In the forty-odd half-baked little ramequins of whimsy that I’ve rammed down your throats over the fifteen months spent at this glorious institution, I have only once embarked on what could be called a rant. A stream of violent abuse emerged from my own fair hands in May of last year, as I tore into YouTube commenters in a wholly cathartic vituperative frenzy. The video that sparked off that uncharacteristic outburst, in one of those twists Agatha Christie would have struggled to concoct, was also the inspiration for the warm and appealing quiche of delight you now see before you.
The video in question was a 192-second long extract from the movie ‘Cabaret’, wherein a suitably blonde, blue-eyed Aryan youth sings a gentle berceuse to the beauties of the countryside.
As the camera pans out to reveal the Hitlerjugend cap on his blue hair and the demented look in his blonde eyes, the entire biergarten is seen joining him in a rousing chorus of ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’. A terrifying clip that offers us one of the most enduring cinematic clichés of pre-war Germany. Lots of scope for vapid, sinister or bewilderingly stupid video posts, I’m sure you’ll agree. One year and 784 posts on, the reasons for my little explosion are still painfully clear.
But I am a better man. The most disturbing Cabaret-related item I was able to find online this time round was that a remake starring Renee Zellwegger is up in the air. I hope and pray to Ian (my Immoral Atheistic Nonentity) that it never comes back down. There comes a point when the idea of remakes, revivals and sequels leaves the platonic world of tribute and respect far behind and plunges itself headlong into the crass world of commercialism.
Reproducing an artist’s work before it has truly faded from the collective consciousness is as insulting as it is lazy. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but a work needs to be allowed to rest: the cauldron of creativity has to settle before the film of inspiration can be stirred by the ladle of reinterpretation. The motivation behind artistic endeavour should not be a desire to feed off a collective nostalgia. People with originality, creativity and vision should be encouraged to embark on their own projects, not incited to tap into lucrative veins of enthusiasm they didn’t generate. At the present rate of things, the entirety of cinema history will be rewritten every fifty or so years, in progressively sharper colours and with increasingly tighter dialogue.
Take the Old Testament – a work blinding in its originality and breathtaking in its scope – a text that has formed the bedrock of Western civilization and that no self-respecting hotel bedroom should be without. How would it feel if some local studio chiefs decided to commission a remake? An updated version with an all-star cast and none of the unnecessary boring bits that were in the original? Something that captured the spirit of the day?
Sure, let’s make the God character a little friendlier. Let’s cut some of the explicit sex and violence in order to get a PG or U rating. Let’s insert a likeable, central protagonist and have him be a little more tolerant than some of the guys in the original. You know, to get the kids involved. You can guess the punchline to this Mitchell & Webb sketch: the New Testament is released in cinemas globally and has massive returns at the Box Office. Lucifer vies with Saint John the Baptist for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar while the Almighty makes a clean sweep of the Special Effects prizes for the second year running. Talk of a television series is scrapped as Jesus reveals he won’t be able to make the filming dates: a shame, but maybe we could shift the focus onto a secondary character. ‘Saint Peter: the Pearly Gates’ goes into pre-production and the franchise keeps on growing.
Seeing as I began with films set in Nazi Germany, I feel tempted to quote the line from Pimpernel Smith: ‘The mind of man is bounded only by the Universe’.
Platitudinous and unimpressive when seen out of its original context as a codephrase for Jewish intellectuals to escape from German clutches, perhaps, but true nonetheless. The problem with that, of course, is that the Universe is a pretty limited place to begin with. Things exist in patterns and rhythms, with repetitions and recurring features: the very fabric of the cosmos obeys phenomenally simple laws governed by mathematics that even a human mind is capable of grasping. Just as the infinite possibilities existing in nature lie in variations on a theme, so the most original of our inventions fall into the same trap.
The theory has been proposed that all stories, whether taken from the arcana of Norse Mythology or the final assignments of first-year creative writing students from American arts colleges, fall into five basic categories. There are five ways we have managed to express our Universe in verbal form, and all the rest, as the preacher might say, is vanity.
While not subscribing to the idea that five is necessarily the golden number, we are clearly limited in the means of communication open to us. Every novel is in some sense an adaptation of an earlier publication, each play or sonata a pastiche of an earlier work, and all films remakes or parodies of those that came before.
We can’t help repeating ourselves, and our artistic footprints are so large that we end up crossing our own paths time and time again. There should, however, be limits to how eagerly we run around in circles. When this particular frothy souffle of enchantment is updated to a 22nd Century audience, for instance, it would be a shame if people watch the 2012 version of ‘Cabaret’ to get a feel for my message.