LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Thirty years ago when people were living in the afterglow of a decade celebrated for liberal lifestyles, Arthur Bach could be a drunk and a movie hero at the same time. Oh, how times have changed.
When the new “Arthur,” a remake of the hit 1981 film that made a star of British actor Dudley Moore, lands in theaters on Friday, audiences will get much the same movie but a different hero who recognizes his alcoholism and seeks treatment. It is a change that mirrors how much pop culture has transformed since conservative President Ronald Reagan took office that year.
“It was very important that we establish a context where the alcoholism was humorous and good fun but was not irresponsibly portrayed,” said Russell Brand, the British comedian who wears Arthur Bach’s tuxedo for the new movie.
“It’s important to see a resolution to the problem of Arthur’s alcoholism,” Brand, who struggled with alcohol and drug abuse in his own life, told reporters at a recent news conference.
In 1981, society was coming off a decade that saw the rise of sexual liberation, women’s liberation and gay liberation. AIDS was only first recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the widespread use of “political correctness” was still nearly a decade away.
In a testament to the era, a charming fictional millionaire drunkard, Arthur Bach (Moore), won over audiences and critics alike while spending most of the film extremely drunk and aimlessly cavorting around Manhattan. Along the way, he somehow manages to learn valuable lessons about the importance of life while both winning the heart of his true love and maintaining possession of his vast fortune.
And yet, Arthur achieves all of this without seriously confronting his addiction to alcohol.
The basic plot from the original “Arthur” remains intact for the updated version. After continuing to be an utter embarrassment to his family, the perpetually inebriated Arthur (Brand) is given an ultimatum to get his affairs in order by marrying a rich young woman he can barely stand or lose every cent of the money which keeps him luxuriously accommodated.
Matters are made more complicated as Arthur falls in love with a woman from a poor background. In the original, Arthur’s romantic interest was played by Liza Minnelli while his new love interest is played by indie film darling Greta Gerwig.
In the original, Arthur is guided by his butler, Hobson (John Gielgud). In the current version, Helen Mirren takes the sidekick role.
Director Jason Winer said he was skeptical about remaking the 1981 movie, telling reporters, “there’s nothing wrong with the original.” But he supported making some changes to shore up the movie’s sense of social responsibility.
“At the end of the original, (Arthur) was pretty much as drunk as he was at the beginning, and Liza Minnelli’s character is put in the position of being his caretaker,” said Winer, who believes that would be rejected by modern audiences.
Professor Robert Thompson, who studies pop culture for Syracuse University, agrees that public attitudes have evolved since 1981 and caused some change in Hollywood. But he is not so sure those changes are always good.
He admires “any filmmaker that is concerned with being socially responsible,” but Thompson also poses this sobering question: “if we were to remake Romeo and Juliet with the idea of social responsibility, would we have two teenagers commit suicide at the end of the film?”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte