Friday, 31 January 2020

A tale (tail?) of two remakes

Firstly, you need to understand how deeply the 1994 film version of Little Women and the 1998 television film version of Cats are imbedded in the childhoods of my children. The Thomas Newman score of Little Women was part of my "birthing tape" for second daughter; that's how much I loved the music. Elder daughter, of course, adored the movie from a very young age. As for Cats, we had a wavering VHS of the 1998 television version, which both girls played over and over.

I've probably told this story before, but when elder daughter was taking ballet lessons at age six, younger daughter and I would wait in the office area, where we could catch glimpses of the lessons. One evening, I watched in disbelief as younger daughter, age two, stretched and arched in the darkened corridor outside the studios, clearly imitating this moment:

I had been rather dreading the 2019 version of Cats. Despite my daughters' enthusiasm, I'd been exposed to this musical years earlier, and frankly, I'm not overly fond of it, and the director Tom Hooper's version of Les Miserables is two hours and forty minutes I'll never get back. This version of Cats has been assailed by horrendous (and hilarious) reviews. A pack of elder daughter's musical-loving, but Cats-loathing pals in Hades got drunk to go see it.

There were few people in our Victoria matinée -- they appeared to be sober. And oh, it could have been worse. The mistake, I think, was trying to give Cats a plot. Also sticking out like a sore thumb, hip-hop dancers in 1930's London. And Rebel Wilson, whose schtick didn't quite work here.

However, I didn't mind most of the performances. I was fine with Taylor Swift as Bombalurina, and even her song, co-written with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. I've always been a fan of Steven McRae, a premieur danseur of the Royal Ballet, and his rapid-fire tap-dance as Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat (which isn't a tap-dance in the original musical). Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat? Perfect, of course.

The Resident Fan Boy slept through the bulk of the movie, claimed he hadn't, and was hurt when I disagreed with his opinion on performances he hadn't seen. Younger daughter adored it, of course. Elder daughter resolutely refused to see it, but insisted that we all attend the latest version of Little Women together.

I had been worried by the trailers of this Little Women, that they would add anachronistic music and dance moves. Actually, they stuck quite closely to the period -- Jo's clothes are a little more mannish than you'd expect, but that's in keeping with Alcott's Jo. Demeter, who didn't attend, would have been driven crazy by the use of flashbacks, as the movie begins in the 1870's, and Jo remembers the events in episodes, which are filmed in a golden filter; the "present" is signalled by a blue filter.

I'd also worried, having read reviews, that it would be too similar to the 1994 version. I adored that version, but I don't go to cinemas to see copies. All the things in the 2019 Little Women that the critics praised seemed to be what you could say equally of the 1994 Little Women. However - I remembered with a pang - 1994 was 25 years ago. Each Little Women - the 1930s Katherine Hepburn one, the 1949 June Allyson one, the rather ghastly 1970s one with, heaven help us, William Shatner as Professor Bhaer - reflects its time. This current telling is a post-#MeToo take on the story. Although faithful to time and place, the injustices of being a woman in the late 19th Century are voiced a little more loudly, clearly, and insistently than even Louisa May Alcott would dare.

A young woman on one side of me sniffled a little at Beth's demise. Younger daughter reported that the Resident Fan Boy wept quite a bit. I didn't weep, but I was moved. Elder daughter, seated on my other side, was not. She pronounced a definite preference for the 1994 Little Women, so much a part of her childhood. She felt Timothée Chalomet was miscast as Laurie, because, in her opinion, he didn't mature with the part. Younger daughter clearly thought that Timothée Chalomet was the perfect Laurie, no doubt because she thinks he's dreamy.

Well, they're sisters, and very different - like the March girls. For my part, I'm glad my first exposure to Little Women was through the novels themselves. This seems to allow me to not get too attached to the films, as Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy were known to me long before. I won't mind seeing this Little Women again. I can't say the same for Cats, but I have a feeling I'll be sitting through it whenever younger daughter has the yen.

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