Christopher Tookey says that remakes reveal the cultural divide between Europe and the USby Christopher Tookey / August 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in August 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Diabolique, it certainly is. In the latest botched remake by Hollywood of a European classic, smirky Sharon Stone stands in for sultry Simone Signoret. Only the actresses’ initials have anything in common. The sexual undercurrents of the original were deemed too subtle for the American market, and have become lipstick lesbianism; while the ferociously dark ending has been lightened, so that the film emerges as a stirring tale of female empowerment.
Diabolique is not the first European film to suffer such a fate. The most cautionary example of a European movie “going Hollywood” is still The Vanishing (Dutch version 1988, US version 1993), George Sluizer’s chilling tale of a young man’s obsessive quest to find out how and why his girlfriend vanished from a petrol station.
Quite apart from the fact that the Hollywood producers made Sluizer tack on an inappropriate happy ending (another tale of female empowerment), they obviously reckoned that a teenage audience would be too impatient to wait until the end to find out what happened to the girlfriend-so they gave it away in the pre-titles sequence, and turned the disturbingly normal villain of the original into a psychopath (with a European accent).
None of this is new. Almost every European who goes to work in Hollywood returns with stories of crass executives and greedy stars. Some-like Alfred Hitchcock-stay. Most-like Jean Renoir-stick it out for a time, then come home.
The big difference between European and Hollywood film culture was first brought home to me when (in my days as a director) I attended a seminar of rock video directors in New York. The Americans wanted to cash in on any success by repeating the winning formula; the British instinct was to move on from every hit, and try something different.
It has often been said that Americans view cinema as a business, the Europeans as an art; but the difference goes beyond that. Even those Europeans who recognise that the movies are an…