Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Gall of American Cinema Never Ceases to Amaze Me.

In 1996 a small, but in my opinion wonderful, film titled "Shall We Dansu?" was released. The title a reference to a Gershwin tune used in the Rogers/Astaire film of the same name. Admittedly, I didn't see this film in 1996 rather much later (around 2000 or so).

For those of you who don't know, this is a romantic comedy about a Japanese "Company Man" who has accomplished every goal he is supposed to have achieved. He has a wonderful wife, a lovely daughter, and a successful career. He has even been able to afford to buy a house. He has, in essence, achieved the American (or Japanese) Suburban dream. Yet, this life focused on material subsistence is insufficient and he feels emotionally empty. After all, Plato referred to such a state as "The City of Pigs." Everyday on the way home he sees a woman looking longingly out of a dance studio window with lettering which asks "Shall we dance?" He is strangely attracted to this woman and desires to know what it would be like to dance with her. What could have turned into a story about adultery etc., ends up a story about a wife falling more in love with her husband and to an extent him falling in love with her. There is a good b-storyline and the cinematography/choreography is compelling. All in all the original is a solid 3 star film (out of four stars).
But can Hollywood see it in their minds to rerelease the original? Nope. How about having the director of the original direct an American version (ala "The Grudge")? Nope. Instead, it transforms this simple film into a star vehicle with Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere. From what I have seen in previews, this film takes all the subtle emotion of the Japanese one and makes it maudlin. Rather than a small moving scene in which the Company Man teaches his wife to dance on the front yard, making his daughter teary eyed in joy (because this moment unifies the whole family), Gere asks his wife to dance pointing out that they have been "dancing" for 18 years. Add to the equation Sarandon's odd sexual chemistry (meaning she isn't demure enough) and the pairing seems awkward. Here we have a charismatic and energetic husband matched up with a sensual wife, and yet he is a brow beat businessman? I don't know, the chemistry seems off to me.
As you can guess from the above paragraph, I have yet to see the film. I will most certainly go and see it, largely because I love Richard Gere. If I can tolerate First Knight, I should actually enjoy this film. My point is, in essence, why so many remakes? Or, if we are going to remake something (because the audience won't watch the original without prompting) can we at least make sure to advertise the original? Sometimes...If the remake is a good one, the films actually feed off one another in an interesting way. I imagine this relationship is something like the one T.S. Eliot refers to when discussing the poetic tradition. You've Got Mail is better if you've seen The Shop Around the Corner.
On a happy sidenote, "Shall we dance?" is the final line spoken in another beautifully funny film about dancing Strictly Ballroom.

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