09 May 2010

The New Fiction in Film

They will release this week yet another film about Robin Hood. According to the New York Times, my definitive source, this film is a "prequel" which goes back into the history of this captivating character. However this so-called history lingers through his marriage to "Maid" Marion, which in this script is no maid, and beyond to the return of the King. So I am forced to wonder, where is the true story and how is it Ridley Scott et al can make whatever they like of Robin Hood, and this is much on my mind given films of late that borrow the title of a known work of fiction, and manipulate the story to another end entirely.

Let us begin with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, certainly not true to the original, rather a hodge-podge of the title story, Through the Looking Glass, the Jabberworky and a bit of Joan of Arc and Avatar, among other things, and thus in my view not at all Alice in Wonderland and not worthy of the title. Then there was the film of Sherlock Holmes, originally a captivating OCD genius sleuth created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a series of stories of which many are masterpieces of mystery, turned into an adventure hero with an equally infamous lover and a strained relationship with the no-longer so affable Dr. Watson as played by Jude Law. I am second to none in my admiration and affection for Robert Downey Jr., but please, what makes it all right to compromise such a carefully crafted character? In both cases, I would have minded a lot less if they had given the film another title: Alice would have sufficed, sufficient allusion to the character without bastardizing the source, and maybe Sherlock would have worked to the same end. Not Holmes, that's too representative.

And now we have a new Robin Hood, again no name change, although I discover in my research that Robin Hood is more folklore than original fiction, so perhaps more maleable. In the interest of creativity, I pose this question: it's one thing to contaminate the truth, but what makes fiction sacrosanct? David Shields in his remarkable work "Reality Hunger" poses the possibility that there are no divides between so-called truth and fiction, as the moment something is said or done it's subject to context and memory, thus making it fiction from that moment forward. He's got a point there. So, if the truth is open to revision, fiction surely must be vulnerable to further fiction. I suppose. One never owns words or thoughts or even characters [unless licensed to Mattel] as there is no copyright for intellectual property, but if not illegal, it's still wrong, or at the very least, inappropriate, to appropriate other people's stories, even lore. Revisionism always has an agenda, if only box office receipts. I feel the same way every time a novelist takes a character from another book and writes the prequel, the sequel or the what if? What happened to pride of originality?

For me, Robin Hood is Errol Flynn, and that character might have been drawn even less to the lore, but he's Robin of Loxley in my mind, and the divine Basil Rathbone, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, also my favorite Sherlock Holmes on film. Surely Russell Crowe may bring something entirely new, and perhaps wonderful, to the character, he often does, but couldn't he just be somebody else? Some other fighter for the rights and freedoms of ordinary mortals - surely we need such characters in our world. What is to be lost by fabricating a fabulous new persona? On the other hand, perhaps we can no longer call something fiction at all - perhaps stories cannot be considered proprietary. But we might have to call it original fiction, like original screenplay, fine, but please, let's make it original.

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