Remake, genre and gender in film and television series of the English-speaking world
Conference organized by l’Université du Have (GRIC)
and l’Université Stendhal Grenoble 3 (CEMRA)
9-10 October 2014, Université du Havre, Faculté des Affaires Internationales
As a follow-up to the conference on “Remake and technology” held at the University of Grenoble 3 in October 2013, this second conference will focus on the intersections between film and television genres and the representations of gender in movies and television series. The recent wave of critical writings on film adaptation (Hutcheon 2006; Wells-Lassagne & Hudelet 2013) encourages investigations into how new versions of a movie or series question the interpretation of genre and gender (see Horton & McDougal 1998; Nowlan & Nowlan 2000; Zanger 2006; Carroll 2009; Chauvin 2010; Roche 2014). Indeed, the generic conventions of specific genres (the action movie, the political thriller, the western . . .) are very often gendered. If transcultural adaptations often imply a shift in representations and/or racial and gendered discourses (Hatchuel 2011) which may involve erasure or censoring—for instance, between French cinema and Hollywood (Durham 1998 and Moine 2007)—Linda Hutcheon (2006, 2013) has pointed out that some filmmakers and creators of TV series intentionally remake works in order to introduce subversive subtexts and highlight what was originally repressed, i.e., what Robert Stam (2005) has described as “de-repressing their politics.” This confirms what studying remakes from a transcultural or postcolonial stance has already shown: the crossing of film or serial genres (e.g., colonial narratives of adventure and conquest) and gender (e.g., male-female interaction, sexual identity) creates sites of comparison infused with new political meaning(s). Such creations may take place not only transculturally, but also within the “same” culture: Wild Wild West (Barry Sonnenfeld, 1999), the crossover remake of the 1960s television series The Wild Wild West, encourages “queer” readings of arch-villain Dr. Loveliss (Kenneth Branagh) and of the relationship between hero-partners James West (Will Smith) and Artemis Gordon (Kevin Kline), while deliberately combining western and science fiction in a hybrid space of of gender-bending and genre-bending.
The remake thus simultaneously criticizes, implicitly, explicitly and sometimes even emphatically, the “uncharted territories” of a genre and its gender stereotypes, as David Roche has demonstrated in his study of the horror movie genre (2014, chapter 4). Remakes can be used, for example, to remedy the absence of women in the leading roles by rewriting the original script to include “strong” female characters; the remake of Battlestar Galactica (Sci Fi, 2004-2009) transforms the character of Starbuck by creating a “manly” young woman, both an act of gender-bending and of recontextualizing the series in relation to the social upheavals which occurred in the 25-year gap between the two series, while taking into account the shifts in sci-fi viewership and the expectations of its larger female audience. Similarly, one can wonder whether the multiple remakes of Snow White in the past 20 years are “re-adaptations” (Hudelet & Wells-Lassagne 2011) or “remakes” that “deconstruct” previous adaptations, notably by studying how the overlapping of the fairy-tale genre and other filmic genres redefines gender relationships such as those of Snow White and her wicked stepmother. From a feminist perspective, the remake excels in “revealing” secondary points of view in a radical re-imagining of the original, by either shedding light on the motivations of particular characters, giving voice to those (both male and female characters) previously silenced or marginalized (Sanders 2006), or showing that gender codes in remakes function as both ritual and mask (Zanger 2006). Taking the opposite tack, one may wonder if the “feminized” and sometimes even “post-feminist” dimensions of contemporary remakes (in both movies and TV series) aren’t just a new, conventional form of interpretation or if these remakes embody an actual political project; when the original and the remake are compared, which version’s Zeitgeist is in reality the more progressive or subversive?
These considerations may, in fact, lead us to question the very definition of the term remake. Shouldn’t some remakes be seen as re-adaptations, sequels (Nowlan & Nowlan 2000) or even prequels, rather than “fetishistic” shot-by-shot versions of a previous film? Indeed, “real” remakes are quite rare (Verevis 2006). A critical failure, Gus Van Sant’s 1998 shot-by-shot technicolor remake of Hitchcock’s 1960 black-and-white Psycho was even perceived as an attack on, and a defilement of, Hitchcock’s masterpiece (Boyd and Palmer, 2006). Can one not consider, rather, the TV series Bates Motel (2013- ) to be a remake, presented explicitly as a prequel to Psycho and yet as a variation of the Hitchcock scenario since the events take place, paradoxically, in our present (2013-) when Norman Bates is only seventeen?. Should this series be seen as a remake (albeit as a crossover) because of its visual intertextuality in spite of the manner in which the expected outcomes are thwarted? One possible approach, then, would be to examine whether or not the remake has some sort of obligation to “remold” the original (Leitch 1990; Forrest & Koos 2002; Caroll 2009; Hudelet & Wells-Lassagne 2013). Robert Stam has noted how “gendered” any form of adaptation is in his scrutiny of the terms used to discuss the process: “Infidelity resonates with overtones of Victorian prudishness; betrayal evokes ethical perfidy; deformation implies aesthetic disgust; violation calls to mind sexual violence; vulgarization conjures up class degradation; and desecration intimates a kind of religious sacrilege toward the ‘sacred word’” (Stam, 2000: 54).
Last but not least, expanding on the idea that the remake can and even must be free to reappropriate the codes of a genre so as to (re)play the original “as it pleases,” participants in the conference are invited to explore the aesthetic and narrative freedom to be found in certain particularly audacious— and one might say outrageous —intersections of genre and gender in “edgy” remaking practices like vidding, “sweding” and other forms of fan fictions which transform the original through the use of “scene ripping” and “re-clipping.” The remake can, then, be considered as creator of new spaces for gendered, generational and transnational readings by “remade” audiences, construed by the altered perspectives it carries or the repressed desires it expresses.
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