A Town Called Mercy: The Silent Movie

Remakes are endemic to Hollywood. Like sequels, they enable you to revisit an established cash cow with minimal creative input: the characters and basic premise are there, and all (all!) you need to do is come up with a decent story. Sometimes, if you have an established name in the title, you can get away without even doing that, which may be why Batman and Robin, Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 3 all sucked.

With remakes it’s a slightly different story: you take existing material and add your own spin. This is why of all the remakes I’ve seen, Gus Van Sant’s take on Psycho must count as the most pointless: a shot-for-shot rehash that apparently came with Hitchcock’s supernatural approval (they held a seance to ask for his blessing from beyond the grave; the portly director apparently granted it, and then gave technical advice). In interviews, Van Sant has explained that his rationale was to “bring the movie to a whole new generation”. Fine. So you colourise the original, if you must. You don’t do it over with a new cast who (William H. Macy aside) aren’t a patch on the likes of Perkins and Leigh. Why mess with borderline perfection?

I’m of the opinion that Hollywood should concentrate on remaking bad movies – or, more specifically, movies with unrealised potential. You know – the ones that sucked but had a spark about them, a glimmer of a good idea let down by poor acting or sloppy direction or atrocious dialogue. As an example, consider Playing For Keeps, which I saw some years ago in a Philadelphia hotel room – a 1980s flick about some wayward teens who decide to do up a dilapidated hotel in small town America, overcoming resistance from the hostile locals and a corrupt sheriff. It was truly appalling, but the worst thing about the whole experience was that it could have worked – a good idea, well and truly squandered.

All of which leads me to this. I seem to be producing videos at a rate of knots at the moment. They’re mostly small projects. I’ve learned that anything over a couple of minutes doesn’t always gets watched, at least not in its entirety. That doesn’t mean that the big magnum opuses, in the manner of Darth Gene or Wheatley the Navigator, have been retired. They remain among my best work. I’m just going through a short-but-sweet phase. You might call them mini-episodes.

This one came about because of a little dabbling with filters, and a current preoccupation with The Three Amigos. Silent Movie style Doctor Who is nothing new, of course, as a YouTube search will reveal. But ‘A Town Called Mercy’ lent itself perfectly, being the only time New Who has ventured properly into the American Old West (all right, Spain). When I think of silent movies, for some reasons the defining images that jump out at me are moustache-twirling villains with tremendous eyebrows, cowboys, and Buster Keaton.

“I’m surprised you did it,” said Gareth, “because presumably it involved watching the episode again”. It’s a fair point. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know all about my hostility towards ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which remained (for me) the worst episode of the New Who canon (at least until a few months later, when they broadcast ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’). Revisiting it the other week did, as Gareth suggests, filled me with some trepidation – but on the other hand, I had the sound off.

An early realisation was that if you’re going to try and improve ‘Mercy’ the best way is to indulge in a little deconstruction. So this doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a series of in-jokes and fourth wall demolitions. There are two Red Dwarf references – see if you can spot both – and a nod to an old Lucasarts graphic adventure that I’m not going to bother explaining – you’ll know it if you see it.

The Three Amigos footage works on two levels. It’s a cowboy silent movie that I didn’t have to touch – just paste in – and it enabled me to do a juxtaposed mashup for no real reason other than that I could. And everyone loves The Three Amigos, and it’s been a while since the antics of Short, Martin and Chase have graced our DVD player. But of course there’s also the recognition that ‘Mercy’ does, in itself, use the climax of The Three Amigos in its final act (although I’m willing to concede, if challenged, that The Three Amigos got the idea from somewhere else).

I knocked up the captions in Fireworks. I think they’re reasonably authentic, stylistically at least. The projector effect was found after a brief YouTube trawl, and music came from a variety of different sources, all of which I mention in the end credits. The star find was Keeper1st’s piano rendition of the Doctor Who theme, which seemed to fit the mood perfectly. I used MPEG Video Wizard for the editing, and then ran the old movie filter from Movavi, as it was better. So this one really has been through the mill a bit, but I think the end results are reasonably good.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’m off to spend some time with the boys. It’s Sunday afternoon, which means film day, and I get to pick. Guess what we’re watching?

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