Original? Sin! Romancing the Reproducers (Part One)

Well, it seems that complimentary wireless internet access is not yet a standard feature of the average London hotel room. Jury’s Inn, Islington, for instance, charges £10 per day for a broadband connection. That’s about 20 to 25 percent of the cost for a room, and as such no piffling add-on to your bill. So I felt compelled to take a prolonged but not unwelcome break from blogging, taking the small fortune thus saved to the theater box office, the movies, and the temples of high art. Meanwhile, my lingering cold (the New York acquisition mentioned previously) was worsening into something well-nigh debilitating; a numb skull and eyeballs ablaze in their dried up sockets kept me from keeping up with the out-of-date—ever the broadcastellan motto—for another week.

Time healing (or hardening you into accepting) most anything eventually, I am returning at last with something approaching gusto and will try now to sum up my recent pop cultural experiences in a few lines that, it is hoped, add up to a composition fit for your perusal.

Even though I have used the phrase myself, I have always pitied those who, when asked “What’s new?” merely offer the wan reply of “Same old, same old.” There is an art to finding the new in the old—and those who don’t possess this life-skill are likely to be miserable, dissatisfied creatures. There is a difference, however, between making the old merely seem new—which is a form of deception—and making new what merely seemed old—which is a philosophy. Hollywood has always been great at deception; but either its powers or my willingness to be duped are beginning to fade with age.

Take The Producers and King Kong, for instance. In the theater, where revisiting old favorites generally means playing it safe, revivals can be corny or cozy, as Once in a Lifetime and And Then There Were None demonstrated to me. At the museum, people are forever flocking to see the oldest and most reproduced of paintings, as those on display in the exhibition “Samuel Palmer: Vision and Landscape.” And on the radio . . . ahh, now there’s a repository for the lost and found. Listen!

The Producers hoofed into UK theaters on what is celebrated here as Boxing Day, which is precisely when I saw it. Nothing screams indifference louder than rows of empty seats on opening night (make that “matinee”). I’m not sure whether the Bialystock and Bloom formula of making money by staging a flop will serve those involved in bringing back the original leads of the stage remake of the 1968 film.

I have seen the stage musical twice; back in September 2003 at the St. James Theater in New York City, with John Treacy Egan and Don Stephenson heading the cast; and again in January 2005 starring Lee Evans and Brad Oscar at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in London. Watching a filmed musical is like clutching an opera glass—parts at the expense of the sum. As a motion picture, The Producers was all picture and little motion. Opportunities to flesh out the Little Old Lady Land routine as some suitably bizarre Technicolor spectacle or to go all Busby Berkley with the Swastika dance were squandered in this stagy hokum of hummable tunes and ho-hum jokes.

And King Kong? While hardly an abject failure, this Titanicized remake of Jurassic Park (or the 1925 film adaptation of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World) comes across like a momentarily diverting thrill ride rather than a definitive version of a cinematic classic, let alone anything worthy of a nook in a time capsule.

Like The Producers, which mainly serves to preserve the performances of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick for posterity, King Kong makes little effort to be of its time, to provide any commentary save the by now tiresome postmodernist winks of self-reflexivity. The 1933 film smartly commented on the Great Depression, on the big city dreams gone bust; Peter Jackson’s film recreates the era with all the passion of a miniature train collector (from the shantytowns in Central Park to the Amos ‘n’ Andy sign in Times Square), but has little to say about our times.

Even when referencing Conrad’s familiar and perennially relevant novella The Heart of Darkness, the flashy new King Kong, unlike Apocalypse Now, does this pointlessly. Nor were the sexual tensions in this love triangle played out any more overtly than in the Hollywood pre-code version dreamed up by Cooper and Schoedsack. Might not there be accommodation for a few comments on, say, America’s anxieties about the constitution of marriage, terrorism and its countermeasures, or the future of immigration in a melodrama about an abducted alien forced into slave labor and desperate enough to die for a dream the realization of which those professing to be civilized are prepared to prevent at all cost?

It was beauty killed the beast, all right; but it’s a lack of vision that’s killing the movies. As the considerable decline in revenues suggests, the traditional cinema is about to die out like vaudeville; interactive computer games for the sit-at-home folk are taking their place. No longer able, let alone content, to follow the storylines so carelessly strung together by today’s filmmakers, audiences will want to create their own stories with the narrative fragments tossed to them by the Xbox builders now axing box office profits . . .

Hold on, while I am applying a fresh coat of Vicks VapoRub. Better make that “See you tomorrow.” Promise!

2 Replies to “Original? Sin! Romancing the Reproducers (Part One)”

  1. Ahhh, hotel broadband costs. Sad, serious addicts (like me), spend far too long searching Lastminute.com for hotels that include broadband in their package. Then, of course, spend far too much time surfing whilst on holiday. Good choice on where to spend your pink pound Doctor Heuser…M

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  2. I had more luck at Club Quarters, Gracechurch, London; but I was out all day sightseeing and shopping and bar-hopping that I didn\’t get to use my computer much. Still, it was there, shiny (if dented) and comforting, open to and for the world.

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