Archive for July 22nd, 2008

I was slightly apprehensive when I first heard that the 1939 classic The Women, one of my favourite films of all time, was being remade. My fear increased when I heard that taking the places of Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and the wonderful Rosalind Russell would be Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan and Debra Messing. Yikes.

Look at that awesome hat!

Look at that awesome hat!

Look at that Photoshopping!

Look at that Photoshopping!

It’s not like I’m against remaking on principle – I think there are plenty of films that could be reinvented in interesting ways. Hell, His Girl Friday, another of my all-time faves, was a remake of The Front Page. But most remakes are lazy attempts to make something old “relevent” to a modern audience to whom anything more than five years old is apparently totally incomprehensible. Yes, some films date badly, but most of the ones that get remade (like, The Haunting, to give but one example) are often just as entertaining now (and in that case, just as scary) as they were when they were first made.

Of course, the original black and white version of The Women is a definitely a relic from another world, a place of dressmaker fittings and luxury trains and complicated Reno divorces. But that’s part of its charm. And while, in theory, my feminist heart should be repelled by the all-out bitchery and cat-fighting and men-obsession of the characters, the film is just so funny, and so OTT, and so wonderfully performed by its 100% female cast, that I can’t help it – I love it. It’s got a technicolour fashion show, for god’s sake! In which little monkeys appear dressed in miniature versions of the models’ outfits! (And no, my animal-loving self doesn’t approve of that, but still…) Also, Rosalind Russell, in the fashion show’s audience, knits all the way through it while wearing yet another crazy/fabulous hat. I love her. Russell plays Sylvia, a bitchy, beautiful society queen, but director George Cukor told Russell to “play her as a freak”, and there’s a sort of inner craziness in her performance that makes it blissfully funny; when she finally, inevitably, gets drawn into a full-blown cat fight, the expression on her face just before she bites her opponent’s legs is truly glorious. And then there’s Joan Crawford as the bitchy gold-digger, with her satin bathroom complete with ruched shower curtains. How can I resist?

But of course, the powers that be have decided that this nugget of pure cinematic gold isn’t good enough. Behold the trailer for the new version…
So yeah, if you’ve ever wondered “what would an updated version of a camptastic all-female film from the golden age of Hollywood be like?”, it turns out that the answer is “like a bad, predictable sitcom! Possibly Will and Grace, in fact”. Yeah, the film also features Candice Bergen and, for a millisecond in the trailer, the divine Miss M, and I was pleased to discover that Jada Pinkett Smith’s character is a lesbian (a welcome change from the usual tired chicklit and girlie TV position that gay people are adorable and perfect best friend material if they’re male and sexless, but scary and/or objects of sniggering derision if they’re female), but that’s not enough to make me want to sit through the whole three hours or however long it drags on for (why are even the most inconsequential films longer than the uncut Apocalypse Now these days?). It looks like a bunch of bland chicklit clichés filled with an even blander selection of outfits, without a technicolour monkey fashion show in sight. For shame!

And seriously, Eva Mendes instead of Joan freaking Crawford? Come on! What were they thinking? I think it’s pretty safe to say that La Mendes won’t be able to match Joan’s delivery of her final line – “There’s a word for you ladies, but it’s not used in polite society – outside a kennel.” And I also think that there’s little danger of this new version coming close to overtaking the original – and best.

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THE WORD is out. The jig is up. The worms are out of the can. The Wire, television’s best-kept secret, has just gone mainstream. First came two articles two days in a row, in last week’s Guardian. The first was a worshipful piece on how the architecture of Baltimore was the real star of The Wire (bullshit; the story-telling and casting director are the real stars). The second was an interview with Dominic West, aka McNulty (pictured above), arguably one of the biggest stars of the show. In the interview, West revealed, amongst other things, that Zadie Smith had run up to him in the street and told him how much she loves the show. (Guess who’s looking for an ‘in’? The show is part-written by a crack team of David Simon, Ed Burns and a few novelists, including George Pelicanos).

Then came a reference in an Alan Moore interview (thanks Sinéad), who said, “The absolute pinnacle of anything I’ve seen recently has got to be The Wire. It’s the most stunning piece of television that has ever come out of America, possibly the most stunning piece of television full-stop.”

I couldn’t agree more. Then, a few nights later, as I was passively sitting with one eye on Corrie, scouser Lloyd suddenly says, “it’s like The Wire round here, meeting on street corners.” When Corrie references something, you know you’re busted. The cat is officially out of the bag.

This weekend, I had to admit the game was finally up, as the papers gave blanket coverage to the show to mark the start of season 5 on FX (nice interview with Omar (pictured below) in the Guardian that reveals that scar is 100% real!).

For about four months now, I’ve been living in the demi-monde of Wire obsessives. A half world where conversation consists only of Wire-related topics, vocabulary incorporates phrases like “Aight” and “true dat” and everything is sieved through a Wire filter.

Last week, in Wire limbo and desperate for a fix, I hunted down some books by David Simon, the show’s creator. I had never been in the True Crime section before. I felt embarrassed. True Crime has its connotations. In my mind, it’s read by the same kind of people who buy those bumper crossword and wordteaser books that you find left behind in hospital waiting rooms. To add to my embarrassment, I couldn’t locate the bloody books. The man behind the desk told me they had Homicide and The Corner on the shelf, but the computer lied! With some detective work (see, it’s taking over my life), I located Homicide misfiled in the Crime section but couldn’t find The Corner. So I asked the girl. She looked downstairs in the storeroom. She looked upstairs in the overflow section. She looked back in the True Crime section, which I had already exhausted. I just looked bereft. She took my number and promised to locate a copy and ring me once she found it. True to her word, an hour later, I got the call. When I went in to pick up the book, I had the kind of heart-warming conversation that is a privilege of being a Wire fan. The man behind the customer service counter said he had never read any David Simon books before as he handed them over. Have you seen The Wire, I ventured? ‘Twice!’ he replied. I told him to shut up, as I haven’t seen all of Season 5 yet. You know there’s a new show starting in America that David Simon wrote, I say, thinking I’m the cool one with all the insider information. “Yes! Generation Kill! Started Tuesday night!” he replied. We smiled to ourselves, recognising fellow obsessives. We said goodbye awkwardly, feeling we had shared something and thus our departure should have been something other than formal and stilted.

For those of you lucky enough not yet to have seen The Wire, Channel 6 just started showing Season 1 (I think it’s just two episodes in) at 9.25 on Thursday nights. But be warned, you will end up spending more and more of your time (and eventually all of your time) thinking about the show, talking about the show, reading books that inspired the show and generally proclaiming your love for the show that is, possibly, the most stunning piece of television full-stop.

Oh, and a final word to the unconverted: It’s better than The Sopranos. Enjoy.

p.s. Just found this New Yorker profile of David Simon. Like I said, I’m obsessed.

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