“What’s the use of a good quotation if you can’t change it?”: Remakes in Early Cinema

Cliché opening sentence about the current climate of remakes.

Remaking isn’t new. The early pioneers of cinema liked a cheeky lift as much as anyone.There’s Une Partie de Cartes where Méliès blatantly steals the whole of the Lumiere’s Card Party. There’s De Chomen’s Voyage to Jupiter which contains a marked similarity to another ‘Voyage to insert heavenly body‘ film. And Melies was obsessed with taking his head off and remade his own The Four Troublesome Heads so many times that it drove me mad watching the same stuff for days.

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These are generally people wanting to play with each others’ ideas, or simply fancying a cheap buck. Unlike now however, there’s actually a fair amount of use to be made of these. For instance Buy Your Own Cherries is both a magic lantern slide collection and a short film and the addition of movement and removal of more fantastical elements shows the changing tastes between mediums. Paul’s The Countryman’s First Sight of Animated Pictures is mainly missing, but we can experience it as Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show. This allegedly almost identical and was created by an audience member of the original. Technical advances can also be seen as the original Reve a la Lune is a simple static shot of an actor shaking, whereas the increasing abilities of superimposition allows its remake Dream of a Rarebit Fiend to take the viewer inside the subjective madness of its protagonist. Even later films which use earlier tricks, such as the use of a train coming to run over a camera in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera show rather than a rip-off of the Arrival of the Train in the Station, a level of cinematic literary, referencing earlier documentary work to inform current efforts in the field especially when combined with disparate elements like a superimposition drawn from Man Ray situating MWAMC in both traditions.

So while remakes may have lost their importance in the world of easily traceable originals and limitless technology and referentiality, they can be vital in a historical study of the early silent era.

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