Generational Cycles – Teen-Movie Re-Makes
Kobus Cilliers | On 23, Feb 2020
Many would say that there are only three different films. Some would say seven. Either way, that’s never stopped film companies from making thousands of the damn things. Occasionally, they run out of ideas so badly, they decide to remake films they already made. Not so good for audience sanity, but potentially quite enlightening from a generational cycle’s perspective.
That’s what I was thinking the other week when I accidentally found myself watching the 2011 remake of the 1984 teen-movie, Footloose. I won’t bore you with the details of the script. Or the soundtrack. Needless to say, both were virtually identical. Perhaps not such a bad thing when it comes to the title song – an all-time classic that I imagine will one day feature in the musical wow section of the ezine – but fairly depressing in terms of producer imagination. Or lack thereof. Perhaps they thought it best not to tamper with a universal bad-boy-does-good/boy-meets-girl teen story? Perhaps they figured the GenX audience for the original was no different to the GenY audience for the remake? Who knows. At first it looked like there was no difference at all. In the original the hero is from Chicago, in the remake he’s from Boston. You say tomayto, I say tomarto.
But then you dig a little deeper. All the GenY characters are a bit prettier. They all dance better. More Heroically. That fits. Then you hit the real generation-shift nail on the head, and realise that in the original, the hero comes to the small town with his mum. In the remake, she’s gone and he’s an orphan. Now the perfect GenY Hero in other words. Just like Harry Potter or the latest incarnation of James Bond.
Here’s what the movies look like when mapped onto the Generation Map. Both of them hitting the heart of their respective teen audiences:
How about another one?
Strictly speaking the 1976 movie, Carrie, was targeted at the tail-end of the Baby-Boom teenage audience, but in reality it was picked up much more by the emerging Nomads. In part because John Travolta, who had a bit part in the movie, was about to become a major icon for the Nomads, but also because Carrie was in so many ways the outsider every lonely Nomad could empathise with. Carrie was made again as a TV movie in 2002, in retrospect, a tad too early for the emerging Hero’s, but then finally got its big GenY moment with a 2013 major re-remake from Hollywood.
The differences between the ’76 Nomad version and the ’13 Hero version are more noticeable this time, and are again highly symbolic in terms of tapping in to generational differences:
- Cissy Spacek, the titular star of the ’76 original, with her ginger eyelashes and almost translucent skin, had precisely the sort of weird alien beauty that might turn your peers against you. Drab styling couldn’t disguise the fact that the 2013 Carrie, Chloë Grace Moretz, is cute, altogether less of an outsider and thus much more in tune with the Heroic needs of GenY.
- Director Kimberly Peirce’s remake begins with a prologue showing a traumatised Margaret White (Julianne Moore) giving birth to Carrie. Moore, giving a typically committed performance, is a self-harming bundle of neuroses who seems more disturbed and more emotionally damaged than Piper Laurie, the actor who played Cissy Spacek’s mother. The new Carrie isn’t quite an orphan, but it is very clear in the remake that Mom is the root cause of Carrie’s problems.
- Carrie’s chief tormentor, über-bitch Chris Hargenson (Portia Doubleday), looks as though she’s been taking make-up tips from the Kardashians. Apart from some twins (whom you notice only because they’re twins, not because they do anything of interest) the classmates merge into an indistinguishable mass of meanness, with no individuals making their mark the way PJ Soles and Edie McClurg did back in 1976. In Hero-world it doesn’t do to make more than one baddy stand out by having a personality of their own.
- Pretty new-Carrie polishes her telekinetic powers, practising them in her bedroom. When she turns into a one-woman WMD at the school prom, she even seems to be relishing them, striking angry Vogue-type poses. But by making her appear more in control, the film also makes her more malevolent. Moreover, whereas semi-catatonic Spacek barely registers the death of the Tommy Ross character, Moretz reacts to it, making her subsequent behaviour less the mechanical response of a traumatised victim than a calculated act of vengeance. Maybe her mom was right all along? New-Carrie IS a monster!
- It’s hard to top the original director, Brian De Palma when he’s flexing his fancy show-off muscle by way of split-screen and revolving prism lens effects, but even so Peirce’s prom is oddly perfunctory. You would have thought that with today’s CGI she could have served up a more spectacular climax – the mass electrocution of the townsfolk as described in King’s book, for example. Images from the 1976 film seared themselves into the viewer’s brain forever, whereas in 2013 the whole thing feels rather forgettable. Perhaps best to not dwell on the bad stuff?
- Perhaps the most shocking moment in the 1976 film is when Carrie kills the sympathetic gym teacher (Betty Buckley). It’s also the pivotal point, when the catharsis curdles, the destruction is exposed as non-discriminatory, and we’re reminded that killing classmates and teachers will never, ever make things right. In the remake, the gym teacher (Judy Greer) survives, suggesting Peirce and Aguirre-Sacasa didn’t think this through. In their version, new-Carrie kills only the characters who “deserve it”.
- Chris and her partner-in-crime Billy Nolan, dispatched relatively cleanly in the original film (something that always seemed a little unfair, given the more gruelling fates of some of their friends), are subjected to more explicitly gruesome treatment in the remake.
- Inspired by the end of Deliverance, De Palma ended his film with a now-classic jump-out-of-your-seat shock. The remake, instead of trying to either top that or aim for something different, settles for such a half-baked anti-climactic effect it’s an insult to the audience. Whether this is just bad film-making or whether there’s a important inter-generational point being made, I can’t be sure. Except to say that it was perhaps okay to leave (abandoned) Nomad audiences emotionally scarred by the final scene, but not so much for (protected) Hero’s.