Thursday, March 23, 2006


Can't Tell a Film By Its Title

Months ago, when I stepped into the theater to see Crash (now the Oscar-winning Best Picture of 2005), I could think of only one thing -- the 1996 David Cronenberg film of the same name. Cronenberg's Crash, based on the J.G. Ballard novel, is a notorious film, filled with explicit sex and scenes of a fetishistic subculture of people who get turned on sexually by car crashes. Ironically, having nothing to do with the Cronenberg film, Paul Haggis' Crash makes the point early on that society has become so callous, it literally needs to crash cars into one another just to feel -- an interesting philosophical overlap with the earlier Cronenberg film. I will admit the title was distracting at first, but I was won over by Haggis' film, and quickly, the fact that Cronenberg's film had the same title, became insignificant. But this isn't the first time one film, with the same title, has usurped another. So it got me to thinking of some other examples. In 1956, two films entitled High Society were released. The first was a big studio musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, starring Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly (in her final acting role before becoming a princess). The other was a low rent vehicle for The Bowery Boys. In wanting to nominate the former for a Best Screenplay Oscar, the members of the Motion Picture Academy mistakenly picked the Bowery Boys film instead! More recently, Roland Emmerich's overblown and silly (albeit highly successful) apocalyptic sci-fi film Independence Day, released in 1996, could certainly not be more different than 1983's Independence Day, which starred the lovely and talented Kathleen Quinlan as a girl torn between her desires to leave her tiny home town, and her love for a car mechanic who lives there. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (written by Crash director Paul Haggis) and itself the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture of 2004, tells the story of a conflicted old boxing trainer who takes a young female boxer under his wing. However, in 1941, when a movie called Million Dollar Baby opened, it starred former U.S. President Ronald Reagan as a poor but proud pianist who is conflicted by his girlfriend's sudden acquisition of $1 million. What I think is most interesting is not that unrelated films sometimes have the same title, but rather which film ultimately takes hold in the popular consciousness, effectively stamping out the other.

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