Saturday, May 1, 2010
HBO remakes Mildred Pierce
Hollywood has always been in the business of adaptation. From the beginning, it looted libraries and Broadway theaters looking for ideas, and it started making sequels and remaking hits as soon as it could. This is good to bear in mind if you started getting depressed about the lamentable state of American film at present. (How many comic book movies or adaptations of video games or 80s era cartoons can our culture want? How much candy can you eat before you vomit?) Hollywood seems to be getting better at making films that exist for no other reason than to act as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign.
But I digress. I can bitch about the steady disintegration of American culture all day long, but the good news is that some people--yes, even in Hollywood--have cultural memories that go back further than the Smurfs.
One of those people is the writer/director Todd Haynes. One of his best films was the Julianne Moore drama Far From Heaven, a film that consciously worked in the same vein as 1950s era Douglas Sirk melodramas like All That Heaven Allows. It's a terrific piece of work, and it bodes well for Haynes's upcoming adaption of James M. Cain's novel Mildred Pierce, which, of course, formed the basis of the Michael Curtiz classic of the same name starring Joan Crawford.
Some noir purists may be taken aback by the suggestion that anyone would remake one of Hollywood's great melodramas. If so, bear a few things in mind:
1. The original isn't perfect. Now, don't get me wrong, I love Curtiz's Mildred Pierce. It's a capital-G Great film, and it's as entertaining a slice of noir melodrama as you can find. It does, however, rather make Mildred something of a martyr, and this very flaw is the pivot on which an adaption might turn. It would be interesting to see the story with more of the hard edge Cain intended. Which brings me to my second point...
2. The original film is a loose adaption of the novel. Don Malcolm, writing a book-to- film comparison for the Noir City Sentinel, pointed out that Cain was terribly unhappy with what Warner Brothers did to his novel because he'd written Mildred Pierce as a break from his usual lust-and-greed potboilers like The Postman Always Rings Twice. Hollywood wasn't having it, though, and made the story into a murder mystery. I have no idea how faithful Haynes intends to be to either the book or the original movie, but there is plenty of room to explore here. The fact that Haynes is doing this as a mini-series for HBO bodes well.
3. Check this out: Kate Winslet as Mildred, Rachel Evan Wood as Veda, and Guy Pearce as Monty. That's a killer cast (and the supporting players include Melissa Leo and Mare Winningham). With Haynes at the controls, this holds a lot of promise.
Here's more on the project.