A remake is generally thought of as a film based on an earlier film, usually with minor or major variations of plot, characterization, casting, setting, or form, and sometimes language and genre as well. Examples include Scarlet Street (1943), Fritz Lang's Hollywood remake of Jean Renoir's French film, La Chienne (1931); In the Good Old Summertime (1949), a musical remake in color of The Shop Around the Corner (1940); Chori, Chori (1956), an Indian remake of It Happened One Night (1934); The Magnificent Seven (1960), a western remake in color of The Seven Samurai (1957); The Thing (1982), a widescreen and color remake of The Thing from Another World (1951); and Black Cat (1991) and Point of No Return (1993), Hong Kong and Hollywood remakes respectively of the French film La Femme Nikita (1990).
However, the issue of what constitutes a remake is complicated by the degree of variation involved, the extent to which original versions or previous remakes are acknowledged, and the fact that originals and previous remakes may themselves be adapted versions of novels, plays, and other preexisting sources. (There have been over a hundred film versions of Cinderella , over eighty film versions of Hamlet , and over sixty film versions of Carmen .) The production of different versions of films for different markets (a feature of the early sound era), and the extent to which films were copied or reshot prior to the existence of copyright legislation (a feature of the early silent era), simply add to the complications. As a result, remakes have been subject to a great deal more theoretical thinking than have serials, series, and sequels. Thomas Leitch has proposed a useful typology of remakes based on the ways in which they relate to original films and previous remakes, on the one hand, and to their common source or "property" on the other.
Leitch notes, first of all, that while producers typically pay fees for the right to adapt novels, short stories, or plays, they usually pay no such fees for the right to remake a film. He notes, too, that remakes generally seek to please a number of different audiences—those who have never heard of the original film, have heard of the film but not seen it, have seen the film but do not remember it, have seen but either did not like it or only liked it to a degree, have seen it and liked it, and so on. Although most remakes seek to be intelligible to those who have never seen or are not aware of the original, they also seek to provide additional enjoyment to those in the know.
When original films and their remakes are adaptations, other issues arise. For Leitch, remakes of adaptations take one of four different stances toward earlier adaptations and the properties adapted. The first is to readapt a property in the interests of fidelity, thus by implication downgrading the status of earlier versions. This is the stance often taken by remakes of classic literary texts such as Hamlet or Camille . The second is to update the property, revising or transforming its ingredients in obvious ways. Updates often signal their status by adopting a quasi-parodic tone (as in the 1948 and 1973 versions of The Three Musketeers ) or, more obviously, by using titles such as Joe Macbeth (1955), Camille 2000 (1969), or Boccaccio 70 (1972). The third is to pay homage to a previous adaptation. Here the focus is on an earlier film rather than on its source. Examples include Nosferatu the Vampire (1982), a remake of Nosferatu (1922), itself an uncredited adaptation of Dracula . The fourth, simply, is to remake an earlier adaptation. The true remake , as Leitch calls it, evokes a cinematic predecessor in order to update, translate, or improve it—to highlight its insufficiencies (its dated attitudes and techniques, its foreign language and style, its inability, because of some or all of these things, to capture the essence of the property on which it is based) and thus render it superfluous. Examples cited by Leitch include the 1959 version of Imitation of Life , the 1981 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice , and such Hollywood remakes of foreign films as Cousins (1989), Sommersby (1993), and The Vanishing (1993).
An additional type of remake is what might be called the "authorial revision." Here, producer-directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Capra, and Howard Hawks revisit, rework, or update the components of earlier films. Examples include Hitchcock's 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much ; Capra's Pocketful of Miracles (1961), a remake of Lady for a Day (1933); and El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970), Hawks's subsequent elaborations on the ingredients of Rio Bravo (1959). As the director Jean Renoir said, filmmakers often spend their careers remaking the same film. Insofar as this is true, it returns us to the paradoxical status of repetition and repetitive forms in the cinema. For, although authorial repetition is valued as a mark of individual distinctiveness, institutional repetition, whether in series, serial, sequel, or remake form, is nearly always viewed as its opposite. This paradox lies at the core of nearly all discussions of forms of repetition in the cinema.
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