IN THE pantheon of classic films there may be worthier movies to revisit than Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer. A 1989 martial-arts movie so trashy it makes The Karate Kid II seem like The Seventh Seal, Van Damme’s film is nonetheless the foundation text for Zachary Oberzan’s Your Brother. Remember?, a personal memoir that sifts through mainstream trash and his homemade recreations, transforming them into something deeply considered and unexpectedly moving.
In 1990, the young Oberzan goofily spoofed Kickboxer (among other B-Movies) at home in Maine with his elder brother, Gator, with support from their kid sister. Nearly 20 years later they remake their remake, frame by frame, and what seemed like a lark becomes fraught with alarming change. Gator, toned and confident in 1990, is now paunchy and restless; the quiet and intense Zachary has become obsessional. And while we watch the three versions roughly spliced together on-screen, we consider the effects of time, both eroding and hardening. And whatever happened to Jean Claude Van Damme?
For a while, Oberzan’s performance seems like an extended, wicked joke at the expense of the faded “Muscles from Brussels” persona. Sitting before us beneath a film screen, Oberzan announces an absurd theory about acting and addiction, aping Van Damme’s accent and flexing his bicep – a muscular and Brusscular parody. When we hear those words again, though, from their original speaker, the meaning is devastating.
Life doesn’t imitate art, Woody Allen once clarified, it imitates bad television. Oberzan’s project eventually rations out enough sobering evidence to take the maxim seriously. Just as Kickboxer’s brothers follow separate trajectories, one debilitated by disaster, the other stirred by it, so the Oberzan siblings pursue diverging paths following their parents’ divorce: Zachary towards performance, and Gator towards drug addiction and prison sentences. The show is not glibly fatalistic, though (if they had spoofed When Harry Met Sally, their lives may not have been substantially altered).
What it suggests, more artfully, is a slow loss of innocence guided by memories that can’t fade. The violent films they devoured in 1990 (including the gruesome exploitation flick Faces of Death) are so utterly unselfconscious they now seem hopelessly endearing, and the bright camaraderie of the Oberzan brothers makes their struggle to recreate the past more moving.
With the screen bearing so much of the work, though, the show’s inclusion in the Dublin Theatre Festival may seem almost suspect. (It has been screened elsewhere without Oberzan’s live participation.) Thematically, though, it develops and refines other ideas in the programme – the slavish recreations of the Wooster Group’s Hamlet, here with emotional consequence, or the harsh and affectionate home truths of Brokentalkers’ Have I No Mouth – and any quibbles over the medium won’t dilute its message. However hard we try or wish, we can’t go back. All remakes are impossible.
- Peter Crawley