Remake... or Redundant?

Call it generational or junk culture, but "why?" will never fully address the thought process behind Hollywood's often craven need for movie makeovers. In the case of this latest revamp, the results speak for themselves.

Let Me In

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono
Rated: R
Studio: Overture Films
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-10-01 (General release)

The key question with any remake is "why?" Why take something already established, something already owned by its supporters and its detractors and give it a second life within said criticisms? More importantly, why work with something that is already considered genius, or at the very least masterful enough to warrant a classification as classic? That's the problem facing Matt Reeves right now, with one week plus before his take on the resplendent foreign horror film Let the Right One In (now named Let Me In), hits theaters. Ever since it was announced, there was an aura of "why bother" associated with this production. Now, post-TIFF, the sense of purpose/pointlessness seems even stronger.

Early buzz suggests a masterpiece or a mess, a work of acute awareness toward what came before vs. a shot-for-shot waste of time ala Gus Van Sant's Psycho. Sadly, those arguing the latter are more than a little confused. Reeves, who crafted the script from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, definitely draws inspiration from Tomas Alfredson's brilliant adaptation, but also rejects elements invented for said version. In essence, this is yet another take on the same material, like different versions of brownies or some specialized recipe for a suppertime standard. But Reeves isn't just reverent. Instead, he takes his time, slowly building a sad little love story about alienated preteens and the "demons" that haunt them. In between, the horrors or growing up and the terrors of being forever young are painted in broad, bloody strokes.

Like Spielberg before him, Reeves is more invested in these kids than the addled adults around them. Our frail lead, a bullied young boy named Owen, has a mother whose so out of focus that the direction never shows her full on. Instead, she's blurred on the edges of the frame, half-filled glass of white wine swirling in her hand. The policeman investigating the sudden string of crimes in his area is given no name. The various members of the school administration are vague and abstract, one speaking in an Eastern Bloc accent so thick that the lack of a full explanation is unnerving. Similarly, our halting heroine is cared for by a man whose meaning and purpose is obvious, but whose connection otherwise is locked in a limbo of secrets.

Within this confusing world of evil, absentee parenting, and latchkey responsibility sits our duo - one desperate to break out of his life of torment, the other tormented by the life she must lead. Owen is fascinated by the concept of drawing blood (it's a reaction to the horrible torment he goes through at the hands of others in his class). Abby is animalistic in her uncontrollable thirst for same. Together, they learn the lessons of coping, the benefits of mutual need and the dread that comes from such discoveries. Vampirism is almost secondary here. Abby's need for blood is more primal than paranormal. And before you really get the wrong idea, this is not some preteen Twilight twaddle. Stephanie Meyer and her stilted wish fulfillment could only dream of being as deep and insightful as Lindqvist et al.

Of course, all of this begs the question of "Why?" After all, Alfredson's film offers all of this and much, much more (including the Western brain-bender of subtitles) and since we already have a version viable in the things that the remake handles masterfully, the redux rationale seems weak at best...that is, until you realize a couple of things. First of all, not everyone has the open perspective of a critic or a journalistic society. For many, Let the Right One In was not a local Cineplex event, but a DV-R dive into awards season acknowledgement. It's a safe bet that almost all of the concerned cinematic citizens crowing over the remake are arguing for their experience from the safety of their living room, Alfredson's take delivered right to their door with Year End Best efficiency.

So first off, the remake is for everyone else. Indeed, it's for Joe and Jane Six-pack (or more accurately, Johnny and Janey Red Bull), the mainstream viewer who wouldn't know a Godard from a Godfather. No matter how loudly a knowledgeable voice yells, getting the attention of the everyday film fan is a job best left to Tinseltown. Sure, they can screw it up - and usually do. But in the rare cases where the remake is a raging success - and that is definitely the situation with Let Me In - they are the surest shot for getting otherwise reluctant butts in seats. Put another way: the simplest solution to getting the uninformed to embrace your preference is to give them a taste of what they are supposedly missing.

Besides, when the results work, when the remake matches (and in some cases, excels beyond) the source, it's a weird win/win. The biggest problem with Van Sant's manic mimic dissection of Hitchcock was that it wasn't very good. From the casting to the mood altering decision to go bright, brash, and colorful, the cross-dressing deadliness of Norman Bates and his mother fixation was literally destroyed by the approach. In the case of Let Me In - and it's not shot-for-shot, not by a long...whatever - we have a very viable, very effective film. It succeeds in its own way, able to match what the first film did in both atmosphere and subtext. Is it perfect? No? Does it borrow liberally from Alfredson's vision? Absolutely. However, there's a big difference between renting a concept and ripping it off.

Let Me In is simply leasing the social/supernatural elements provided by Lindqvist and his Swedish interpreters to argue for the non-exclusivity of the material. Handled properly, with respect for the feelings of those already invested, something magical can be made - and that is truly the case here. By their very definition, a remake is redundant. Why tackle another take on Freddy Krueger or recently revived superheroes when the original exists. Such thinking, however, would have revoked both Tim Burton's Goth goof and Christopher Nolan's epic operatic take on Batman. Call it generational or junk culture, but "why?" will never fully address the thought process behind Hollywood's often craven need for movie makeovers. In the case of this latest revamp, the results speak for themselves.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.