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RoboCop Wives: Remakes

The Showroom screened the 1975 version of Stepford Wives last month as part of its Robosapiens season, which asks ‘Will homosapiens give way to robosapiens?’ In the context of ‘sneak previews of the latest inventions’, the season of films which this month presents Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982) participates in ongoing popular discussion about ‘how real technologies are shaping our aspirations and anxieties, and how the imagined technologies of our movie dreams and nightmares may be becoming real’. The theme of what makes us human in the first place is central to films such as Stepford Wives. The horror of Stepford Wives is quite explicitly a loss of identity, and of ‘replacements’ that use outward appearance to deceive and cover up that loss, as with other films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (all three versions) and TV shows like V and Battlestar Galactica. This fear is also the crux of RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987), a film that along with the Terminator films and their ilk shares Stepford’s terror of body snatching. Tellingly, the politics of both Stepford Wives and RoboCop are radically different in their respective 21st century remakes. Contrary to the omnipresent cultural myth of ‘progress’, those politics are far less critical of contemporary society than the originals, in respect of both gender politics and more widely. Stepford Wives is a horrifying critique of sexism and misogyny, as much as it’s about robots replacing ‘us’, not least because only women are ‘replaced’. And RoboCop is one of the most emphatic and damning critiques of neoliberalism and class relations created on film. In contrast, the remakes (2004 and 2014, respectively) make light of the horrors of murder and misogyny. The biggest problem with the remake of Stepford Wives (Frank Oz, 2004) is that it takes a tale of mass murder justified by a backlash against feminists and makes it into a comedy. It is, predictably, about as funny as The Handmaid’s Tale. Of course, it’s been argued that it’s satire, but as a New York Times reviewer argues, the film operates as "the opposite of satire […] intended not to provoke but to soothe". Perhaps the most significant difference in each remake is that the central character does not lose his or her identity. The 2004 Joanna doesn’t die and get replaced by a Stepford wife, and the 2014 Murphy doesn’t die and get used primarily for cybernetic ‘parts’. Accordingly, the villains of the original films are, if not redeemed, at least given a more human face. In RoboCop (Padilha, 2014), Murphy remains Murphy throughout. There is no denial of his identity, as was the case in the 1987 film, and as was central to the film’s scathing attack on the corporate mentality that engineered his death and tried to obliterate his humanity. And in 2004 Stepford, it’s Joanna’s husband who ‘saves’ her from being replaced by a machine, in contrast to the 1975 Walter, who is complicit in her murder. These shifts indicate the newer films’ total lack of any critical perspective on socio-political issues. This is further illustrated by each film’s reliance on peculiarly romantic notions of marriage. Not only is Joanna saved by her loving husband(!) in 2004 Stepford, but the 2014 Murphy remains a husband and father whose wife permits OmniCorp to experiment on him, in contrast to his 1987 counterpart, whose wife and son are lost to him after they’re told he is dead. Fundamentally, the lack of violence in the remakes shows their unwillingness to address the violence inherent in the two tales – of killing and replacing women and police officers with machines, where the ‘improved’ models in each case serve the interests of patriarchy and its corporate capitalist militarism. In the 21st century remakes, the glossing over of horror with comedy, and the conflation of murder with saving a life, reveals a Hollywood increasingly unwilling to engage in meaningful social critique and increasingly willing to justify the status quo. These two remakes set out not to critique, but to contain social anxieties, in particular the anti-feminist and corporate violence that the earlier films represent as lethal to human identity. LISTINGS
Made in Sheffield 12 March (3pm) & 13 March (11.15am) | The Showroom | £8.50 A programme of short films (ranging from 2 to 20 minutes in length) including about biking and fell running, all with Sheffield links. Operation Moffat sounds especially intriguing, combining interviews with Britain’s first female mountain guide, 91-year-old Moffat, with filmmaker Jen Randall climbing, running and swimming through the landscapes beloved by Gwen. showroomworkstation.org.uk/shaff2016-made-in-sheffield Roman Holiday William Wyler, 1953 Sun 20 Mar | 7:30pm | Sharrow Reels, 215 Sharrow Vale Road | £3 inc coffee and cake A graceful romance in which the camera has a love affair with Rome and Audrey Hepburn stars opposite Gregory Peck. Tying in weirdly well with The Ambulance, its story also starts with a man and woman meeting on the street late at night. But Wyler’s film takes quite a different, cheerier direction. facebook.com/SharrowReels Wild City Ringo Lam, 2015 Tue 22 Mar | 6pm | Showroom | £8.50 Despite wildly mixed reviews, this Hong Kong noir sounds both philosophical and crazily kinetic, and is Lam’s first in more than a decade. Since its story also starts with a late-night meeting - this time in a bar - it’d make a great triple bill with The Ambulance and Roman Holiday. Part of the Crime: Hong Kong Style season screening at The Showroom into April. showroomworkstation.org.uk/hong-kong-crime The Ambulance Larry Cohen, 1990 Sun 27 Mar | 2pm | Showroom | £7.30 A biting satire in the vein of RoboCop, its close focus on the ethical quagmire that is the US healthcare system makes it - sadly - especially pertinent for us to watch in the UK today. So-bad-it’s-good credentials, coupled with its star, Eric Roberts, make it my top choice of the always-interesting Film Bites picks at The Showroom. showroomworkstation.org.uk/the-ambulance Shorts in Sheffield Thu 17 Mar | 7:30pm | Cafe #9, Nether Edge Café #9’s free film night is on 17 March, with a trip back to the 1940s, while Showroom Shorts is on 15 March. Between 11 and 13 March, ShAFF presents numerous short films about the great outdoors. The shorts are grouped together, each programme with a focus, such as ‘running, climbing, biking, skiing, surfing, kayaking and everything in between’. shaff.co.uk
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Next article in issue 96

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For centuries philosophers have discussed how we should govern our societies and the principles that should guide us in making these decisio…

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