one byproduct of endless remakes: originals being sidelined

Things happened before 1990, people…

At the risk of sending off strong “old man yells at cloud” vibes, I had to roll my eyes when I saw this as the lede to a story on a major entertainment news site:

Filmmaker Anthony Hemingway has signed on to direct a present-day remake of the 1996 film “The Preacher’s Wife” from Bassett Vance Productions and Anthony Hemingway Productions.

That lede raises the question of what counts as original source material.

1996’s The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance, was itself a remake of the 1947 movie The Bishop’s Wife with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, itself an adaptation of a 1928 novel.

The slight name change was due to the idea of a bishop seeming a bit outdated and…well…white in 1996 if I remember correctly, though the story remained largely the same. But it’s still marked as a remake of the original. At the very least it’s another adaptation of the novel. Either way the foundation of the material goes back to the first half of the 20th century.

It would be like referring to a new version of Miracle on 34th Street as a remake of the 1994 movie instead of the 1947 original. Or someone’s recording “I Will Always Love You” as a cover of Whitney Houston’s song instead of it being Dolly Parton’s.

Then again even the BBC’s YouTube channel has Taylor Swift singing “Can’t Stop Loving You” designated as a Phil Collins cover instead of a White Horse/William Nicholls cover. So I’m not sure why I’m surprised.

It’s somewhat understandable that artists and fans may not always make this kind of distinction. Someone who grew up solely with the 1996 The Preacher’s Wife may simply not have the context to frame a new version appropriately. Just the other day I was thinking about how I grew up with the Kenny Rogers/Sheena Easton version of “We’ve Got Tonight” and went the better part of 10 years before learning Bob Seger wrote and recorded the song five years before it showed up on a record from Rogers.

But we live in the age of the internet and a simple Wikipedia search would provide the necessary background. And the expectations should be higher for anyone calling themselves a reporter. A decent editor should have caught it before the story was published.

To a great extent this tendency to reference the most recent iteration instead of diving all the way back to the source material is a product of the entertainment industry’s fascination with endlessly remaking the same properties over and over again.

That’s not new, either. The Philadelphia Story began life as a play before being made into a theatrical feature twice and adapted thrice for TV productions. But it’s only going to get worse as originals (or initial adaptations) from the early- or mid-20th century are superseded in the public consciousness by new versions from the 90s or 00s which have become for many people the de facto originals.

While I’m certainly not going to insist that everyone see the *actual* originals in order to appreciate the remake – just like I’m not going to insist everyone watch Rashomon in order to fully appreciate the genius of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, though they really should – we can at least ask the people who are bringing us the news of remakes, reboots and reimaginings to frame that news accurately and appropriately.

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Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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