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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Visual and Performing Arts Reuse the Old

Visual and Performing Arts Reuse the Old

Films, Plays and Songs That Inspire Films, Plays and Songs

Shakespeare's Stories Inspire Movies - Unknown

In today’s cost-conscious world of entertainment media, it’s often apparent that old ideas revisited and reinterpreted are valid inspirations.

That one art form can, and does, inspire many sons and daughters in other art forms may be clear from films about films, films about musicals, films of books you have seen, or songs from shows that go on to be used elsewhere.

Cabaret Illustrates the Phenomenon.

Liza Minelli’s film masterpiece of 1972 is often cited as a great work of that decade. Cabaret, the film, came out of the 1966 Broadway musical that derived from John van Druten’s 1951 play I Am A Camera, which in turn was inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s novel, Goodbye to Berlin.

The play Sleuth had a life on stage, and then become film (1972,2007). CS Lewis’ Surprised By Joy, a piece of literature and other linked pieces became a television play, Shadowlands, in 1985, a stage play in 1990 and a film in 1994. His Narnia books have become The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and others have become television films and movies and a stage play.

The Harry Potter novels which started in 1997 have become successful films and inspired untold merchandise to create a brand worth over £15 billion. JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, written between 1937 and 1949 has followed suit onto film. And so it goes on. One thing leads to another, and no good (commercial) idea is allowed to go to waste.

Plays into film and musicals

George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion became the film and musical, My Fair Lady, and as such is remembered more than the original genre. Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet and The Taming of the Shrew became the stage and film musicals, West Side Story and Kiss Me, Kate.

In a slightly different twist, his Hamlet gave two minor characters the leads in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildernstern Are Dead, which has yet to become a movie, but perhaps it’s only a matter of time. Shakespeare’s stories about revenge, murder, betrayal, ambition, a sweeping sense of history are, of course, the very essence of good fiction and good movies.

We’ve also got films about journalists: All the President’s Men (1976), Scoop (1987, 2006) and Citizen Kane (1941) – though the central character is a newspaper owner. Most recently, State of Play (2009) is a thriller about investigative journalists.

We have films about radio people: Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) and Play Misty For Me (1971). There are films about screenwriters: My Favorite Year (1982), and about movie industry workers, The Holiday (2006). It is as if directors and screenwriters are immediately comfortable in a world they already inhabit professionally.

Songs about Songs and Music

War of the Worlds (1978) is a concept music album and concert tour based on the HG Wells’ 1898 sci-fi story, and also films (in 1953 an adaptation of the story told on radio) and (2005, a Speilberg piece).

But it is in the world of song that we see this self-recycling focus at its best. American Pie is a 1971 music album by Don McLean, best known for its title track about The Day the Music Died (dedicated to Buddy Holly). The third track, Vincent, is a tribute to the famed painter Vincent Van Gogh.

Sweet Home Alabama was written as an answer to two songs, Southern Man and Alabama by Neil Young, which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South. Nightshift is a 1985 hit song by the Commodores and title track from the album of the same name. The song was a tribute to Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye, two famous R&B musicians who had died in 1984.

Bob Dylan’s song Sara has the memorable lines: ‘stayed up for days in the Chelsea Hotel writing Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for You’. This is a reference to an earlier classic from his own catalogue!

So, the arts themselves become the arts’ best inspirations. And in view of the often phenomenal artistic and commercial successes achieved, there is no reason to suppose this trend will not continue.

Photo: Shakespeare’s Stories Inspire Movies – Unknown

First published on Suite 101, 10 March 2010.

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