Sunday, January 01, 2006

Versionalism vs. Originalism...

In your life you will encounter the Originalist. He believes that some things which are truly great have an almost sacred quality and should therefore be exempt from imitation or reinvention (i.e. , pre-70's Fender guitars, King Kong, Mom's pecan pie recipe, the Constitution, The Harlem Globetrotters, etc.) His flag might read "Don't mess with the Ur!" I can appreciate this camp and have camped out there myself. But lately, I am finding myself leaning the other direction. Let there be many versions of each great thing. Let human energy be reallocated from perpetuating the mediocre to understanding greatness. I am pro-Versionalism.

Some principles. First: Defending original, sacred ground is hugely important IF it is in danger of being eclipsed or destroyed by an imitation. (Who was Che Guevara before he was a tee shirt?) Fortunately, many great things (though not all) can withstand a reinterpretation, remake, reimagineering, update or version 2.0. The spawn of the great will rarely alter the form or the impact of the original. The original will always be first. It shall stand as the groundbreaking standard of excellence.

Secondly, wherever there is gold, there may indeed be more of it to mine. If someone is willing to retread the ground where greatness has been, then I say go for it. The flag for this camp might read, "Improve or Die!" Of course, most attempts will fail to "beat" the original by a long shot. But other attempts will find new strands of greatness and perhaps even, in rare cases, improve upon the original.

An example. For me (and this is going to ruffle some space boots), the Steven Soderbergh remake of Solaris (yes, the George Clooney one) is a vastly superior film to the Tarkovsky original. Don't get me wrong, I love the original, and hold it in the highest esteem as an epic piece of cinema. (Haven't read the book though, apologies to the "Oh-the-book-is-much-better-than-the-film" camp.) The original film epitomizes the daunting task of trailblazing: it leaves behind a magnificent, though rough, pathway cut madly and blindly in the name of discovering something new and giving people a way to get there. The remake, on the other hand, acknowledges that the piece of fiction known as Solaris has kicked open many important doors, many opportunities. Let us now go through some of those doors it seems to say. The original and the remake then share the best kind of relationship - an evolving chain of thematic exploration. Of course, it didn't play out this way in the press. Originalists from all corners of the globe shot down Soderbergh's remake for all the usual originalist reasons - namely that sacred ground had been tampered with. But I say let there be hundreds, thousands of more versions of Solaris, and all the other great things as well. Surely some will outshine the master.

Lastly amigos, we must consider the ways of the world. In order for something to survive, it must replicate. How many great books, songs, ideas, inventions, blood lines, pizza toppings, have been lost to the one hit wonder bin of history? We know that imitation is flattery, but more than that: it creates a lineage, a conspicuous body of work that asks to be studied and built upon. This is how our myths are born. How old stories are rewritten and adapted to the needs of the day.

And what does any of this have to do with New Year's Day? Well, like this: In 2006, may you find the wisdom to recognize originality and greatness, and may you devise the marketing strategy to replicate it ad nauseum. With adjustments of course.



Anonymous Hank said...

Ah but, in the case of Kong, many should know, that where godzilla spawned many, we can only remake the already great ape- get it, beagly beagly?

7:46 AM  
Anonymous puertas metalicas exterior said...

So, I do not really suppose this is likely to work.

7:55 AM  

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