I have often pondered over the fact that there are not enough fingers and toes on one’s limbs to count all those film depictions of stories, novels, fairy tales, historical and real-life events…
Major film studios and production houses are often more inclined to fund scripts based on best sellers to ensure seats will be filled in cinema houses upon release. Moreover, those filmmakers whom we identify with the creative vision to tell new stories seem few and evermore far between.
An accomplished handful have utilised their craft as filmmakers to retell, and indeed reinvent another classic tale. They have set these beloved stories against a new backdrop, another time, a different culture.
‘O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
Deep in the Mississippi Delta and smack-bang in the middle of the Great Depression, three chain gang escapees set out on an arduous journey home. Seeking a hidden loot of treasure along the way, the trio’s exploits take them through the heart of America’s great south.
The Coen brothers’ re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey takes that classic tale from Ancient Greece and reassembles it amongst a landscape of rural fields, rivers and railroads, rhythm and blues.
The story, however still follows that familiar path: adventure, prophesies, calamities, treasure. Notably, the riverside scene with the sirens is recreated by the Coen brothers in an enchanting, almost encapsulating way. The end product is a visceral success of sweeping plains of sepia, sounds of banjos and fiddles.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
‘We live as we dream… alone…’
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness the protagonist and narrator looks deeper within himself, and questions his preconception of barbarism as he travels up the river and further into the depths of the Congo in search of the mysterious Mr Kurtz.
For director Francis Ford Coppola this novella seemed fitting for the context of his acclaimed epic Apocalypse Now, the stand-out in a series of Vietnam films released in the 70’s.
Indeed as documented by his wife Eleanor in Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, the director himself seemed to descend deeper into the chasm of his own despair… into the jungles of insanity, as he became further entrenched in this ambitious and evermore expensive production.
Throne Of Blood (1957)
It takes the vision of a masterful filmmaker like Akira Kurosawa to bring a Shakespeare tale and place it into the setting of feudal Japan, drawing influence from elements of traditional Japanese Noh drama.
His retelling of Macbeth through a maddened samurai warrior’s eyes heightens it’s dramatic impact and tragedy, and remains to be an outstanding example of an artist’s rehashed vision of a classical tale.
Toshiro Mifune’s finale arrow scene still looks as complex and dramatic as it would have to audiences over 55 years ago. More than worthy of a mention too are Kurosawa’s rework of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (1951) and Ran (1985), the latter being another outstanding depiction of Shakespeare’s King Lear.