Playing the Same Role Twice, Relationship Autobiographies, and a Book Cover Mystery
A few pop culture rabbit holes for your Wednesday
Hey! Welcome to the seventh issue of Microfascination. This month I wrote about movie remakes, some of my favorite books, and the fact that NO ONE KNOWS WHO DESIGNED THE 1976 COVER OF A WRINKLE IN TIME!!
When Actors Return for the Remake
So, here’s a question: How many film actors have played the same role twice? I don’t mean a sequel that expands a character’s story (really, with all the franchises these days, who hasn’t), but literally performing the same role in a remake of the first.
Vanilla Sky is Cameron Crowe’s 2001 remake of Alejandro Amenábar’s 1997 Abre Los Ojos, a memorably haunting fusion of dream and reality. If you watch both films, you’ll notice that Penélope Cruz reprises her role as Sofía in the remake. I am extremely curious about this experience! I want to know what it was like to have so many aspects of the film (including the language) transform around her. How did the foundation of that first performance affect the choices she made in the second? I had trouble turning up any Cruz interviews on the subject, which was kind of a bummer, but on the other hand, a new rabbit hole was born.
Overall it’s pretty rare for an actor to reprise their role in a remake, although it does happen. To name a few: Gérard Depardieu portrays André in both versions of My Father the Hero, Jean Reno reprises his role from Les Visiteurs in Just Visiting, and Clark Gable comes back in Mogambo to play the same character from Red Dust — twenty-one years later. As this Screen Rant list suggests, it’s far more common to see an actor return in a supporting role or cameo (especially if it’s been a while). Reading about Rita Moreno’s new role in the West Side Story remake sixty years after her original turn as Anita put a big ol’ grin on my face.
This is a bit of a side note, but during my research I discovered that Amenábar thinks Abre Los Ojos is his worst movie. IMAGINE. Tom Cruise snaps up the rights to the critically acclaimed movie you made at the age of 25, you go on to have an incredibly successful career (The Others! The Sea Inside!), and then you look back one day and think meh, Abre kinda sucks?!
Agree to disagree, Alejandro. I love Abre. I love Vanilla Sky, too. I’m perennially grateful for the ways in which remakes deepen my affection for the source material, one way or the other.
New Favorite Subgenre: Relationship Memoirs
Earlier this month I inhaled Eirinie Carson’s The Dead Are Gods, a deeply personal book written in the wake of her best friend’s death at 32. It’s a beautifully wrought portrait of a shared history, exploring the years of their late teens and twenties as Black women in the predominantly white modeling industry. It’s also very much about grief and the question of what it means to truly know someone. There are even some screenshots of their emails peppered in, which expand our window into their friendship by allowing a firsthand glimpse of their connection.
I linked Carson’s book pretty quickly with Hua Hsu’s Stay True, his Pulitzer Prize-winning(!) memoir about coming to terms with a close friend’s early death. For lack of a better word, I’ve started referring to books in this vein as “relationship autobiographies.” I think the things we notice about other people — the faults we find, the details we love, the connections we identify — also reveal a lot to us about ourselves. So a book like this will always end up being a kind of dual portrait.
Some other titles that came to mind: Joan Didion’s unforgettable The Year of Magical Thinking, which is about the loss of her husband, and Jenn Shapland’s exquisite My Autobiography of Carson McCullers, which explores her relationship to the work of a long-dead author and what it taught her about herself. Maggie Nelson’s Jane: A Murder might fall into this category, too — a fragmented chronicle of the life and death of Nelson’s aunt, who was killed a few years before Nelson was born. Also Candace Opper’s Certain and Impossible Events, which Opper wrote about her obsession with a classmate who committed suicide the week after Kurt Cobain.
Sometimes I wonder if everyone has a book like this in them. Some relationship that irrevocably shaped you as a person — whether it was a writer who helped you better understand yourself, as in Shapland’s case; an acquaintance whose memory has stayed with you for years, like Opper; a relative you only ever knew from others’ stories, like Nelson; a romantic partner, like Didion; or close friends whose life and death each forever altered who you are, like Carson and Hsu. (Needless to say, all of these books are worth a read!)
Who Designed the 1976 Cover Art for A Wrinkle in Time?!
Y’all, I am losing my mind over this one. Earlier this month a popular sci-fi art Twitter account shared the image of A Wrinkle in Time’s iconic 1976 book cover, which I’ve always loved. HOWEVER, the caption noted that the artwork is “uncredited.” I’m sorry, what?! It’s not freakin’ cave art — it’s a cover released by a major publishing house that’s not even fifty years old!
I was all set to go down another internet rabbit hole when I stumbled across S. Elizabeth’s wonderfully comprehensive blog post on the topic. Turns out I’m far from the first person to wonder about this artist’s identity — S. Elizabeth has reached out to artists with similar styles, contacted the institution who currently holds the author’s archives, posted in the Unsolved Mysteries subreddit, and sent a whole bunch of social media messages and emails.
Come on, it’s A Wrinkle in Time! Surely somebody knows who designed that cover! S. Elizabeth will keep that post updated for anyone else who’s curious… fingers crossed.
9/1/23 UPDATE: The artist has been identified! More here from Endless Thread.
In publication news, my interview with Julia Langbein for her new book, American Mermaid, is out in Electric Lit. (Especially recommend giving this a read if you’re in a bit of a writing slump; there’s some kinda magical stuff in here about the joy of discovery in fiction writing.) My story “Pictures of a Woman You Never Knew” also went live earlier this month in Baltimore Review; this one follows a paparazzi photographer’s fixation on an actress over the course of many years.
Awesome to hear from those of you who checked out Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb’s docs after last month’s issue. Big shoutout to reader Jeremy Burgess, who assisted on Jasper Mall — be sure to give his newsletter Dust on the VCR a read! (This entry on the Stephen King Easter egg in When Harry Met Sally is super fun.)
Thanks for reading; see you again in June!