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2: Remix inc. (Everything is a remix)
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Insisting on the idea that everything is a remix, this second chapter of the serie focuses on the idea and explores the remix techniques involved in producing films and filmmaking, analyzing and exemplifying different films which use previous references, quotations and other influences from past films... Creation requires influence.

On the other hand, it's great to remember that we are in a perpetual progression of creative development, through composing and building on our past. Now, if we could only get some sensible copyright reform so that it can continue unmolested.

See all parts: PART 1  -  PART 2  -  PART 3  -  PART 4

 

Perhaps it's because movies are so massively expensive to make. Perhaps it's because graphic novels, TV shows, video games, books and the like are such rich sources of material, or perhaps it's just because audiences just prefer the familiar. Whatever the reason most box office hits rely heavily on existing material.

Of the ten highest grossing films per year from the last ten years 74 out of 100 are either sequels or remakes of earlier films or adaptations of comic books, videos games, books and so on. Transforming the old into the new is Hollywood's greatest talent.

At this point we've got three sequels to a film adapted from a theme park attraction. We've got a movie musical based on a musical which was based on a movie. We've got two sequels to a film that was adapted from an animated TV show based on a line of toys. We've got a movie based on two books, one of which was based on a blog, which was inspired by the other book, which was adapted into the film.

Do you follow? We've got 11 Star Trek films, 12 Friday the 13ths, and 23 James Bonds. We've got stories that have been told, retold, transformed, referenced and subverted since the dawn of cinema. We've seen vampires morph from hideous monsters to caped bedroom invaders to campy jokes, to sexy hunks to sexier hunks.

Of the few box office hits that aren't sequels remakes or adaptations the word original wouldn't spring to mind to describe them. These are genre movies and they stick to pretty standard templates. Genres then break up into subgenres with their own even more specific conventions. So within the category of horror films we have subgenres like slasher, zombie, creature feature and of course torture porn. All have standard elements that are appropriated, transformed and subverted. Let's use the biggest film of the decade as an example.

Now it's not a sequel, remake or adaptation but it is a genre film, sci-fi and most tellingly it's a member of a tiny subgenre where sympathetic white people feel bad about all the murder, pillaging and annihilation being done on their behalf. I call this subgenre "Sorry About Colonialism". I'm talking about movies like Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, The Last of the Mohicans, Dune, Lawrence of Arabia, A Man Called Horse and even Ferngully and Pocahontas.

Films are built on other films as well as on books, TV shows, actual events, plays whatever. This applies to everything from the lowliest genre film right on up to revered indie fare. And it even applies to massively influential blockbusters, the kinds of films that reshape pop culture. Which brings us to…

Even now, Star Wars endures as a work of impressive imagination, but many of its individual components are as recognizable as the samples in a remix. The foundation for Stars Wars comes from Joseph Campbell. He popularized the structures of myth in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Star Wars follows the outline of the monomyth, which consists of stages like The Call to Adventure, Supernatural Aid, The Belly of the Whale, The Road of Trials, The Meeting with the Goddess and a bunch more.

Also huge influences were the Flash Gordon serials from the thirties and Japanese director Akira Kurasowa. Star Wars plays much like an updated version of Flash Gordon, right down to the soft wipes and the opening titles design. From Kurosowa we get masters of spiritual martial arts, a low-ranking bickering duo, more soft wipes, a beneath-the-floorboards hideaway, and a boastful baddy getting his arm chopped off.

War films and westerns were also huge sources for Star Wars The scene where Luke discovers his slaughtered family resembles this scene from The Searchers. And the scene where Han Solo shoots Greedo resembles this scene from The Good The Bad And The Ugly. The climatic air strikes in The Damnbusters, 633 Squadron and the Bridges at Toko-Ri play very similarly to the run on the Death Star And in many cases existing shots were used as templates for Star Wars special effects

There's also many other elements clearly derived from various films We have a tin man like the tin woman in Metropolis, a couple of shots inspired by 2001, a grab-the-girl-and-swing scene like this one in the 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, an holographic projection kinda like the one in Forbidden Planet , a rally resembling this one in Triumph Of The Will, and cute little robots much like those in Silent Running.

George Lucas collected materials, he combined them, he transformed them. Without the films that preceded it there could be no Star Wars. Creation requires influence. Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives and the lives of others. As Isaac Newton once said, "We stand on the soldiers of giants". Which is what he was doing when he adapted that saying from Bernard de Chartres.

In Part 3 we'll further explore this idea and chart the blurry boundary between the original and the unoriginal.

One last thing:
George Lucas was the most movie saturated film maker of his era but that baton has since been passed to Quentin Tarantino's remix master thesis, his Kill Bill, which is probably the closest thing Hollywood has to a mash up packed with elements pulled from countless films. Kill Bill raises filmic sampling to new heights of sophistication. The killer nurse scene in particular is almost entirely a recombination of elements from existing films. The basic action is the same as this scene from Black Sunday where a woman disguise d as a nurse attempts to murder a patient with a syringe of red fluid . Darryl Hannah's eye patch is a not to the lead character in The Call Her One Eye and the tune she is whistling is taken from the 1968 thriller Twisted Nerve. Capping it off the split screen effect is modeled on techniques used by Brian De Palma in an assortment of films including Carrie. For an extended look at Kill Bill’s references, check this out.

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