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The Thought Of Buying ‘Rewrite’ Rights To Classic Black Literature… (A Quick Thought On Remakes)

The Thought Of Buying 'Rewrite' Rights To Classic Black Literature... (A Quick Thought On Remakes)

I figured I’d write something “lighter” as my second S&A piece (my first post, which I made on Friday, titled In Defining ‘Quality Black Cinema,’ Whose Lens Are You Looking Through?, can be read HERE, along with all the througtful comments that follow).

But humor me for a few minutes please… I just realized something this morning – film and music are the only artistic mediums I can think of that have proven susceptible to remakes!

How often do you hear of any literary piece of work being “remade,” or in essence rewritten by another author, and then repackaged and resold either with the original title, or even under a different title? Or when was the last time you heard of a painting, or a sculpture being “remade” or recreated by another painter or sculptor, repackaged and then resold as a new and distinct product – at least legally, unless we’re talking forgery, which has no place here? Or how about an old photograph inspiring a contemporary replica.

But, as we all know, a plethora of films since cinema’s beginnings have been remade, repackaged and resold to new audiences – audiences that maybe weren’t around when the original film was in release – whether with the original title, or a different one.

The same goes for music – and I’m not referring to sampling, but rather entire songs being recreated, repackaged and resold to new audiences.

Imagine if some contemporary author decided that he/she liked James Baldwin’s Another Country so much that he/she “bought the rewrite rights” to it (as silly as that might sound), using film industry vernacular, and rewrote the novel, but with some new personal touches, and maybe upgrading the era in which the stories occur. Or what if a painter so in love with Pablo Picasso’s work could “option the repainting rights” to it (I grimaced as I typed that), and creates a new rendition of the original, with just enough additions and/or subtractions to distinguish between the original and the “remake,” and legally sell it. Or a sculptor, or photographer… and so on, and so forth…

The idea just doesn’t make very much sense at all, does it? Yet we seem perfectly content with remaking classic films and treasured songs, even when those recreations are far worse than the originals, and maybe even taint the memory of them.

Another thought/question: I wonder when the first film remake actually happened! What film started the trend? The first ever film to be honored with an upgrade… hmmm… something to research! The first one that comes to mind, only because I was recently reading about it, is Wes Craven’s retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s 1960 Oscar Winner, The Virgin Spring. Craven’s more familiar 1972 version was titled, The Last House on the Left. I’ll do some research and come back with another post on this when I have more info. 

Of course these are all rhetorical questions; I did ponder the nature of cinema versus the written word, or still life images on canvas, for example. Film is considered a “low-brow” form of mass-produced entertainment providing higher levels of instant stimulation, allowing even those who can’t read to participate and enjoy, compared to literature and the various kinds of fine arts; it easily lends itself to the idea of remakes. I’d guess there’s more money in repackaging films than novels; and, Shakespeare and the Bible aside, I don’t think most readers would take kindly to the idea of contemporary rewrites/remakes of their favorite literary works. Of course, we have film adaptations of those same literary works, which often face criticism from the “purists,” but that’s another topic for another post.

But all this to say in short – I wish Hollywood would leave the originals alone, and try some original material! Wishful thinking, I know. It’s not a business that’s filled with risk-takers.

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