Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two Classics

Remember a little while ago when I mentioned that I wouldn't buy the Salo DVD unless I developed a burning need to spend my money on something I didn't really want? That's still true, but I was almost tempted a couple of times to buy it recently.

It turns out that whenever you buy things from Amazon, they make personalized recommendations for you. Based on your previous purchases from them, they present you with a list of things you might also enjoy buying from them. On the list of DVDs, Salo was right up there at the top.

That was kind of interesting, but there are a couple of things worth mentioning. The first is that their method of determining what customers might enjoy is pretty unsophisticated. A long time ago I bought the Criterion Collection edition of Down by Law, and that was apparently enough for Amazon to recommend that I buy any DVD released by the Criterion Collection, including the notorious Salo.

The second thing worth noting is that they made over 500 DVD recommendations for me based on my previous purchases. I'm not sure what the actual number was -- they only show 15 items per page and I was getting tired of hitting the 'Next' button. But I have a suspicion that if I hadn't stopped hitting it, Amazon would have eventually recommended every DVD in its inventory.

So the temptation of buying something because Amazon personally recommended it to me didn't last very long.

But just out of curiosity, I decided to see if anyone was selling the DVD on eBay. As it turns out, a few people were, but the listing that caught my attention was for a used copy that was watched only once -- the seller claims he could barely stand to watch it. The initial bid was one cent, and after a fews days of bidding, the bid was about three or four dollars. That seemed like a pretty reasonable price -- if you ignore the fact that watching the movie is possibly one of the most unpleasant cinematic experiences you are likely to have, and by that reasoning, any price is too high a price to pay.

As it happens, I did ignore that fact, and I went back to eBay the day before the bidding ended and checked the price again. By that time, the price was already up to $24. I didn't find out what it eventually sold for, but I imagine it probably ended up pretty close to the retail price for a new version.

So that temptation to buy Salo on DVD didn't last very long either.

So where am I going with all this? Nowhere, really, but while we're on the subject of movies, I want to say something about the 1956 classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which I do happen to own a DVD copy of). I've always liked this movie despite its obvious flaw. And I'm not talking about that tacked-on happy ending -- I'm talking about the fact that in the beginning of the movie, the pods would take the form of human beings and physically replace them while they slept, but toward the end of the movie, Dana Wynter's character briefly fell asleep and when she awoke, she was no longer human. She hadn't been physically replaced by a pod that looked like her -- her originally human body remained intact but her mind had been replaced by a pod mind.

So that's a flaw, but it can be easily overlooked because the movie is so much fun to watch. The only question in my mind is why in the ensuing decades, people have found the need to make three remakes, none of which is even remotely as good as the first one.

The first remake was that 1978 mess starring Donald Sutherland. A lot of critics seemed to like this one, but I just found it annoying. When I saw it in the theater, I remember wishing I was watching the original instead.

And then came Abel Ferrara's 1993 Body Snatchers. You'd probably think it was a decent horror movie if you'd never seen the original version, but I didn't think much of it. To its credit, it's the best of the three remakes, but that isn't saying much.

And then, most recently, came The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman. I didn't expect much from this movie based on the previews, so I waited until it went to cable. To be honest, I don't even remember this movie. I know I saw it, but it didn't make a lasting imprint.

And even though past results are no guarantee of future performance, if anyone ever releases another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I don't think it will be very good. And no one's ever going to do this, but if someone ever made a new version of Salo, I don't know what I'd expect that to be like. It would probably be better and worse at the same time, which is to say it might be easier to watch, but at the cost of sacrificing its visceral impact. If that doesn't make any sense to you, don't worry about it -- like I said, nobody's going to remake Salo anyway.