Let's go to the movies!
Let’s go to the movies!
During The Great Depression of 1929-early 1942, the one uniquely American industry that thrived was the movies. The more bizarre and depressing things became; the more people sought refuge in what my hero, Jimmy Stewart, called “a few hours of freedom.” 1939 is now regarded as the golden year of filmmaking’s achievements. Such classics as “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz” come immediately to mind, and are recognizable even to today’s MP-3 generation. I have known Yankees who think “Gone with the Wind” is a documentary.
As a rule, I hate remakes. Most of them are rancid regurgitations of TV programs from the 1960s. One or two remakes made me chuckle, but I am hard-pressed to name them. They blew past and popped like soap bubbles on a summer day. Martin Scorsese's version of "Cape Fear" is an exception, and Roger Donaldson's remake of "The Getaway" was a noble attempt at a daunting task, but for the most part remakes are garbage.
Until a few weeks ago, I was blissfully unaware that anyone had attempted a remake of “Vanishing Point”. For those readers unfamiliar with the original, it is referenced repeatedly in the second half of Quentin Tarantino’s “Grindhouse” duet; the “Deathproof” segment involving tough chicks, Kurt Russell, and fast cars.
The original 1971 production—directed by Richard Sarafian—was a ‘70s minimalist classic wrapped around a car chase flick. It was the road trip from Hell. It reflected what many of us who lived through the 1970s believed; religion is cynical, the cops are dumb, racist pigs, and speed—both the pharmaceutical and literal kind—kills. Oh, and love hurts. Richard Nixon had just taken over, and heroin had replaced LSD as the drug of choice.
I wince repeatedly watching “Deathproof”, because Tarantino tears up what are now classic cars in his homage. Constant Readers know I am a fan, and former owner, of classic cars from the “muscle” days.
The word-of-mouth buzz around the original “Vanishing Point” was that Barry [Kowalski] Newman had to get intensive driving lessons during the production, because he was a New York-based actor, and didn’t know how to drive. That story may have been apocryphal, but it was a good one.
The original “Vanishing Point” was nihilistic to the extreme. I won’t give “spoilers” to those who would care to view the original for the first time, but the climax was a depressing question: “What’s the use? Why should we live with this?”
I credit “Vanishing Point” with my love for fast cars, and my attendant scofflaw attitude toward speed limits. To this day, nothing turns me on like hundreds of unrestrained horsepower loosed by a leaden foot with total disregard for the law. (Adult-type warning, kids: I have had professional-driver training; you should never do this with even one beer under your belt; and it’s only safe in the wee hours of the morning on empty roads. And if the cops catch you, you have to take the ticket and show up for court without any back-talk.)
So, some decades later, some programming genius at CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] makes an unholy deal to remake “Vanishing Point.” They followed the original script for about a minute, then devolved into some politically-correct, touchy-feely made-for-TV garbage-fest about a devoted father trying to get home to his pregnant wife before she gives birth. The black DJ “Super Soul” was replaced with “a Native American mystic” claiming the psychic connection to the fugitive Kowalski. There is even a condescending preface about a ’71 Dodge Challenger being “an American classic car” that should not be scratched or dented during the aborted delivery run. (The original Kowalski was supposed to deliver said Challenger from Denver to San Francisco, and doubled-down a bet with his drug dealer he’d make the deadline. Nobody was birthing babies in that version.)
The final insult was a suggestion from the CBC remake’s narrator that “Kowalski” somehow walked away from the apocalyptic crash at the end. (Okay, that’s a “spoiler” but unavoidable.)
Some things are better left untouched. Re-making “3:10 to Yuma” produced a fairly decent modern Western, but who could remake Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”? What cast can replace William Holden, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, et.al.?
Speaking of Sam Peckinpah, there is another remake that grinds my gears. In 1972, Peckinpah left his beloved Western genre for a gritty crime thriller titled “The Getaway.” In the original, Steve McQueen acted with, fell in love with, and married Ali McGraw. You can feel the romance onscreen. In the ‘90s remake, I immediately caught the sense that Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger could not wait for their divorce to become final.
Entertainment enterprises are good when they are edgy, original, and push the envelope of creativity. When some industry hack thinks a stillborn rehash of something that was a good idea at the time is a sure-fire money-maker, he is usually wrong.
Perhaps The Red Herring should consider this. Spending our way out of economic hard times worked only once, for FDR during the movie’s heyday in the 1930s. It took a global war and millions of deaths to provide the “stimulus” for that one unique moment in history.
Oops, I said no politics! Okay, I’m going to drive my very fast, gas-guzzling, irreplaceable car to the nearest multiplex and check out these “Transformers”. Can shape-shifting robots be any slicker than the lap dogs running my life these days? I need a few hours of what’s left of “freedom.”