Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stories Retold

Have you ever known a child that wanted you to read the same book over and over to them? And they wanted you to do the voices every time? And if you changed one voice or skipped one line they knew, they called you out?

Why do children enjoy this? Why do they want to hear the same story over and over? Predictability, maybe?

And how many of us still feel this? We want to freeze the movie we are familiar with in our heads, or set the plot of our favorite book in stone. We fear any changes, any new plot additions, any unexpected lines. And even the good things that are changed are overshadowed by the bad. When a movie is based on a book I expect change, I am not surprised by it. If the book took me twelve hours to read I can safely assume the ninety minute movie will leave things out. This isn't a bad thing, just the reality of the movie industry. Now, if this plot change detracts from the beauty of the original in some way that is different. But how often do the things we stress over actually detract and how often is our aversion simply a lack of willingness to accept change?

I like to hear stories told differently. I like to compare movies with books, pick out the good and the bad within each, compare and contrast. I was beyond excited when I found out one of my favorite musicals, "Sweeney Todd," would be redone by Tim Burton. And, unlike many, I was not disappointed by the remake. There are things that Angela Lansbury did better than Helena Bonham-Carter. There are moments of the original I love more, but there are moments of the newer version I like more. Tim Burton recreated a movie that probably wouldn't have interested today's society, which is evident in how many people had never heard of it before Johnny Depp agreed to take the role of Benjamin Barker, and made it new. Not better, maybe, but tailored to today's world.

It strikes me as interesting just how attached people become to what they view as the original of something. Especially when you take into consideration that the "original" Sweeney Todd was a penny dreadful which was turned into a French ballet many years later. The story was at least a century old before Angela Lansbury ever let out her bone-chilling scream.

I chose to pick on Sweeney Todd because it's a story I am familiar with, but the same can be said for any number of remakes. Take, for instance, "The Odyssey" and "Poseidon". Think of how many versions of "Hamlet" have been released. What's the original? Before the invention of recording devices nothing but remakes existed. Every bard told a story in a new way, every singer sang a song differently. The simple creation story was retold in every society differently, the classic fairy tales morphed from the dark and gruesome to Disney. This is the evolution of society. This is humanity.

I recently watched "Gnomeo and Juliet," a retelling of Shakespeare's tragic story told for kids, acted out by gnomes. Probably not what Old William had in mind, but still an adorable movie with some great jokes (and spectacular music).

I love new versions of old stories. I love old versions of old stories. I guess I just love stories. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, my favorite Halloween story, has been retold thousands of times. Even Washington Irving wrote it as a retelling, saying he had been told the story by Deidrich Knickerbocker. He wasn't claiming to have written the original.

Shakespeare has been accused of stealing his plot lines from any number of sources.

Some people react to a remake of a movie with trepidation, fear that their favorite story will be slaughtered and changed. I, personally, welcome this. I've seen the original. Can the remake impress me with something new? I hope so. If not I have the original on dvd.

So if some producer out there could get Kathy Bates and Meryl Streep to remake "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," which is one of my favorite movies of all time, I would be ecstatic.

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