Notes From The Balcony

Progressive Reflections on Post-Modern Living in a Multifaith Age

Gospel Remakes and Sequels…

Posted by John Montgomery on August 5, 2010

It seems to me that there have sure been a lot of movie “remakes” this season. I’ve certainly not seen them all, but I have caught a few. My youngest son, Matt talked me into seeing the remake (more accurately – the prequel) of Robin Hood.

Now I grew up seeing Robin every Saturday morning played by Richard Greene. The plots were predictable and the outcomes always certain. I can still sing the theme song – some of you are old enough to remember.

Robin Hood, Robin Hood
Riding through the glen.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood
With his band of men.
Feared by the bad, loved by the good.
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, Robin Hood.

Ridley Scott’s  latest version of Robin Hood tells the details of story that happened before our varied episodes of “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” came to be told. This present version of the legendary hero stars  Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett.

Blanchett, of course, plays “Maid Marian,” but in a plot twist, instead of Crowe playing  Robin of Loxley (De Lockesly, Locksley), he is Robin Longstride, a happy archer who assumes Loxley’s identity to lead villagers against an invasion from France. Marian is the real Loxley’s widow and the plot develops – need I say more?

This past year during Lent, I focused on takes of Dicken’s The Christmas Carol. Actually, we had a small group at the church reading the original text (in English) and as part of the study we went back and looked at some of the remakes. The list is huge – see wiki article. Of course, this year’s remake was Jim Carrey’s version. With Three-D glasses and all along with Robert Zemeckis’ direction and the Disney animations, we soared across space and time until I was just plain dizzy.

Each remake is a little bit different and some give a significantly nuanced view to the story. Some remakes are more different than others. I was struck at how in Brian Henson’s 1992 Muppet’s take on the Christmas Carol, there were two Marley brothers, not surprisingly played by the well-known curmudgeons usually found weekly in the balcony for the TV show. (Is that where I got the name for this blog?) Of course, one of the most significant updates in Juhl’s script was the special music that punctuated the narrative.

Not surprisingly, the Muppet’s version was mainly aimed at the children. In that context, I was a bit taken aback when in the scene with the young boy and girl symbolizing want and ignorance, the young girl morphs into an obvious prostitute!

The best remake for me this season was the Karate Kid – Will and Jada Pinkett-Smith’s son, Jaden and Jackie Chan adapt the classic Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita movie setting it not in Southern California, but Beijing. I am told that there is a previous remake, this time with a young girl as the hero, but I have not seen it yet.  Chan’s movie was elegant. Of course, it it not about Karate, but Kung Fu. Nevertheless the parallels are obvious. Some are spoofs of previous scenes like the famous attempt to use chopsticks to catch the fly. With all due respect for Morita, Chan’s martial art routines are awesome. Morita is a great actor. Chan is a Master.

It’s actually been 26 years since Avidsen’s movie was first released. I rented the original and I was shocked at how much of the dialogue remained – in many cases, word for word.

* * * * *

It seems to me that “remakes” function on several levels. Sometimes, we get better information. I’m told that Scott’s Robin Hood is more true to the tradition.

Of course, remakes are not simply tales of the past, but speak in powerful ways to the present situation. In  our period where populist Ayn Rand fundamentalism is shouted back and forth at a political rally “robbing from the rich and giving to the poor” takes on the flavor of socialism and Marxist redistribution of the wealth.

Finally, a narrative pluralism goes a long way to form our imagination – building a deeper appreciation of diversity and some patience with divergent perspectives.

* * * * *

So… has occurred to me that we might talk about our various versions of the gospel narratives as a series of “remakes.” I don’t think it stretches the facts to say that Acts is Luke’s sequel. But is Matthew a remake of Mark? Luke is perhaps a remake of Mark and Matthew, and John…well that is another post. Not only do Matthew and Luke correct Mark’s questionable grammar, but they sometimes tell a different story.  They are not movies, but I believe that the more we can see the gospel narratives rather than simply hear them, the word is more powerfully expressed.

If all that had survived had been Mark, we would have not known that it was Peter with the sword in the garden. Mother Mary would not have been at the cross, in fact she would have been absent because she thought Jesus was crazy. Where is the Passover supper in John?

Now a blog post is not the place to detail all of the changes that accompanied the gospel remake process, we can do that later. I’ve avoided the question of lectionary. after all, would Men in Tights have even make the Robin Hood canon?

But, having said that, in our multi-faith world, perhaps the more we focus on how each subsequent author told the gospel story differently, if we stop assuming that the texts say the same thing, the texts themselves might begin to form our imagination and our sense of hospitality in the face of real religious diversity.

I am glad that there are several versions of Robin Hood. I am glad that there are also four gospel traditions.

* * * * *

I’ll close with a small gift. My thanks go out to James F. McGrath who recently shared Duke professor Mark Goodacre’s You-tube fun on the synoptic problem. Enjoy.

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