Tuesday, 16 May 2006

Miami Vice As Literature, Er, Literary Phenomenon [Auto-X-posted from The Valve.] Reading a lovely, Morrissey-evoking post on Hollywood’s decision to strip-mine the ‘70s and ‘80s for film ideas, it struck me that Michael Mann’s remake of Miami Vice could be quite the unusual beast, textually-speaking. (Whatever would a remake of Airwolf totally be?) When Heat was released in 1995, a number of critics noticed some familiar dialogue: Mann had recycled some scenes from his script for the Miami Vice (1984) pilot. (Would Roger Ebert have called that “an uncommonly literate screenplay”?) As the IMDB Heat Trivia attests, Mann frequently borrows from his own work. (It doesn’t note this particular connection.) In a televised interview Sunday, Mann claimed that he based the screenplay for the new Miami Vice (2006) on the pilot. Which means, hypothetically, that the same scene could be in the ‘84 pilot, Heat, and the ‘06 remake. What, then, would be the status of the text and the characters’ relation to it? Would Vincent Hanna (Pacino) or Neil McCauley (De Niro) be slyly alluding to an episode of Miami Vice? Would they be presciently anticipating a scene from ‘06 remake? Or would Crockett (Farrell) or Tubbs (Foxx) be alluding to Heat, a film which one can reasonably expect a detective in the Crockett or Tubbs mold to favor? And what about Jimmy Smits? I know you don’t come to Valve with the expectation of it coming in the air tonight, oh Lord, but as someone who works on authors who are serial self-plagiarists—I see you back there, Mr. London—I’ve a keen interest in the interplay of borrowed to original text when the same person is responsible for both. This isn’t an interest I’m particularly articulate about, nor one that I’ve thought through rigorously, so I’d be interested to hear what you would make of the situation described above, or of any similar ones with which I may be unfamiliar. [Note: Because of the current internet pervasiveness of “Miami Vice” and “Michael Mann,” I can’t track down any links for this, nor do I own the first season of Miami Vice, so I can’t check up on it myself. But I don’t think my memory’s that bad. Yet.]
The Genius of Little Men plus Darwin's Wizard Work Maurice Thompson's "The Domain of Romance" (1889) forwards an unusual argument about Darwin’s relationship to realism and romance. According to Thompson, the “little realists” took down the last historical romantcer, Victor Hugo, then proceeded to yelp like jackals around the great man’s knees as he lay dethroned, and the burden of their barking was: “Give us commonplace; we are tired of heroics.” They could not see that out of a mass of commonplace Darwin had wrung the romance whose significance filled the whole area of life. The epoch-interpreter had spoken through the “Origin of Species” and the “Descent of Man.” The petty analytical fictions and the smooth verses of mediocrity fell dead-born. But some one may suggest that the world has not taken the works of Darwin for romance. Well, the world has not, but that goes for nothing; it remains true that they are romance; nor does this impair their scientific vale. Truth is not less true because it satisfies the imagination. If Darwin’s theory is true, it is so because it satisfies the imagination; the missing links of facts are many and important. Darwin comes no nearer absolute proof of the conclusions arrived at ini his masterly romance of the rocks, plants, and animals, than Hugo comes to proof of those reached in “Les Miserables.” In the far future the most valuable significance of the theory of evolution will attach to the fertilizing effect it had upon the imagination of the age... There’s too much to parse in there, but needless to say, it interests me that—contra the conventional accounts of the relationship of evolutionary theory to literature—Thompson claims that Darwinism will murder realism and revivify romance. To wit: What wonder is it that, just at the time when science was thus flowering forth in a mighty raceme of romance, the smaller fry of geniuses should make the mistake of realism? They saw nothing of Darwin’s wizard work save his lucid catalogue of facts and his half-repressed statements of conclusions; but they shrewdly guessed that the world was hungry for fiction of the Darwinian sort. It appeared very easy to satisfy public appetite by writing novels on the scientific plan. They overlooked the central secret, the romance inclosed in Darwin’s work, and they refused to see that the world adores wonders. They saw Darwin’s petty analyses; they failed to see his grand synthesis, the work of a colossal imagination. The time is past for any novelist to redeem the error. Darwin has forestalled realism. While not quite so spectacularly wrong as, say, the JV basketball coach who cut Michael Jordan because he thought His Eventual Airness lacked potential, that’s still pretty spectacularly wrong.

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