Connie Willis, Remake, and loving movies

I browsed this thread over at I Blame the Patriarchy while I was at the library today (the joys of phone-internet!) and came away with fifteen pounds of sci fi books. So, uh, heads-up: I’ll probably be reviewing a lot of books over the next two weeks (which is how long I can keep them.)

I’ve already finished the first one, Remake, but Connie Willis. I didn’t think I’d ever heard of her before, until I found her on the shelf and saw that she’d written To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is one of my favourite books, and then I promptly took everything with her name on it.

Remake is a book about loving movies even when all the moviemakers are intent on ruining them, it’s about how to define reality, it’s about wanting things that are impossible, it’s about musicals, and it’s about humanity. (Sci fi is like that.) It also has a truly atrocious cover. (Sci fi tends to be like that, too.)

It’s also a book about two women and one man, and the love triangle they make. Since it does none of the things that love-triangle romances do to make me crazy, I’ll definitely be writing about how well that part was done, but this post’s all about impossible loves.

Alis wants to dance in the movies, except that no one dances in movies any more. Films are put together completely out of footage from other films, and Hollywood keeps remaking the same old films again and again, with different faces edited in and happier endings when needed, but never anything new. The supposed main character, Tom, works as a film editor (my dream job!) except that instead of crafting stories he’s pasting his boss’ girlfriend into River Phoenix movies (including a scene together with a kiss) and changing the wine in Casablanca to ice cream to remove all references to Addictive Substances.

In other words, both of them have an impossible love of movies.

I identified a lot with their feelings, the idea that movies can be works of art and tell important stories, except that the studio execs don’t understand what movies are for. The sense that you’re a movie-lover in a world of remakes with the souls taken out on purpose. I spend a lot of time looking at the big blockbusters and asking, why do people want this garbage? Who thought this was an idea worth sharing? Haven’t these people ever heard of stories?

Poor Tom, while editing out the alcohol from all sorts of movies, kept returning to The Philadelphia Story and getting quite drunk any time he had to try to “fix” it. I’ve seen this movie, and I agree with him– to remove the alcohol is to remove the story.

Jimmy Stewart had to be drunk in the swimming pool scene to tell Katharine Hepburn he loved her. Katharine had to be drunk for her fiance to dump her and for her to realize she still loved Cary Grant.

They need to have their inhibitions lowered so they can say the things they’re really thinking, so they can have the happy ending they really want. Technical limitations were no problem– with the sci fi editing technology, Tom could easily have turned all their martini glasses to teacups and dubbed in new dialogue– but unlike everyone else involved in the project to clean up the classics, Tom could see that The Philadelphia Story minus alcohol did not equal a movie made better by the removal of harmful influences. It equaled a moving story made into nonsense.

Movies can’t be stripped down to their parts like that– you can’t just take out or change certain details, like what they’re drinking or who they’re kissing without fundamentally changing the story. A Gone with the Wind where Rhett comes back and tells Scarlett he loves her isn’t Gone with the Wind. Likewise, just because Raiders of the Lost Ark was a brilliant action movie, that doesn’t mean “Harrison Ford + ancient ruins + love interest + stereotyped villain = good movie”. It’s not about the hat, or the whip, or the fear of snakes, which is why Raiders was excellent and Temple of Doom (or Crystal Skull) atrocious.

And Remake was a book that understood that the power of a movie is in the story and the people. It condemns the movie industry– its extrapolation of Hollywood didn’t feel too far-fetched to me, given our current obsession with CGI– and yet it’s a book so saturated with a sincere love of movies that it doesn’t feel hopeless.

Remake is the story of why I want to be a film editor: because films these days are too much about easy money, and because I want to tell stories.

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