Of remake & reel addiction

Second Take

Of remake & reel addiction

Of the two recent Blu-ray releases I finally caught up with, one is a remake of an Ira Levin classic and the other is a gripping non-fiction film on cinephilia. The Stepford Wives remake is decidedly funnier than the 1975 Katherine Ross original. But, is it more suspenseful? This version with Nicole Kidman is as suspenseful as the original,  but neither movie adaptations is as unbearably and brilliantly suspenseful as the book.

His unique brand of suspense is the comic suspense that results from paranoia. Levin escalates the suspense in his books by keeping the proceedings as eerily ambiguous to the reader as they are to his characters. This dizzy seesawing between the real and the imagined creates the jittery, compelling mood of paranoia in his novels.

There’s a comic undertone running through all his stories, and Levin’s use of satire is such that it does not deflate the horror but enhances it. In The Stepford Wives, for instance, he uses wit and irony to tweak the horror. He takes that old wonderful Invasion of the Body Snatchers idea of duplicates and gives it a neat, contemporary feminist twist. In the tranquil town of Stepford there is no crime, no drugs... only the Stepford Wives, who cook and clean with not a hair out of place. Nicole Kidman comes to the tranquil town of Stepford and finds that, with the exception of two women, the rest are housewives and sex dolls rolled into one. And they take their role pretty seriously. It’s not long before she sees her best friend change into a Stepford Wife and begins to fear that she too will change soon.

‘The Stepford Wife’ has now entered into pop culture myth and refers to any woman who has been forced to change into something horrible, into a zombie, into a toy thing for men to play with. In his brilliantly suggestive way, Levin leaves the conclusion open-ended.

But neither version had the guts to keep the conclusion open ended and ambiguous. Levin never spells out what actually happens to the women of Stepford, he only suggests it. To explain it in a literal fashion the way both versions do is like explaining a joke; reducing the horror by naming it. What is lost in translation is Levin’s eerie, playful suspense. The script by Paul Rudnick is full of sneaky one-liners and the actors — Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Bette Midler and Christopher Walken relish their campy, over-the-top performances. As directed by Frank Oz, the film spins out of control. Widescreen edition, five featurettes(!), six deleted scenes and a gag reel are part of the new format.

Cinemania, directed by Angela Christlieb and Stephen Kijak, follows five die-hard New Yorker movie buffs as they go about their compulsive movie-watching.

The filmmakers don’t direct the movie as much as let these movie fanatics talk about their obsessive film-watching. The portrait that emerges of these cinemaniacs is their devotion to cinema at all cost: all four are single and want to remain that way so that their habit isn’t disrupted by marriage or children. None of them will attend a funeral or a marriage or even have a date if it comes in the way of watching a movie. One of them claims to have seen 1,000 films in a month.

They live in tiny apartments filled with movie memorabilia. And yet each of them have different movie-viewing habits and rituals. Roberta Hill will not watch movies on video and does not own a television set, while Eric Chadbourne compulsively watches movies on videotapes till they go bust. Bill Heidbreder’s own tastes lean to serious European cinema (though he pans Resnais and Fassbinder!) though is happy to watch B movies. Jack Angstreich declares that “cinema is better than sex” and perhaps “better even than love”. Harvey Schwartz spends most of his waking hours at cinema theatres, and if he can, the nights too.

The five cinephiles discuss which is the best place to sit in a theatre (front row vs. back row), their favourite theatres and even their favourite projectionists. They see about 600 to 2,000 films a year. One of them sees at least three movies in a day. Three of them don’t work and live off disability (which leaves their daytime free to watch movies), and one of them lives off an inheritance.

All of us at some level will relate to these cinephiles: for instance, one of them writes down the name of every movie he sees — something I know quite a few people do. The film is thoroughly enjoyable. My only complaint is that it is far too short at 80 minutes. In the new format it is crisp with several extra features making up for the movie getting over all too quickly.

My question at the end of watching this was the same one I had when I first saw it in the theatre: Why did it take so long for a documentary to be made on cinephilia?

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