When old whines come in new bottles

By Anamika Chatterjee

This weekend at theatres, Charlie is back with his angels. Those of us who grew up in 2000s may have an image of Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu etched in our minds as angels who save the day. That idea may somehow be different for an audience member of the 1970s used to watching Farah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith as Charlie’s Angels in the famous television show that aired between 1976 and 1981.

American television and cinema has made sure there is an angel for every generation, as it has ensured there’s a James Bond and Spider-man and Mary Poppins and Jacques Clouseau for every age and taste.

Revisiting hit films of yesteryears comes with creative licences that may just be exciting for a filmmaker or an actor. But does it really mean something when the plot, characterisation and treatments are rehashed instead of being reworked. What exactly then is the purpose of telling stories that have already been told?

Every genre of entertainment — be it music, films or art — has a way of paying tribute to a classic by revisiting the original. But this may just become staid if it does not have a social or cultural update. Which is why Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins feels less inspiring compared to Julie Andrews’ portrayal. The all-women Ghostbusters team, while setting its gender politics right, did not tickle the funny bone like their predecessors did in 1984. And Steve Martin’s Inspector Clousseau offers a lot less than Peter Sellers’ in Pink Panther films.

Granted, there is a great joy (and commercial daydreaming) in revisiting a classic, but often, they’re old whines in new bottles. That may have something to say about commercial mainstream cinema’s fear of original ideas. Every story is relevant to the time it’s written in. Back in the 1970s, the charm of watching Charlie’s Angels or Wonder Woman had quite a lot to do with the fact that, at that time, all the world saviours on big and small screen were men. Watching a female protagonist having as much agency was indeed refreshing. Ditto for Psycho, the Alfred Hitchcock classic that was revisited in 1998, with Vince Vaughn playing Anthony Perkins’ titular role. In 1960, when the film released, its sheer voyeurism (think of the scene where Norman Bates peeps through a hole to watch Marion take shower) and depiction of a psychologically-disturbed young man was chilling — also majorly because mental health wasn’t a dinner table conversation back then. In its 1998 follow-up, not only was the element of suspense missing for very obvious reasons, the performances and storytelling just didn’t match up to the classic.

Do we really need reboots? Only if they add something substantial to a story already been told. If anything, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy makes a case for it. The arch-villain of the comic, the Joker, has been caricatured in most Batman movies of the 1990s (and there have been plenty of them). In The Dark Knight (2008), Nolan took the character out of the good-versus-bad binary and gave it a life of its own. Among all the ‘evil’ things the character stood for, Heath Ledger’s Joker was an astute observer of society and its social inequities. This year, Joaquin Phoenix humanised the anti-hero further, sparking conversations on contemporary issues such as mental health and the rise of the far right. So, while Hollywood may have also had a Joker for every generation, it has peeled a layer each time the character has returned to the screen.

Many of us will watch the new Charlie’s Angels movie, applaud the action, marvel at the sheer glamour quotient and cheer for the trio when it triumphs against all odds. By the end of it, however, it may just be worth asking if it tells us anything we don’t already know about impossibly sensual women saving the world.

anamila@khaleejtimes.com

Anamika likes to delve into everything dark and contentious

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