Nothing new under the sun

Last week I saw The Departed. It’s a remake of a Hong Kong thriller called Infernal Affairs. Some people object to remakes in principle, feeling that they betray a lack of creativity and originality, that they prove that pop culture is in terminal decline and has to resort to self-cannibalism.
Yeah, tell that to Shakespeare. Stories have to be re-written (and re-read) for many reasons. In order to be fully explored or understood. In order to be updated, clarified. In order to be made accessible to new generations of readers/viewers. If it’s a great story, it bears re-telling and re-inventing. Critic Kim Newman once wrote that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” could usefully be remade once a decade, and have fresh contemporary political/sociological relevance every time.

Many scoffed at Gus van Sant for remaking Psycho shot-for-shot, but he had an interesting justification for it, to wit: it’s a great movie that everyone should see, but kids today aren’t going to pay to see a forty year old black-and-white movie starring no-one they’ve ever heard of. On the other hand there’s nothing in it that can be improved upon, so keep it the same, just put Vince Vaughn in it.

OK, maybe not an entirely successful justification, but I see his point.

The real point is that there’s never anything new – it’s just new for you.  I read an interview with Muse, where the interviewer criticised them for clichéd rock star behaviour like trashing hotel rooms. “It’s been done”, he said, to which Matt Bellamy replied “Not by me, it hasn’t”.

So, I enjoyed The Departed, although I can’t compare it to the original as I haven’t seen it. I have a feeling I enjoyed it more than the guy sitting a few rows behind me, who fell and cut his head open on his way to buy popcorn. The staff helped him mop up the blood and gave him a Band-Aid, and he sat down to watch a film in which numerous people get shot in the head at close range. That can’t have done his headache much good…