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Location: Springfield, PA

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Crunchy

"Worry not: there ain't no stinking Sin City movie in the works."
-- Frank Miller
1998
BLAM! Letters Column in Sin City: Just Another Saturday Night

Irony.
Funny thing, irony.
People like to talk about it being "sweet." Or "bitter." Guess that pretty much depends on your relative perspective. I think it's different flavors for different people, but I can tell you one thing - however it tastes, sometimes irony is crunchy.
Crunchy like the brittle grind of broken glass under your boots as you walk over the remains of bottles strewn like so many shattered dreams along the dark alley behind that bar you know you shouldn't be going into again.
There's lots of irony in the town without pity.
Where's that?
You may have been there yourself. You know the place as Sin City.

No, not Vegas, you wet end.

I hauled myself out to the movie of Frank Miller's Sin City last weekend, one of the hundreds (thousands?) of comic geeks and fanboys who remember Miller's striking B&W tales hitting the comics scene in the mid-'90s like a fist wrapped around a roll of quarters. I have most of the originals, issue by issue. Read 'em as they came out. Ate 'em up. No way I could've been patient enough to wait to the trades, as we called the big trade paperback collections that weren't quite as inevitable nor nearly so speedily delivered as they are these days. I'm not sure I have them all, but a few days after I saw the movie I hauled out the ones I do have. (Can't seem to find my copy of Silent Night, though, which bothers me - it was a great wordless example of visual narrative.) Squish together a few of them - That Yellow Bastard, The Big Fat Kill, the original Sin City and a short story from Dark Horse Presents -- and you get the interwoven plots that make up the movie.

I don't know what persuasive powers director Robert Rodriguez brought to bear, but Frank obviously reconsidered his position from six years earlier: he shares director credit with Rodriguez. People have foolishly talked about comics being "pre-storyboarded" for movie adaptation for years; they are, of course, almost entirely wrong. Still, the movie takes its visual cues quite directly from Miller's art, sometimes lifting shots directly from the original panels, and definitely adopting the books' use of B&W with punches of color. I don't know the details of Miller's on-set involvement, but I can see the reasoning in giving him directorial credit. (But will somebody please tell me what the f#@& a "Special Guest Director"is?) Miller's noirish use of voiceover is translated pretty faithfully, too.

Coming from Rodriguez, who gave us both the El Mariachi and Spy Kids films, the Sin City movie has style to burn. The actors, from Bruce Willis to Clive Owen to Mickey Roark, are having a ball playing these over-the-top characters. Along with last year's Sky Captain, Sin City shows the breadth of possibility digital filmmaking offers; this looks like no other movie you've seen. Really. I think the only way to cut closer to Miller's art would be to work in purely B&W animation. (Hmmm... another missed opportunity to consider...)

The adaptation, however, is a bit of a muddle.

Sure, the stories they're adapting to weave through each other, sort of, in their original forms, but in that presentation each stood alone. The interconnection was a fun satisfying bonus for the attentive reader. Here, we're given two stories side by side bookended by the beginning and ending of a third story, with a tiny frame lifted from a fourth story wrapping the whole package. Given the fact that they're not generating any new material here, it's kind of a given that no one of the existing stories is enough to fill a feature film. The multiple storylines here, though, don't fit very comfortably. It's not that the nonlinear shuffling of timelines is all that perplexing; if audiences could get Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction, they should be able to handle jumps backward in time as one storyline rolls back to events that take place before events in a story we've already seen. I think it's just that the film has a sort of Trilogy of Terror anthology feel that doesn't sit well with its overall cohesive narrative style.

Or perhaps the narrative style itself is so distinct that it's a little offputting. There's none of that annoying wipe and multi-panel stuff that Ang Lee threw into The Hulk in a misconceived allusion to comic book narrative vocabulary. There are, however, several dismemberments pouring pure white blood by the bucketfull.

Or maybe these hardboiled hypernoir characters are just too much for a mainstream audience to identify with. Whatever it is, a few people left the theater during the movie when I saw it. Their loss.

Sin City isn't the definitive comic book movie, any more than Sin City is the definitive comic book comic book. It is a visual wonder and, if you've a taste for this sort of thing, a lot of fun.

7 Comments:

Blogger Rob S. said...

I thought Sin City was a knockout, more on style than on story. It grabbed me and kept me going throughout the movie, but I admit there were moments that read better than they worked onscreen. But the bit with the arrow? A pure gem.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Greg! said...

Oh yeah. Pure gem, whopping load of carats.
I mean, that bit was in the comic, but it played so much better on screen.
The movie has style to burn. I just wonder how it played to someone who knew nothing about the comics.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Brian R Tarnoff said...

It's not out here yet, grrr (June 3rd UK release). But I'm looking forward to it, and I haven't read the books. Meanwhile, we get tosh like "the Interpreter" a week before y'all.

It would be nice if the Preacher series would get out of development hell. With the "DaVinci Code" using a similar grail mythos, it's probably now or ne'er.

For more on how Rodriguez got Miller to hop on board check out this wired article... http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/13.04/sincity.html

6:08 PM  
Blogger Greg! said...

Thanks for the link, Brian.
If it didn't come thru loud & clear in my original post, let me reiterate: If you're at all inclined to see SIN CITY, by all means see it on a screen. I'll probably be getting the DVD when it shows up (R.R. does great extras), but I wouldn't want a monitor to be my first/only exposure to this movie.
Now that I think of it, I suppose movies like this challenge the accuracy of the use of the term "film." The only actual film invloved here is the release prints, and that practice is rapidly challenged by the increasing quality and practicality of digital projectors. I guess Scorcese had it right all along.

4:16 PM  
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12:30 AM  

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