Buying "Rewrite" Rights to Classic Literature? A Quick Thought on Film Remakes...
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Film , Television

Buying "Rewrite" Rights to Classic Literature? A Quick Thought on Film Remakes...

Hmm

Humor me for a few minutes please… I just realized something this morning during a conversation I had with some friends about the reliance on film and TV remakes from Hollywood studios in recent years: film/TV 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 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 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) and rewrote the novel, but with some new personal touches, and maybe upgraded the era in which the stories occur. Or what if a painter so in love with any of Pablo Picasso’s works could “option the repainting rights” to it, and create 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? Something to research, unless someone reading this knows. 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.”

But I did ponder the nature of cinema versus the written word, or still life images on canvas. 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.

All this to say, in summary – 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.


Malcolm Woodard is a film enthusiast and writer living in ATL.

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