Old Stories, New Tales

I saw a movie trailer recently.

I know, I know, it seems like I start a lot of these posts that way, but bear with me a minute here.

Because this is the trailer I saw:

Cool, right? I mean, you had me at Idris Elba and Zazie Beetz, but then there’s Regina King, Jonathan Majors, Deon Cole, and LaKeith Stanfield too?

Some of you will recognize the names, some of you might not, but between these six actors they’ve been in several of my favorite movies or TV series in the past few years: Deadpool 2 (2018), Lovecraft Country (2020), Da 5 Bloods (2020), Watchmen (2019), Get Out (2017), Sorry To Bother You (2018), Black-Ish (2017-2022), and The Suicide Squad (2021), to name just a few of those.

Notice something else?

If you break it down by parts, this movie sounds like a classic Western. An outlaw and a bounty hunter, a posse and a gang, a vendetta and a small town caught in the crossfire. Heck, there’s even a prison break on a train.

We’ve seen all of these elements before.

Left: Eastwood, The Good The Bad and The Ugly (1966), Right: Majors, The Harder They Fall (2021)

They were pioneered decades ago in the heyday of the Spaghetti Westerns a half century gone. You could fit a young Clint Eastwood into the costumes any of our male leads are wearing, toss him onto the set of A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and he wouldn’t look out of place.

So why am I excited for a western that’s using old costumes and older tropes?

Because even when using old tropes, it’s almost impossible for this to be same the old story.

With a writer/director who’s young, black, and British in Jeymes Samuel, and a cast this impressive? Are you kidding me?

And the rest of the crew has pedigree to spare, whether it’s the costume designer from Superfly (2018), the cinematographer for Jojo Rabbit (2019), a set decorator from Black Panther (2018) or an art director from Logan (2017), these people have worked on some of the most unique projects in recent memory. From the music to the camera work (did your stomach swoop with that shot where the camera’s strapped to Beetz’ shotgun? Mine did), my money has it that this western is going to be an all new animal.

So yes, I’m excited.

I’m a firm believer that there are no sacred texts. That no movie, song, book, or TV show is so impeccable that it couldn’t be re-worked into something new by the right person or team.

And director Jeymes Samuel and the The Harder They Fall team aren’t the only ones breathing new life into old stories these days.

A couple of years ago Yûko Takeuchi starred in the Japanese series Miss Sherlock (2018) and absolutely inhabited Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. For those left feeling a little empty after the disappointing end to Cumberbatch’s run at the character in 2017, I’d encourage giving Takeuchi’s Sherlock and her faithful sidekick Wato-san (played by Shihori Kanjiya) a try.

Or out of France, these past few months we’ve had Lupin (2021). A series starring the impeccable Omar Sy that is both inspired by, and lovingly sending up, Maurice LeBlanc’s early 20th century gentleman thief, Arséne Lupin.

Just last week, the first season of Star Wars: Visions was released on Disney+.  Built as an anthology, each episode was created by a different anime studio in Japan and for anyone out there who is still unaware of this, that island currently produces the most beautiful and interesting animation on the planet.

For anyone who doesn’t believe me, and wasn’t convinced by the Visions trailer, I encourage you to give this trailer from a 2021 re-telling of Beauty and the Beast for the cyber age a spin and get back to me.

Rather read than watch? Check out Lovecraft’s Monsters (2014). Edited by Ellen Datlow, it’s an anthology of Lovecraftian tales, featuring all the best beasties, but retold by a new generation of authors with unique cultural spins on each take. Notable contributors include perennial favorite Neil Gaiman, two time Bram Stoker Award winner Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Hugo Award Nominee Nick Mamatas, among many others.

Or if you’re a novel, not a short story, person, there’s Mimi Matthews’ John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow (2021). In it, Matthews gender-bends Jane Eyre and dials the ghostly elements in Bronte’s tale up to 11.

A fan of comics and graphic novels? Batman: The World was released by DC Comics last month. In this monster of a project, artists and writers the world over set Batman, his team, and new characters all their own, in the creators’ home countries for each entry in this collection of stories. I haven’t yet made it into my local shop to pick up a copy of this 160 page behemoth of a graphic novel (graphic anthology?), but I plan to soon.

So, to circle back, yes. I’m excited about a movie with the bones of a classic western and the makings to be so much more.

There are purists out there who will take (and have taken) umbrage with a lady Sherlock, or anime Star Wars, or a black western, but they can take themselves elsewhere. Diversity and evolution is what’s going to save the classics, not trying to trap them in amber.

We’ve already told those old stories, now it’s time for new tales.

Chase thunder,

JdB

The Harder They Fall hits Netflix on November 3, 2021. Rated R for violence and strong language.

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