Saturday, June 04, 2005

Lassie: Latest news

Following my posting the other day I have made some more discoveries.

First, Lassie Comes Home is being remade at the moment, starring Peter O'Toole. (He is not playing the title role but the Duke of Rudling.) It is being shot in Ireland and the Isle of Man, and other cast members include Steve Pemberton from the League of Gentlemen, John Lynch, Jemma Redgrave and Gregor Fisher. The press coverage suggests the script is true to Eric Knight's original story.

Second, I have come across a substantial academic analysis of the meaning of the Lassie films and the later American TV series. It is Henry Jenkins' essay: "Her suffering aristocratic majesty": The sentimental value of Lassie.

Here is just a taste:

Neither the Duke nor Joe, neither Jeff nor Timmy, nor any of the others who were blessed to own Lassie through the years, needed a microchip to identify her. I recognize that the microchip is an act of love, a response to a changed society, a harsh reality we have to live with. But reality falls far short of our cherished myths. Lassie was unique, priceless, without possible imitation or counterfeit. Her spiritual qualities, her moral authority, her "suffering aristocratic majesty" was possessed by no other dog, and only those who understand that distinction were allowed to possess a dog like Lassie. And, even if her human owners were confused, Lassie would have known and would have made her wishes known.

Something has broken down in the relations between dogs and their masters. The myth of the faithful dog no longer offer us condolences in the face of a feckless world. If the myths of canine fidelity and childhood innocence were central tropes through which our culture dealt with the threats of modernity, such myths of authenticity and of natural social relations have no place in a postmodern world.

Finally, let us not forget the pioneer of the canine heroics mocked in the Guardian article which started me off on this Lassie kick. In my review of Matthew Sweet's book Shepperton Babylon here I wrote:

Mention should also be made of the eponymous hero of Rescued by Rover who, in a later film

pounds off in hot pursuit, jumps into the driving seat of the abductor's car and, paws on the steering wheel, chugs his charge back to safety along the road from Shepperton to Walton.

No wonder Sweet calls The Dog Outwits the Kidnapper "a minor masterpiece of British surrealism".

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