Leave It Like It Is

By

Back, back, back.  Back before the compact disc, back before the personal computer, back before the existence of the mini-van, there was a public library in Tipton, Indiana with a brand new laser disk player, complete with about seven film choices.

In my mesh football jersey and yellow swimming trunks, bike resting unlocked in the rack outside, I made my way to the circulation desk to ask for the same thing I always asked for:
Would they please issue me a pair of headphones and cue up Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

The short walk from there to the carrel where the TV was wired to the player gave me just enough time to feel something I seldom experience anymore–expectant joy at seeing a movie again.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will see a film more than once on occasion these days, but it’s usually for a utilitarian purpose–like I missed something or fell asleep in the middle or thought I hated it only to hear of a trusted friend who loved it–so I go back to have my mind changed.

But seldom do I go back because I want to experience the same joy I felt the first time I saw it.  And that’s mainly because lately that feeling of joy is hard to come by.  With a couple of notable exceptions, it seems like movies these days are much more disposable than they used to be–like can openers.

Remember how growing up, your mom bought one can opener and it stayed in that same drawer, opening thousands of cans until you graduated and left home?  We’ve been through maybe five already in our first fourteen years of marriage, and they’ve all been mostly plastic and mostly defective– under the pretense of being ergonomic, as if the can-opener people know anything about what makes me comfortable.

We don’t really expect that much from our can openers anymore.  And in that little oddity, I see a parallel to movie-making.

But Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is on TV right now and I tell you this film must be one of the most perfect movie-making accomplishments of all time.  It’s not my favorite movie.  But I can’t think of many others that beat it in terms of the pace of it’s storytelling, or the way it doesn’t look a bit dated, or the chemistry between Redford and Newman.

Or the ending. Oh, the ending!

I watch this film now and I’m that kid on his way to the pool stopping off at the public library real quick for a two hour detour.  Again.

Except there’s one thing I have added to my experience these days that couldn’t have been further from the mind of the yellow haired boy at the study carrol.

Worry.

See, these days we live in the land of the Internet Movie Database.  And not only that, it seems Hollywood is short on original ideas.

Those two realities, friends, make me wonder how long it will be until some studio genius with a “green light” button thinks Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson should connect for a killer remake of the 1969 original?

So I check.  Nervously, I check.

Nothing in pre-production.  Whew!

Then I go to the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid page to investigate any message board rumors.  And sure enough, someone’s clamoring for a Matthew McConaughey/Brad Pitt remake, only to be corrected by another that Clooney and Pitt would have more chemistry.

Thankfully, almost everyone else has the good sense to remind these yahoos that the film has no need to be redone, since when they made it the first time, they made it as close to perfect as any film of the past 30 years.

So I ask you two questions today.  Answer either or both, or even one I’m not asking.

1.  Is it accurate to suggest films are much more “disposable” these days than they used to be–and by that I mean, do you suppose the mentality behind making them is that no one really expects a film to carry across generations anymore, so why not just settle for pleasing the current audience?

2. Of which films should we say, “Leave it like it is.  A remake would be a desecration?”

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


27 Comments

  1. Dieta

    There is definetly a David Wilcox song in there-one of my faves, in fact. Never mind the turrpentine Leave it like it is it”s fine…

  2. Luke Taylor

    Answer #1 – Films probably are made with less care now. But also keep in mind all the movies that we have forgotten about from 30 years ago.

    Answer #2 – There are so many films that should never be remade (some of them have even alredy be remade – like Psyco). The worst thing would be if they remade Casablanca.

    Sidenote – I heard they are redoing Bonnie and Clyde – Argggg.

  3. Loren Eaton

    A pastor friend and I once had a conversation about the forever-contentious subject of hymns and praise songs that changed my thinking about the old / new art divide. He said that the reason many people today that hymns were so much better was that they’d already gone through the winnowing mill of history. The chaff had been flung off, and we were left with the ripe grain. The same thing is likely true with today’s films; we’re still sorting the junk from the good stuff — and there’s always more of the former than the latter.

  4. Chris Slaten

    I love that movie.

    I think there are probably still just as many director driven movies made with the same care, but there are so many more market driven blockbusters now that they kind of overshadow them.

    Movies that shouldn’t be remade? Jeremiah Johnson.
    They should, however, remake Tron, which someone is doing. Hehe.

  5. Chad

    1. I would say that the majority of films, like music, are disposable – stuff that you will discard in five years or less and be embarrassed about ever purchasing. The old moniker, “crap sells,” states it best. Just look at all of the cheesy tidbits on Youtube that get more hits than the really profound media. I work in the architectural industry and see firsthand how technological advancement often cheapens the end product (i.e. – why use real stones to build a wall when we can engineer fake ones that cost less or how ‘bout “wood grain plastic laminate!”)
    2. I would say just about anything ever made by Hitchcock should never be touched. The 1999 version of Psycho was, as I understand it, more about trying to learn from the master by setting up the same shots and keeping with the same standards as the original film, but should it have been done? Probably not. I think it’s best to learn from the greats, but then go on to create your own compositions. Put your own fingerprints into the design. Why build the same building twice? Yet we do it all the time.

  6. Aaron Roughton

    A movie that should never be remade? Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Because, if you’ll remember, they tried that IN THE MOVIE. And it was horrible. Which left Pee Wee to say, “I don’t need to see it, Dottie. I lived it.”

    A movie that should be remade? UP. I saw it last night and really think Jim Henson’s crew should remake it Muppet style, a la Dark Crystal.

    And apparently I’ve also answered a question you didn’t ask: “Is Aaron always a sarcastic idiot?”

  7. Jonathan Rogers

    I aint seen Butch Cassidy in a long time. I think I might have to watch it in the near future (Which is to say, any of you who are from Nashville, stay away from the Green Hills Blockbuster–I’ve got dibs, and I don’t have time to wait for your five-day 99-cent rental period to be up).

    But I’d like to ask a slightly different question: why–from an artistic perspective–should movies be remade in the first place? This is a real question, not a rhetorical one: I know there are people around here who understand movies better than I do (though they probably call them ‘films’ rather than ‘movies’). I understand some of the economic reasons to do a remake…a remake, like an adaptation of a very popular book, is a safer bet for a studio than an original movie. But if I’m a producer or director with creative ambitions, why do I remake a movie rather than making an original?

  8. Tony from Pandora

    The whole remake idea reminds me of Eric Peters/Andrew Peterson and their penny songs. Andrew Peterson heard Eric Peters’ had a penny song, then when he heard it, it went a different direction that Andrew thought, so he did his own.

    So in their defense, maybe directors/screenwriters/whoever may like the idea, but want their own stamp on how that idea is told. but yeah, like Psycho, or even the Dukes of Hazzard movie, some things should be left alone…

    But sometimes (Eric Peters-Spare Change/ Andrew Peterson-Loose Change) both are golden…

  9. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    So Tony, are you from Pandora, as in Pandora.com?

    As for remakes, I’m glad they remade 3:10 to Yuma. I had never seen the original and would otherwise not have experienced such a good story. I loved most things about Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake. Planet of the Apes? Not so much.

  10. Tony from Pandora

    Yes, I’m from Pandora…. Pandora, Ohio. It has nothing to do with pandora.com, though that is how I stumbled on to that little music jem of a website.

    And Andy, if you remember show you did in Maumee, OH a few months ago, I was the one who owed you for your Behold the Lamb DVD because you sent me a free copy after I wrote you that the DVD I bought was faulty… only to find out it was my DVD player. Thanks again.

    Back to movies. Are we talking only of American remakes of American movies. The Departed was sweet.

  11. Charlotte

    My first thought is: if it’s a bad movie to begin, it’s ok to remake, if it’s a classic-don’t. But then… who decides if it’s bad or classic? I do side with Luke, though, that Casablanca should never be remade. EVER. I guess all I can say is: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  12. Leigh Mc

    1. Yes. Perhaps not because not because no one expects longevity, but because digital video has fostered an “if it happens it happens” mentality to the made-to-last game, and can provide a continuing stream of income, even for mediocrity.

    2. Yes. Please don’t ever touch these, ever: The Sound of Music, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, To Sir With Love, The Princess Bride, and Lonesome Dove (even though it wasn’t a big screen film). And definitely Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I remember seeing at a drive-in in a small town in Texas, with my parents. Magic.

  13. Rob Dunbar

    Hoo, boy. Question 1 is easy to answer: Yes, I think movies today are viewed as disposable by their producers (their directors and writers might feel differently). Question 2? How long should the list be? DO NOT redo: Spartacus; 2001; The Day the Earth . . . oops, never mind. DO NOT redo anything by Terence Malick. DO NOT redo the Bogart classics. DO NOT redo Labyrinth (though I once thought differently). PLEEEZE redo the Chronicles of Narnia. DO NOT redo the LOTR movies; they’re not perfect but they’re close enough.

    I think Peter Jackson got it right when he remade King Kong. A remake has to be better for the right reasons, like better FX or plotting. That’s why 2001 needs no remaking; it still has the best (and most realistic) FX and best plotting of any sci-fi film.

  14. sd smith

    I don’t know about #1, Russy (oh, it’s Sammy here, btw).

    There were so many throw-away movies back then too. I tend to think it’s like literature, that we think all books used to be good because we remember only the old good ones. Not ALL the way like that, but something like that, maybe. But I am no expert on movies.

    #2 Russy. How about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance? The last thing I want to see is Matthew McConaHIgh surferdude it up in a remake of that great movie.

  15. Thomas McKenzie

    To question one: your assumption is incorrect. Studios put out less films today, not more. Back in the 30s and 40s they were going from script to print in a matter of months. The vaults of the studios are filled with hours and hours of garbage. Even greats like Orson Wells and Alfred Hitchcock were doing quick turn around, maximum profit films; many of them remakes of stage plays. These films were not made to stand the test of time, they were meant to make money.

    Second, every film is made to please the current audience. Otherwise, it wouldn’t sell. The only people making films for themselves alone are making films that you and I are not seeing, unless they happen to be a friend of ours.

    Third, some of the greatest films out there are remakes of other films. Think of the Kurosawa films made into westerns: Seven Samurai to the Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo to a Fistfull of Dollars . . . heck, The Hidden Fortress to Star Wars (kind of).

    I would say it is like this (and I would say this about covering a song as well): if you are doing something new and fresh with the material, then go for it. But recognize that you are going to be compared, and perhaps vilified. So Hendrix improves on Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, but the Indigo Girls should have left it alone. Hitchcock’s Psycho was amazing, Van Sant should have left it alone because he had nothing, NOTHING, else to add to it. Literally, a shot by shot remake.

    Also, films that are not remakes can be just as awful as remakes.

    One other thing on question two: desecration assumes sacredness. I love films, but none of them are sacred. I think the person who remakes the Godfather is in for a world of hurt, but I don’t think the Godfather is sacred.

  16. Evan Godbold

    1. I think Hollywood, like any industry or business is about a bottom line. At least for people who finance, release, and distribute the films. So in that regard, I think films have always been viewed as disposable. Obviously, there are plenty of creative folks in the film industry that really do want to tell a story, and make a film that is remembered. But I don’t know if they consciously go “I am out to make a film that will still be loved in 50 years.” Surely there are some. But really, they are out to tell a story. If it gets remembered, great. If it doesn’t, they still got to tell the story. That is how I would be.

    I might liken it to something like AP’s “On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.” He wanted to tell a story that meant something to him. If it is remembered a generation later, I am sure he would be beyond pleased, but I don’t know if he expected it to be the next LOTR. Shoot, even Tolkien was writing LOTR for himself more than anyone else, but the story shone through and connected with an audience and then their kids, and then their kids… To me, that is just something special that you can’t really set out to do without being more than a little vain. The stars sometimes just have to align. Again, that is just my opinion.

    2. Of which films should we say, “Leave it like it is. A remake would be a desecration?”

    2. If I can I will answer the flip side of this question: What movies DO you remake? I am for any remake/reboot (the new Hollywood term for “remake” to trick us into thinking it is not a remake) that can measurably improve upon the original. I say measurably because, obviously, so much of art is subjective.

    I would love to see a remake of a movie that has a cool concept, but I think could be executed better. An example of this is the movie “Highlander.” What a great concept! And they have made like 5 live action movies, 2 TV series, and an Anime Movie… There is a reason for that. Because the concept is so great (and to cash in on chumps like me, who still believe, someday, someone will get it right). But it has never, in my opinion been executed well. The original certainly has its moments, as does the series… but mostly the property was never in the hands of a capable story teller or director.

    Rumor is, Summit Entertainment (the folks who brought you the cinematic adaptation of “Twilight” have secured the rights to remake this diamond in the rough, so it looks again like I will be disappointed. Though the writers that are attached are the same team that brought us “Iron Man.” So I have mixed feelings…

    Wow, that went way long… I think I will limit the rest of my posts to 5 or words or less for the rest of the month 🙂

  17. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I just got back from seeing Fiddler on the Roof (on stage) starring Chaim Topol on his farewell tour. (he’s the star of the movie version) All through the show I was thinking that his performance as Tevye is so iconic that no one should ever, ever, EVER attempt to remake that movie. It’s great, it’s beloved, it’s the final word.

  18. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I stumbled upon something recently I thought was interesting in light of the whole remakes question: It’s a film called The Five Obstructions and it’s where director Lars Von Trier challenges his mentor, Jorgen Leth, to recreate his cinematic masterpiece “The Perfect Human” (from 1967) 5 different ways. He provides very precise instruction as to how each version is to be done and Leth reluctantly gives in. Anyway, it looks really interesting (if you’re a film nerd). I haven’t had a chance to see it myself, but if anyone here watches it, let me know how it is, I’m curious…

    And a good remake (in my opinion)? Ocean’s twelve. Kept a sense of camaraderie intact between the actors that gave you a sense of playfulness but was less boozy-schmoozy.

    And Jackson’s King Kong remake felt less like a remake and more like a love letter, not only to the original but to movie-making in general.

  19. Mike

    #1. I can’t ever imagine a remake of Forrest Gump, or Braveheart. These are just a couple of movies that I believe are trans-generational.

    #2. A remake of “Cool Hand Luke” would be a disgrace.

  20. John Barber

    We just watched “The curious case of Benjamin Buttons, and kind of thought it was a remake of Forrest Gump. Not nearly as good though.

  21. Tony Heringer

    Russ,

    After viewing most of the Tony Awards last night, like plays, I’d say there are no movies that couldn’t be re-made or as is fashionable these days “reloaded.”

    1. No. When movie studios used to crank out films in the early days of film there was a good deal of disposable work. Ever watch TMC? I don’t think that has changed all that much its just that many of those disposable works now head straight to DVD.

    2. I’d be open to any film being remade. Much like songs being redone, it is good to see another artist’s interpretation of the same material.

    Sam,

    Russy? Ouch! Sounds like you are little put off by his nickname.

  22. whipple

    How strange that Westerns keep cropping up again and again in this discussion. Is there a Western that someone doesn’t like – besides “The Quick and the Dead,” which isn’t dusty enough and has far too many “dramatic groundhog” moments and a putrid script.

    I have to agree that the “Ocean’s 11/12” movies are fantastic remakes. “Dune” was also good, though I liked Patrick Stewart in the first one.

    I don’t know if I can speak to the first question. Others seem to be on the inside of things, but all I ever see from the Golden Age of film are the enduring ones. Perhaps films become more disposable only inasmuch as everything else becomes more disposable (which is quite a lot since the 20’s and 30’s). You can, after all, buy ready-made pop-art at Target these days. It’s all flash and no story, meant to hang in your foyer just to pretend that there’s not a plain dead wall behind it.

    As to Query #2, please leave the following alone: Metropolis, Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Andrei Rublev (though I don’t think anyone would attempt it, but they did do Solaris), Glory, The Old Man and the Sea, Deliverance, Lord of the Flies, The Exorcist, Kings Row, etc.

    Oh, and for goodness sake, imaginary filmmaker who’s reading this, stop making bad movies out of Michael Crichton books!

  23. becky

    Whipple, I want to second your Michael Crichton comment. One movie based on one of his stories that I would like to see remade is Timeline. I think that could have been a fun film, but it was pitifully dismal. Dreadfully low-budget looking. Gaping holes in the plot. Just dreadful. The only good thing in it was Gerard Butler.

    Another I watched recently that should be remade is Valkyrie. The true story is fascinating, the cast was full of amazing actors, but the movie just fell flat. No suspense, in a film that should have been full of tension, even though we knew how it would end. It was just boring, frankly.

    It’s disappointing when a movie has the potential to be great, but falls so fall short.

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