Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Remake is Connie Willis's tribute to the old films Hollywood used to make. Set about twenty years in the future, Hollywood no longer produces new films, instead focusing on remakes "starring" the digitized images of long dead actors. Between making their remakes, denizens of Hollywood engage in sex, drugs and endless litigation. One of the result of the litigation is that films whose stars are in litigation can not be viewed.
Into this future Hollywood comes Alis, a naive dancer who wants to dance in the movies, especially with Fred Astaire. At a party, Alis meets Tom, a cynical student who shares her love for old movies. Although Tom spends the majority of the book trying to convince Alis that her desire is impossible since Hollywood no longer makes liveaction (forget that Astaire is long dead), he seems to want to help Alis achieve her goal. Much of Alis and Tom's relationships and dialogue seem like they could have been taken directly from one of the old movies they love, frequently a screwball comedy.
When Tom accepts a commission to remove all references to and images of ASs (Addictive Substances) in the seminal films of the twentieth century, Alis drops out of sight, but not out of mind. Even as Tom tries to digitally remove alcohol from "Casablanca" and "The Philadelphia Story", he is obsessing about ways he might be able to help Alis, if he can ever find her again. Of course, this being fiction and Hollywood, Tom does find Alis, however their various reunions are not necessarily what either Tom or the reader expected.
Willis's novel demonstrates a real love for motion pictures while acknowledging the flaws which pervade Hollywood. However, she doesn't really say anything new about the Hollywood system. By referring to Alis as Ruby Keeler, Willis is blantantly reminding the audience that Alis's story is Hollywood cliché. While Alis is taken from "Forty-Second Street", Tom can almost be seen as William Holden's character from "Sunset Boulevard," replacing Norma Desmond with the Studio Chief "Meyer" and the alcohol with drugs.
Perhaps Willis's most pertinent warning is one aimed at society in general as well as Hollywood. Tom prostitutes his dubbing and editing skills by agreeing to remove all references to Addictive Substances from classic films. Although his job is made easier by the fact that anti-smoking zealots already removed most tobacco products and references, Tom's frustration with films ranging from "Dumbo" to "The Philadelphia Story" show how much the "evils" of addictive substances pervade both real life as well as art.
All films seem to be viewed over an on-line type of service which is never really explained. I couldn't help wonder what happened to video tapes and VCRs. It seems to me that Tom should have been able to find an old tape of any of a number of films which were unavailable due to litigation.
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