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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Aftermath of a Rock N' Roll Divorce

Nearly every rock band has compared the musical relationship between its members to a marriage, so the aftermath of a breakup can easily be compared to a divorce, leaving the fans divided. My friend Dan Dedekian brought this scenario to my attention as a song from Van Halen's "OU812" album played on his iPod and it left him wondering "when a band breaks up, why are the fans forced to pick a side?".

Speaking of band breakups, the most obvious example in Rock music would be the 1996 departure of Sammy Hagar from Van Halen after 11 years, the result of a bitter feud between Sammy and Eddie Van Halen. When Sammy had joined the band in 1985, fans were already divided, as the followers of his solo career embraced the union while fans of the original lineup labeled the band "Van Hagar" for their disapproval of his influence on the musical direction of the band. When news broke that Sammy was no longer in Van Halen, his fans followed him on the revival of his solo career, while fans of the original era took to message boards, expressing their disapproval of the music Hagar made with the band and accusing him of ruining Van Halen. Unfortunately for those who chose to take Eddie's side after the breakup, Van Halen has released very little music over the years aside from one poorly received album and a handful of tracks recorded for hits compilations. However, the wait may finally be over, as a newly recorded album with original frontman David Lee Roth is in the mixing stages and is due for an early 2012 release. Meanwhile, Sammy released 6 solo albums before forming Chickenfoot with original Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony, along with guitarist Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, with two hugely successful albums under their belt already.

As a fan of Van Halen's music from both eras, like my friend Dan, it's hard to understand the need to choose a side rather than embracing the music made by both Roth and Hagar as important parts of the catalog. Sammy, who typically pushed to include only a few of the Roth-era tracks on the setlists during his tenure, performed more Roth-era tracks on their 2004 "reunion" tour as he finally came to appreciate all of the music from the band's history. Eddie Van Halen, on the other hand, has tried to make fans forget about the Hagar era of the band, and even gone as far as editing album artwork on the band's webpage, replacing Anthony's face with his son Wolfgang, who replaced Anthony on bass. Yet the song that played when Eddie married current wife Janie was "When It's Love" from the Hagar era of the band, proof that even he cannot deny the music he made with Sammy.

Picking sides after the breakup of a band is basically a way of saying that you're not a fan of that band, but only of certain members. Slash's departure from Guns 'N' Roses (also in 1996) started a domino effect that left Axl Rose as the sole member to carry on the name. His attempt over the years to hang on to the success of the music that the original lineup created is as desperate and sad as the music on the one album he's since released as "Guns 'N' Roses", the once mythical "Chinese Democracy". The current lineup of G 'N R is at best a solid tribute band, at least on the nights Axl doesn't storm off stage in true diva fashion. Meanwhile, all other original members have been involved in a number of projects like Velvet Revolver. Slash released a solo album in 2010 with a number of guest vocalists and is working on a followup, while Velvet Revolver searches for a new singer.

Eddie Van Halen treats his frontmen like singers for hire, as he's recorded albums with 3 different ones, and in the end it was those singers that went on to make new music while Eddie waited for the next to come along. Axl Rose felt that he was the only member needed to carry on the name of the band whose debut album is on every Top Rock Albums list, yet he's seen no success since the departure of Slash and the other members that followed. There is a lesson to be learned here, not just for the over-inflated egos of Rock's most prolific figures, but for those who choose to follow them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

If it ain't broke.......

Gone In Sixty Seconds, Cape Fear, Father of the Bride, Ocean's Eleven, The Italian Job, The Fly, Clash of the Titans; the list goes on and on. These films have something in common, an unfortunate trend that is now spreading through Hollywood like a horrible strain of Writers' Block, and it is the REMAKE VIRUS.

Those films, and many others, have been remade and some very closely to the original, leaving fans of the originals wondering "why bother?". I feel that there are only two reasons to make a film that already exists; to send a message to the filmmaker of the original that you can do it better, or to share a favorite film with a new audience using today's advanced filmmaking tools. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, at least that's the excuse that filmmakers of the latest string of upcoming remakes will use. Among those coming soon to theaters or currently in the works are Footloose, Dirty Dancing, Overboard, Point Break, Total Recall and Wargames. These are just some of the more popular titles falling under the cinematic guillotine as Hollywood producers rely on the success of classics, using the built-in fan base of the originals, to create big draws for remakes. I'm a big fan of seeing a fresh take on a new idea, but only if it's needed.

For example, John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic "Halloween" is held in high regards by horror fans and filmmakers, but would barely cause the slightest stir for today's desensitized youth. Rob Zombie, having written and directed two well-received horror films, took on the original Halloween and unleashed a new Michael Myers in his brutally reinvigorated vision. Going against his vow to make only one Halloween film, he followed up his own remake with a sequel that took the aggressive tone of the first even further, allowing him to conclude his vision and keep other filmmakers from compromising it with unworthy sequels. I think this kind of remake is very worthwhile because it was approached with a great deal of appreciation and respect for the original but also brought something new to it that took nothing away from the appeal of the original, and in fact created renewed interest in it.

On the other hand, you take films like "Footloose" and "Dirty Dancing", both being classic films of the 80's which were huge launching pads for the cast. While a remake of Dirty Dancing is only in the planning stages, Footloose hits theaters October 14th with Julianne Hough, widely known for her years on Dancing With The Stars, and professional dancer Kenny Wormald. The trailer for the film reveals a Southern treatment, while many of the original film's elements remain intact. Movies like Footloose and Dirty Dancing are timeless and nostalgic and not the kind of movies that can be made better simply from being made modern. The storyline and early breakout performances will keep these originals towering over the remakes, especially once released on Blu-Ray which will only enhance their superiority.

Furthermore, for any film with a large fan base it should be recognized that those fans are loyal and likely very skeptical that any remake could ever come close to the original. I can't think of a better example of this than "Point Break", the surfer/cop action hit starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves, which achieved cult-like status among fans. On the same day I saw the news that this remake was coming, I got a text from my friend Dan Dedekian, filled with disgust and disbelief, which perfectly mirrored my own feelings. I'm willing to accept it as coincidence that Point Break, Dirty Dancing and Red Dawn originally starred Patrick Swayze, who passed away in September 2009 after a long battle with Pancreatic Cancer, and are all in various stages of being remade. Note to Hollywood: if you wish to retain this illusion of coincidence, make sure nobody ever remakes "Ghost" or those groaning shadowy figures from the original will likely hunt down everyone involved and haul them off to the underworld, where Christian Bale should be for ruining the Batman and Terminator franchises.

Another of Dan's favorites is "Top Gun", the film that fueled his own need for speed, and upon thinking of the possibility of a remake we shared a sentiment of "they f'n better not even try". Luckily, no remake of Top Gun is in the works but the original is getting the 3D treatment, due for theatrical release in 2012, and a sequel with a Cruise cameo is in the works.

Moving on, don't even get me started on "Overboard", the most adorable excuse ever to cast a Hollywood couple opposite each other, starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, otherwise known as the most successful unmarried couple in Hollywood (Sorry Gene, but even before you put a ring on it you were beat by a few years). It's been reported that the remake of Overboard will star Jennifer Lopez in Hawn's role and is to be produced by Will Smith; no male lead has been announced. No doubt J.Lo is the right choice for the uppity snob role, as she is infamous for her diva-like backstage demands, but judging from her Rom-Com history this remake will fall way short, as any remake of Overboard would.

Regarding the constantly confusing Ah-nold Sci-Fi thriller "Total Recall", I've got nothing bad to say about seeing this done better as it can't be any worse.

Obviously, I'm a mixed bag when it comes to where my thumb points for a remake, but this theme of taking well-known and loved 80's classics using them to launch the careers of today's newcomers is, like, so 30 years ago. Seriously, it's time to let some no-name fresh writers get their scripts on the desks of starving producers and directors before someone casts Megan Fox as the computer-generated bimbo in a remake of "Weird Science" and I have to put my fist through my 42". I'd rather see a remake of "Sixteen Candles"....better yet, the sequel, titled "The Return of Long Duck Dong"!