Thursday, July 22, 2010

12 Angry Men (1957) vs. 12 Angry Men (1997)

12 Angry Men (1957) vs. 12 Angry Men (1997)

What makes a classic? Why do we feel the need to reproduce something that occupies this status in our psyche? Gus Van Sant did this with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Wolfgang Petersen did this with Ronald Neame's 1972 The Poseidon Adventure.

And William Friedkin did this with his 1997 rendition of Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men.
A classic is a piece of work that endures through the test of time. Sand washes over this piece of atistry and the obolisk reveals not a swipe of erosion. A classic speaks to audiences over time due to the fact that it pertains to themes that are universal to audiences, regardless of the time period, technology, or geo-politics affecting them. I guess it's premature for me to keep considering this mise-en-scene as "universal", but its universality is proven by the fact that I was moved by this film when I was 14. A classic is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. We find it to be a full-bodied creation where the audience's interpretation come in multitudes, and the audience feels like it should impart this experience onward through the masses.

Where I feel my essay's thesis resides is in this latter issue. Why can't we leave something alone that works? Why do we as a community have to try and redo something that isn't broken? It makes sense to me that the people who bankroll and direct these revisions of the original classics feel like the public is in need of experiencing the film yet again.

This is what I feel went wrong when they decided to remake Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men. Alright, this remake WAS a made-for-TV movie, but I don't believe that this lower budget doesn't mean that the cast of twelve couldn't deliver a better performanace. Jack Lemmon as the crusader standing firm against the crowd of 11 dissenters was poorly cast. His entire performance seemed like he was an enervated person weighed down by a life of misery. Where Henry Fonda stands tall, Jack Lemmon flopped. George C. Scott seemed to fill the Lee J. Cobb role quite well, which led to their 1999 remake of Inherit the Wind (i.e. another TV remake of an old classic which they performed quite well in).

I think that the vision the creators had for revising the 1957 classic of 12 Angry Men probably arose from its 40th anniversary as well as the desire to add modern sensibilities". {I usually would add more money and more technology, but that doesn't fit in this context.) By modern sensibilities, I mean that the 1957 film really should be titled 12 Angry White Men. This aspect is the only thing that could be criticized within the classic, but it doesn't detract from the classic's awesomeness. The 1997 version added men of all creed and color to really put across the notion of the universal nature of pursuit of truth. This was readily apparent, but beyond that, there was no extension of themes to deal with our modern, less-homogenous society. The 1997 scenes seemed like they were being played by children playing house, words unaware of the full force being their meanings.

I'm not a movie snob by any accounts. I have the favorites I remember watching when I was younger (Judge Dred, Money Train, among others), so I'm not beholden to enjoying only the best fo the best like some people. But when I see 12 Angry Men in black and white, I see a lot of authenticity and belief in what they're putting on scene. The camera work is unfangled yet effective. The editing paced out the narrative in such a way that it didn't seem like they were taking anything away from any shot. The 12 Angry Men in color doesn't add realism or a "more modern take" to the old work, it demonstrates that a classic is to be built upon, never copied.