Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In my usual on-it Cahiers fashion, I just saw last year's remake of Hairspray. I hadn't wanted to see it at all at first, remembering the excitement of ditching class in college and driving to the city with friends to see the original, but I caved. Watching this version was a head-scratching experience. It was technically very accomplished and positive, and as far as feeling all het up about its (or the musical's) existence in the first place, I get the sense from his public endorsement of the endeavor that John Waters is certainly against any snobbish nostalgia. That is, without really knowing (I avoided a lot of media coverage in my usual ostriccchian fashion), he seems--and I mean this in the nicest possible way--slutty about it all. Which is perfectly consistent with his POV. I don't know how to explain this right.

There weren't a lot of obvious holes to pick. How great to watch a chubby girl be the center of attention (although I feel like the camera had what I might call a--not male, but--Tall gaze; it did not know always seem to know how/choose to make the very short NBlonsky the center of the frame/action). It was worth watching for that. And I don't usually like modern musicals much, but there were a few bits I was humming the next day. I still feel ambivalent, though.

We are at a point of sophistication in our collective media consumption where naked wholesale re-engineering doesn't fly. The movie was, and I think had to be, quite 'loyal' to the original, in the sense that it kept a lot of bits and pieces, names and basic plot, etc. But I think that perhaps the original wasn't actually that well-served by imitation (being the sincerest form of F.). Travolta, for instance; the Clarence-Thomas-for-Thurgood-Marshall style casting there felt wrong. Or the (expected, but still sort of off) use of nasty, juicy John Waters bits as flavoring, rather than main ingredients. The remake borrows a lot--borrows both the space carved out by the original and its spunk--to
safely flavor what is a fairly conventional effort; leverages the attitude of the original to get even farther out of sticky, confusing history, and rebels against the same things, not new things. I mean...I dunno how positive John Waters movies are. They're fun, but I'm not sure they're positive. It's a weird kind of new revisionism to revise a parody of a take on a take of a version of history. Or life. I really dunno.

Does this sound ridiculous? I love pat goofball musicals. And Hollywood has actually been remaking everything forever, not just in my lifetime, but the way Hairspray was gobbled up and recycled at least twice in my adult life (not to mention being a model for new, nicer John Waters filmmaking in the first place) does kind of make your head spin. I get the feeling Waters would roll his eyes at this kind of thing (and probably has) and I don't think treating movies as sacrosanct is that helpful a stance to take in general. But still. Sometimes it feels like everything we digest these days makes us inured to things rather than sensitive to them. What can I say, I miss Divine!

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