Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sin City Sincerely Silly

When I was eight years old, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to turn my favorite comic books – specifically, Adventure Comics #350 and #351 – into a live action movie which recreated every single panel and word of dialogue and narration. At the time, my only hope was to will myself to sleep at night with the attempt to force such a thing to at least take shape in my dream.

Now, while I still think it would be a hoot to put the Legion of Super-Heroes onto the big screen – I’m thinking Matter-Eater Lad, the hero who could eat and digest anything and Bouncing Boy, who could, well, bounce, could set new standards for CGI – I’ve long since realized the differences between comic books and movies are pretty damn important. Obviously, there are similarities, but remember, movies move, and comic books split time into discrete elements with each individual panel.

So, when comic book creators borrow from motion pictures, they do so by turning one aesthetic into a series of short hand references. Because of the static nature of comics, you can jump all over the place in point of view without freaking out the reader. In movies, you need to maintain perspective long enough to give the viewer a chance to understand what’s going on. And, vice versa is important, too. Comic book writers don’t have the luxury of attempting to be too naturalistic in dialogue. They’ve got to move the story along with a minimum of verbiage, or the reader will just go look for prose.

What I’m leading up to is pointing out that “Frank Miller’s Sin City” is a load of crap as a movie. I suspect it may be a load of crap as a comic book, too, but I have to confess I’ve never read it. I’ve read enough of Miller’s “Daredevil” and “Batman” work to recognize his stylistic and aesthetic quirks here, though. This guy just views the world as a completely untrustworthy collection of morally empty individuals. And, though he at least allows men to be relatively differentiated containers of individual tics and tactics, women are a) video-game beautiful (not that that’s my concept of beauty), b) sexually available in exchange for payment or services, and c) angelic innocents who induce perfect love for the barest of plausible reasons.

Apparently, Robert Rodriguez got thrown out of the Director’s Guild for declaring Miller to be his co-director – somewhere in there, Quentin Tarentino wound up getting a share of credit, too. But, really, there’s nothing in this movie that doesn’t bear Miller’s stamp. Every word of dialogue, every narrative explanation, every camera angle, everything that makes up the whole picture is lifted straight from “Sin City” comic books. As such, you’ve got a whole lot of crazy-quilt camera angles, smoky, shadowy lighting, idiosyncratic effects of color and the use of blank whiteness to represent spurts and splatters of blood (unless, of course, the blood is on somebody’s face, in which case it’s bright red), short, declarative dialogue, all the stuff that a talented comics artist can use to make his work stand out, but which a director ought to be smart enough to realize will simply look and sound silly on the screen.

Sin City” wants to be an homage to film noir, albeit with modern-day cynicism and violence toleration making the 1940s flicks seem like episodes of “Sesame Street”. The mood music that permeates the background is clearly meant to echo that era, and tie in with the mostly black-and-white look and seedy underworld setting. But, by making all his characters hyper-human – multiple bullet holes don’t necessarily kill people, requiring excessive limb and head chopping to make sure somebody is really dead – Miller pretty much removes any reason to care about individual scenes of violence. It all seems pretty random, and while some of these scenes may have been ghoulishly funny when read in thirty seconds in a comic book sequence, they just seem interminable when taking up precious minutes in between plot developments.

But really, it was all the “angel” and “whore” references that drove me craziest. Yeah, all the actors do great jobs chewing up the stilted dialogue, but I just couldn’t stand to hear Mickey Rourke’s character go on about how one particular prostitute was so perfect simply because she was the only woman who ever had the courage to fuck him despite his especially ugly latex-provided kisser. And, why did the camera linger so lovingly on her “perfect breasts which were no longer moving with her breath” after his Goldie was dead?

We go to Old Town for extended sequences, and learn that the Prostitutes have struck a deal with both the police and the mob to allow their services to be performed without need for pimps or fear of arrest. In other words, we are supposed to believe that women will empower themselves most perfectly by taking complete control of their ability to be whores. In doing so, they seem to have artificially inflated standards of beauty by making sure that nobody gets to join the sisterhood without being capable of fitting a Charlie’s Angel-styled silhouette. And, we are shown that despite the sistas doing it for themselves nature of their ability to fight as warriors in between giving blowjobs and gang bangs for money, these ladies are also capable of getting all gooey and googly when they see a man kill bad guys, too.

Miller does have a way of inventing amusing minor characters, like the guy who stands around with an arrow in his chest trying to decide if somebody should call a doctor, or the villainous henchman who talks as though he’d swallowed an entire American Heritage Dictionary. And, I had to admire the occasional excessive limb hacking just for the sheer practicality of it as a killing or torturing method. But, mostly, I just kept waiting for this thing to be over. In “Sin City,” the deadliest sin is boredom.


Blogger Aunt B said...

Bravo! This was the first movie I can remember that both my brother and I came out of the theater and had nothing to say. Neither of us really liked it, but we didn't dislike it. You're right about all the gender stuff, but it was somehow so bland that I couldn't bring myself to get upset about the stereotyping. It's rare that you see a movie where some guy gets his limbs chopped off and is fed to a dog and you can't quite work up to getting grossed out.

I think you get at a lot of the reason it doesn't quite work. I'm glad to have you articulate it.

1:48 PM  
Anonymous Mark Early said...

I liked the movie and, as such, professed to several people that I thought it was really good, but I always followed that up with, "As a movie, it's not really that good."

7:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sin City - Scintillating Cinema!

I enjoyed "Sin City" immensely. In fact, I think that Mickey Rourke is a shoe-in for the Best Supporting Actor award. His delivery of the darkly comic dialogue was terrific, and often hilarious, albeit in a sick and twisted way. (I would quote some of it, but do not want to ruin anything for those of you who may not have seen it yet.)

And I, for one, did not see every character in "Sin City" as "morally empty" as Steve did. In fact, I found the characters portrayed by Rourke and Bruce Willis as heroic. Not heroic in the good-guy-in-the-white-hat sense, but perhaps heroic in the Mad-Max-and-Dirty-Harry-on-steroids sense.

Plus, I think R. Rodriguez did a great job, employing some over-the-top sequences to great effect as he did in his "Mariachi" series.

And back to Mickey Rourke's character, personally, I found it touching that the beatiful Goldie gave him something he had never experienced before - affection and tenderness (even if it was in the form of sex). It wasn't a case of two perfect Hollywood-types bedding each other. It was The Beast being bedded by Beauty, BEFORE he was changed into a prince.

I see a lot of movies, and would be hard-pressed to come up with a better movie than "Sin City" that I have seen lately...except for maybe "Kung Fu Hustle."

Jim Klenn

12:13 PM  
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3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

steve wouldn't know morally empty if it came up and bit him on the ass.

8:35 PM  

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