Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman in John Woo's Paycheck. Google "Woo" "Paycheck" and "Hitchcock" and see how many hits you get.
I might be the only Alfred Hitchcock geek in the world who enjoys seeing that director's films being remade or rummaged through for story ideas. Shamelessly. (Yes, I’m talking to you, Paycheck and Quantum of Solace.)
Such imitations prove one essential thing: Hitchcock’s ideas and storytelling devices are good. They endure. In fact, he is so often imitated that you could say that Hitch made, perhaps, the greatest contribution to the language of cinema of any single filmmaker. His influence is so pervasive it can be hard to measure: because his imprint is everywhere, it's nowhere.
It’s interesting to see other filmmakers riff on his themes, as they have with Disturbia (influenced by Rear Window) and The Lodger (which, as I show in an earlier post, despite its name is actually a very loose remake of Hitch’s 1926 breakout film). Other movies, like the remake of Rear Window starring Christopher Reeve are, in my view, a true homage. In each of these, the creators went in to the project knowing they could never match, let alone outdo the original; still, it’s a fun exercise and a bankable strategy. I see no harm. I’ll bet there’s hardly a film student alive who hasn’t at least contemplated reshooting the shower scene from Psycho.
Speaking of which, Gus Van Sant has been all but accused of blasphemy for attempting to literally reshoot Psycho. But so what? His exercise revived interest in the original. As Michael Koresky pointed out, his version got average moviegoers to look, really look, at a movie. It got a new conversation started. (When people find out about my geekery, often the first thing they ask is, “What do you think of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho?”) Hitch-o-philes owe Gus a hearty Thank You, not their opprobrium.
This restriction that some would place on the remaking of a Hitchcock thriller makes no sense to me. Such a position isn't often taken with regard to other art forms. Few complain when musicians cover Beatles tunes. Art museums would be empty were there no cross-pollenation between artists. Literature might be the only art form that resists imitation, but that may be due to the fact that the stock-in-trade of novelists is their unique voice. Even then, words have way of entering the public bloodstream. When people declare they haven’t slept a wink, they may not realize they’re quoting Shakespeare (Cymbeline, Act III, Scene III). Such is the impact the Bard's has on our language and culture. Likewise, when we see a large flock of birds gathering on a telephone line, it’s hard not think of The Birds.
This is one reason why I believe Hitchcock is the Shakespeare of the Twentieth Century. He’s had a similarly monumental cultural impact. Judging by the number of remakes and riffs that are coming out, it looks like his stature is only growing.
Stories endure. They are as old as language itself. The mechanism for telling them has evolved and morphed over the years from dance and oral traditions to the printed word, opera and more. Hitchcock was lucky enough to be alive when film theorists were writing the basic rules of what Sergei Eisenstein calls the “visual dialectic.” Hitch seized that historical opportunity and concocted his own cinematic patois, filling in huge swaths of the filmmaker's dictionary. How can others not quote from it?