway, Grandpa. Let them have their own fun.
That’s the argument to be made in favor of remakes. I’m not saying that I even totally agree with it. Surely there are enough talented screenwriters and filmmakers out there that we should be able to just come up with new stuff. But, you can’t just enjoy pop according to its own rules until you decide that you don’t want to play anymore.
That being said, East of Eden is not pop (although one could make the argument that it itself is a “remake” of Cain and Abel, if one wanted to be an asshole). In the spirit of full disclosure, the original John Steinbeck novel is one of my Desert Island Books, and the movie stands on its own as a completely intact piece of art. I saw it for the first time in college, and wrote what I am sure was an unreadable paper about it. The one thing that really struck me about the movie was how much better it was when I saw it projected in the screening room compared to watching it at home. You have to keep in mind that this was in 1952, when all the talkies were on VHS. I had never really noticed how completely “Pan-and-Scan” could destroy a movie. The reason for the dramatic change in viewing experience is not only because of the beautiful panorama cinematography, but because James Dean was such an incredible actor that half of his character is played out in his body language when he’s not talking.
But by the logic of pan-and-scan, anyone who’s not talking is cropped out of the frame so that we can focus on the action. Nowadays, with the DVDs, you don’t have this problem, and the movie has been restored to its full glory. You should rent it right now. And then you should buy it. It’s great, you guys.
My precious childhood (childhood is not precious) isn’t being trampled by Hollywood’s callous (and boring! That’s the worst part!) disregard for art in the face of commerce. I’m an adult now, and can put away childish things (feelings). But this just sounds like a bad and ultimately pointless idea. Luckily, I read somewhere that all you have to do to get Hollywood to cut it out is write a long blog post that very few people would even have the patience much less interest to read, and Hollywood is like “Oh, sorry, shut it down.” So don’t even worry about it.