Sunday, August 3, 2008

Rocky Horror...Horror...

I’m not that hard to please movie-wise, really. And I’m not one to cry sacrilege every time something gets altered in the process of being translated onto the big screen. Sure, there are risky remakes, unnecessary sequels, and adaptations that make me nervous but turn out to be OK (the trailer and posters for next March’s Watchmen make me very optimistic). But on rare occasions there are ideas that I am prepared to say in advance, sight unseen, are just wrong.

One such case was Hollywood giving the Demi Moore Scarlet Letter a happy ending — and the producer twisting the knife by talking about how he felt he was liberating the story that wanted to be told from the constraints of the original, presumably lame Hawthorne novel. Another such case, arguably more absurd, is MTV’s planned remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this may be the worst idea for a film remake I have ever heard. Not because Rocky Horror is the best film ever made — no one really believes that — but because no film (perhaps no work of art in all of human history) is known in such intimate detail by its fans and treasured for each and every quirk. I would be more optimistic if I heard Star Wars were being remade (I might even be relieved to hear George Lucas wasn’t involved so that he couldn’t do any further damage).

And a Rocky Horror remake just gets worse the more you think about it. I mean, either it’s identical to the original — in which case, what’s the point? — or it’s not, in which case, where’s the love? Must we see a Dr. Frank-N-Furter that is not Tim Curry (who deserves a retroactive Oscar for that performance)? A Brad and Janet who are not Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon? God help us, a Columbia who is not Little Nell? Why? To what possible end? Will they correct mistakes and missteps? Keep them? There is no good solution.

At least when the very odd Gus Van Sant remade Psycho shot for shot, he was raising questions about whether remakes are necessary and how they should be done. I find it hard to believe MTV has any nobler or more artistic intention than duping a lot of young people into thinking “Newer must mean better!” Let’s get Judd Apatow to redo Citizen Kane while we’re at it (perhaps in 3D). Or have Darren Aronofsky remake RoboCop — oh, wait, that one’s actually happening.


•On an even more nerdy note, I can’t help thinking that people who want to see Richard “Riff Raff” O’Brien, writer of Rocky Horror, in another film have one more reason to check out Dark City, just re-released on DVD on its tenth anniversary. He plays one of the great, gothy villains, Mr. Hand (“Sleep now…”), and has one of the more poignant and believable final scenes in sci-fi-villain history.

•Recent weeks have also seen the release of the concert film Lou Reed’s Berlin, scheduled to close at Film Forum the same night, Tue., Aug. 5, that I’m gathering people at 8pm at Iggy’s Karaoke on Second and 76th for birthday drinking and, at 9pm, singing that might well range from Rocky Horroresque glam rock to dark Velvet Underground numbers.

•Somewhere in between glam rock and karaoke falls my favorite performance from the show Rock Star INXS: rare Tongan-American (Tonga being a monarchical Pacific island of about 100,000 inhabitants) Jordis Unga doing Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” which friendly ex Koli — who is also gathering people at Iggy’s in honor of her own birthday — is reviewing as possible inspiration. With emotion not heard in the Bowie or Nirvana versions, Unga does the song well — well enough that I was rooting for her early on, but you had to feel for the slimy J.D. (the Richard Hatch of Rock Star INXS) when he suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly found out he’d won in the end (“You are the new lead singer of INXS”) and fell to his knees, overcome with emotion as his life’s ambition was realized.

•But many covers should not happen, and I don’t just mean MTV’s Rocky Horror or the atrocities sometimes committed in karaoke.

For instance, the fittingly-named band Nonpoint has an utterly worthless, emo-ish cover of Phil Collins’ classic song “In the Air Tonight.” Why do people keep doing things that serve no purpose but to fill me with hate?

Since I tend to think a cover should not be done unless it somehow adds to, improves upon, or cleverly reinterprets the original, I am made happier by things like my favorite quartet of great moody/female covers of rougher/male alternative rock songs: “Train in Vain” by Annie Lennox, “Fell in Love with a [Boy]” by Joss Stone, “Sweet Jane” by Cowboy Junkies, and “All Apologies” by Sinead O’Connor — the second Nirvana song of which I’ve had trouble remembering the title recently, by the way. The past is slipping away, but crappy covers don’t help.

ADDENDUM: None of the above should be construed as an argument against the Danzig-ified version of Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” of course.


Red Stapler said...

God, I am so appalled by this as well, for all the same reasons you state.

There’s no reason for any of it. The only excuse to see these roles portrayed by other performers is if it’s a stage show.

It’s a classic as it is, all of its moments unique and organic. Any attempt to recreate them is ill-advised and won’t work.

A new version of this movie is completely unnecessary.

Xine said...

Well, I’m not in favor of it, but how is a remake of RHPS any different, philosophically, from the annoying yahoos who perform along with it in a theatre dressed as “their” characters (by which I do *not* mean the standard audience participation, but the miming of the entire film in front of the screen as it’s happening, of which I’ve never understood the point). One might argue that this manifestation of audience participation (so venerable it appears in *Fame*!) lends RHPS even better than other films to a remake–as it’s emphatically a film where one of the whole points is to “recreate its moments.”

Or am I being too cultural-studies?

Todd Seavey said...

I neglected to mention that, heretically, I think the audience antics should be dispensed with entirely.

Using the recent stage musical cast, including Joan Jett as Columbia, might almost make sense — but it still wouldn’t be an improvement, just forgivable as a sort of filmed stage play version instead of a remake of the film (based on the original play script, of course).

Would you pay to see those idiots miming the movie _without_ getting to see the actual film? That is the stark question before us, in essence. It’s as if the entity called the Police that I’m going to see in their final concert were touring without containing any of the original members (a fate that sometimes befalls old Motown-era bands with shifting lineups, albeit gradually in most cases, like the philosophy problem about the ship gradually replaced plank by plank that may or may not constitute a “new” ship).

But all this talk is madness — Tim Curry is Frank-N-Furter! All else is idle prattle!

Xine said...

A better idea, then: remaking it *with the original cast members*! Meat Loaf could still fit into his original denim vest, likely, but late-model Tim Curry and the corset….?

Todd Seavey said...

The narrator is dead, alas — although people might enjoy seeing Dick Cavett from the recent stage version (which I saw, by the way).

WEIRD TRIVIA FACTOID: An acquaintance of mine overheard Heath Ledger being treated rudely in 2005 by a real estate agent who didn’t recognize him and Michelle Williams and demanded to know their salaries before showing them apartments. That same year, presumably without help from that agent, Ledger ended up buying the Brooklyn apartment of…Little Nell.

(Ledger will also not be appearing in remakes or sequels of anything.)

Todd Seavey said...

P.S. By an odd coincidence, I actually thought I recalled Meatloaf, Little Nell, and Dick Cavett _all_ being dead, but they’re all alive, various travails notwithstanding.

Red Stapler said...

I can’t explain or define Shadow Casts (the “official” term for the miming), all I can say is that I enjoy watching them. When they’re well done, anyway.

I’d try and explain myself in some fashion, but given that it’s something I started watching and enjoying when I was 15, I find explanations sort of out of my reach.

Todd Seavey said...

Shadow as free bonus: OK. Shadow cast as ten-dollar item without accompanying original film: lame. That’s my general thinking.

Similarly, I would not pay $10 to see people do songs from _The Wall_ in karaoke — but I’m happy to applaud people who do Floyd songs without charging me at Iggy’s Karaoke tomorrow night.

Diana said...

You think that the audience antics should be dispensed of?! What right do you have to talk about RHPS! The only reason that artsy fartsy types like RHPS is because it gives them an excuse to ham it up. Also back in the day liking RHPS was a secret way of saying you were ok with sexual deviance which there is no point in anymore since people announce it openly.

I might also mention that the second half of RHPS from the pool scene on is just the most boring bit of film ever. If they made that totally different it would be fine by me. Perhaps some Hollywood aliens and UFOs?

Well, all us old timers will be spinning in our wheelchairs and graves when nobody remembers the original RHPS any more. *sigh*

Todd Seavey said...

On a similar note, Quentin Tarantino is reportedly casting Britney Spears in the homicidal exotic dancer role made famous by Tura Satana in _Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!_:

This may be one of those cases where both remake and source material create too many levels of irony to judge, though. Yet I contend the same is _not_ true of Rocky Horror — let history judge.

Todd Seavey said...

Groundless rumor, they’re now saying.