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Harry goes to Hollywood, Spike goes into musicals, reports Nick Roddick.

It used to be, all the studios saw when they acquired a successful mainstream European film was the basic story - as in, ĎDonít bother to release it, letís remake it, with stars everyone has heard of, not just a bunch of people with foreign namesí.
Three Men and a Baby - a retread of Coline Serreauís French smash Trois hommes et un couffin - is possibly the most successful. The trashcan of history, meanwhile, is full of remakes that failed to capture the spirit, the success and often even the vaguest inkling of what the European original had been about.

Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien (Harry Heís Here to Help) is different. Dominik Mollís film, which premiered at Cannes 2000, has had a very successful subtitled release in the US through Miramax. Amazing to relate, it also did rather well in the UK, where any French film not directed by Claude Chabrol usually struggles to make an impact. Germany likewise.

Now, however, Miramax is coming back for a second bite of the cherry, with plans for Wes Craven to direct an English-language version. The original, which tells the story of a psychotic former schoolmate who turns up and prompts a troubled young couple to discover their inner (murderous) selves, conjured up memories of the Robert Walker character in Strangers on a Train. Indeed, the film has been compared to Hitchcock (Brit critic Alexander Walker declared it would have made Hitch ďgrind his teeth with envyĒ), although the most likely echo is of Patricia Highsmith, who wrote Strangers and whose stock has always been high in France.

Even so, the film represents something of a departure for Craven, whose most recent outings have been as director, producer or (as in the case of Dracula 2000) general godfather of the horror genre. Still, he did reveal his gentler side with that 1999 weepie, Music of the Heart.

The whole process of the Harry remake, mind you, is still at a very early stage, without even a writer, let alone a cast, attached.

Heís made big studio biopics, gritty indie features, documentaries and more or less everything else. But Spike Lee has yet to make a musical. Well, that (as Iím sure you must have guessed from the introduction) could be about to change, as the director explores the possibility of bringing the Broadway hit, Rent, to the big screen.

A very New York story (which may be why, unlike most Broadway hits, it didnít quite duplicate its success abroad), Rent tells the story of a group of young people living in and around a NYC building, coping with all the things that young people in the Big Apple have to cope with (which are much the same things as young people everywhere cope with, generally rather less noisily and neurotically).

The film has been in development at Miramax, and Lee has yet to commit to it. Itís not as though the director is a complete stranger to the world of song and dance, however: after all, his last feature, Bamboozled, was about vaudeville. But the thought of him working with a choreographer on a big mainstream musical number is an intriguing prospect.

Published August 30, 2001

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Harry, He is Here to Help

Spike Lee - set to make a musical

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