Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Nightmare on Elm Street and other remakes

The trailer for the new remake of Nightmare on Elm Street was recently released, causing me to further review my thoughts on the recent trend of remaking old and not-so-old films. The reasons for the trend seem obvious enough, i.e. that film studios are increasingly playing it safe because of rising costs in production and publicity. A film that played well for previous generations is a sure bet insofar as the elements of the film that made it popular in the first place are still in place (most importantly the premise itself, in this case the extremely frightening and horrific character of child-murderer Freddy Krueger and his ability to invade our dreams) and that the studio does not need to generate interest or word of mouth through expensive advertisement since the title and characters of the piece are already so well known. A further element of this trend seems to be the inexplicable element of nostalgia in generation x and younger. Young people today are obsessed with the cultural artifacts of their youth, spending wast amounts of money on pop-culture linking them with their childhood. Seeing a remake of Nightmare on Elm Street falls into the same consumerist category as buying a Legend of Zelda T-Shirt or a Masters of the Universe DVD collection. I won't go into the reasons for this nostalgia here, a study worthy of a book in itself, but it seems like our jaded, post-modern view of ourselves and our culture have engendered a kind of cultural Peter Pan syndrome, a refusal to grow up and face the realities and hardships of this world, creating a whole generation of men-and-women-children that dress, act and talk as if they were still in high-school.

The most disturbing fact about this trend of remaking films of varying quality is the fact that it cheapens and relativizes the very art and form of film making. We are entering an era where films are primarily regarded as quick and effective entertainment, a roller coaster-ride that we can experience and then forget, a dispensable product to be consumed and then discarded. It is increasingly rare to meet young people interested in studying the great films of previous eras because to do so demands a certain amount of patience and thoughtfulness, a willingness to view film as art rather than just a pleasant distraction. This is not to say that the original films in question here, those being cherry-picked for remake by studio-heads, are all sensitive masterpieces. The original Nightmare on Elm Street is hardly a masterwork of cinema. Yet these films are of a time and a place, they are attempts to create something new and exciting that transcends the mere concerns of pandering to the lowest common-denominator. The studio that originally produced Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street took a certain amount of risk in doing so and that element of risk and exploration is essential to any and all art.

The most important element to consider with regard to these remakes is the fact that we as a culture have completely failed to celebrate films as what they truly are: a special, magical form of art that enables us to explore themes and issues in ways no other art form can. Even though studios are always going to view films primarily in terms of consumerism (films as being literally products to be consumed) this does not mean that we as a culture should abide by this definition. By revealing to young people the wealth and beauty of film history (American and foreign alike) we can change the way people think about films. If there is a market for innovative, thoughtful films than the studios will finance them. The only way for this to happen, though, is for us to move away from thinking about films solely as entertainment. A great first step would be some sort of cultural initiative where classic films are shown in schools and students are given the opportunity to write about them reflectively. Parents should also be encouraged to show their children classic films and to talk about the philosophical themes and aesthetic elements that make them worth revisiting. The recent trend of remakes should be a wake-up call for us to celebrate our cultural heritage in such a way that we can begin anew to explore new themes and questions instead of recycling old ones that weren't that great to begin with.

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