So I wrote another guest post here. Let me know what you think!
(I promise I’ll get back on to just doing adaptations soon – promise!)
So I wrote another guest post here. Let me know what you think!
(I promise I’ll get back on to just doing adaptations soon – promise!)
Firstly this one is kind of embarrassing for me. I’ve been running this blog for about twelve months now and this is the first time I’ve actually just reviewed a book. Not an adaptation, not a book and a film but just a book. Normally I wouldn’t do this – I like having a blog that fits a specific niche and a strict focus as it means that this blog can talk about things that maybe don’t get talked about elsewhere. However, this is a special case and I hope you’ll allow me to bend the rules a little here.
I’ve said before repeatedly actually that the internet is a great place. It allows artists and creative to distribute their art. It allows people to question and learn from people who have found success and it allows people to offer advice and criticism on things that others put out into pop culture. You only have to look at the popularity at sites like channel awesome and an explosion in ebook publishing to see how people both love advice and love criticism too. I’m optimistic about this because it forces those who offer advice and critique to be willing to put their artistic money where their mouth is. So, let’s talk about Chuch Wendig.
I first became aware of Chuck thanks to Twitter and his own blog terribleminds.com where he dispenses some incredibly foul mouthed writing advice. He’s also the author of the following
– 500 ways to be a Better Writer
– 500 more ways to be a Better Writer
– 250 things you should know about writing
– 500 ways to tell a better story
And when I saw that he published fiction too, I’ll admit there was a thought that crept in from the ugly little lizard part of my brain, ‘Oh yeah? You had better be good at this, or I’ll tear you a new one’
So I bought Blackbirds, ready to roll up my sleeves and give It a good critical beat-down. And then I read it. I read it in one sitting, devouring it like nothing I’ve read lately. And I’m in the middle of a degree where I have to read all the time.
Let’s cut to the chase. It’s good. In fact, it might just be great and you all need to go read his blog, follow him on Twitter and go and by his books. But before you all do that I should probably explain a few things. So, firstly a rundown of the set-up – Miriam Black is a young, rootless woman who spends her time hitching rides around the highways and by-ways of America. She has the unique ability that any time she makes skin on skin contact with someone she sees how they are going to die. After meeting a trucker she sees that he’s going to die in 30 days, tortured to death and calling her name. There, we begin.
I’m not going to give away any more about the plot because that would be unfair because it’s something I shouldn’t spoil. Wendig writes like a man possessed – his narrative style is like a bull in a china shop, a big rampaging tornado of profanity, blood, sweat and tears that makes Miriam an incredibly compelling character to be with. As an anti-hero Miriam in less skilled hands would be clichéd, flat and irritatingly passive but here the writer is skilled enough to make her vulnerable, violent and philosophical. It’s a hard thing to pull of the mix of philosophy, violence and fragility but Wendig manages it better than anyone, (perhaps Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf comes closest in terms of similarity) With his narrator it’s like Chuck met Carrie White after she left home and spent a few years drinking whiskey from the bottle whilst getting into bar fights together.
Technically and structurally Wendig proves that he more than knows what he’s doing. The book is meticulously planned so that not a single sentence is superfluous and the narrative is a lean mean fighting machine. Everything is characterising, every action is consistent and everything is about driving the plot forward.
For those seeking slow languid writing, this isn’t for you. This is narrative, served black, strong and straight up. It won’t be for everybody but for those who are looking for a shotgun blast of narrative that has brains, a heart and a liberal sprinkling of profanity you need to get this guy’s books.
As someone who is studying Gothic fiction, there is something really cheering to see in what Wendig is doing. Blackbirds is defined on its jacket as urban fantasy, which to be honest is a slightly unhelpful genre description. There are elements of the fantastic here but the dark, moody and viscerally violent tone makes it much closer to a modern Gothic horror and thriller.
It isn’t a perfect book – the unabashedly hyper narration slips just occasionally into something I struggled to take seriously and the whole thing is a little rough around the edges. That works though, as it feels like a book that was written honestly – not by someone who had researched his markets and target demographics, but someone who had a story that he had to get out.
It’s raw, honest uncompromising storytelling. Get it.
I recently did a guest post for my friend and his great new film and theatre blog, talking all about adaptation. Let me know what you think!
It’s Game of Thrones month over at houseofgeekery.com and this is my take on one of the most evil characters in the whole show.
If you’re new to the world of Westeros you’ll quickly learn that in the vast parade of characters there are many that you’ll love and some that you’ll love to hate. Amongst the parade of horrific villains there are none more committed to generally unredeemed bastardry than the Crown Prince (later King) of Westeros, Prince Joffrey Baratheon.
What follows us the top 5 reasons why Joffrey Baratheon is the character you shouldn’t love to hate – you should just flat out loath him. Of course, spoilers follow but I hope it’ll serve as a way to get you interested rather than spoiling the fun
5. He’s probably a psychopath
The climax of the first episode features one of the best final five minutes of any pilot episode of any series I can think of and it concludes with the young Bran Stark being…
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Let me begin with a question:
How great is the internet?
Seriously, just think about it for a moment, go right ahead and bask in the sheer awesome concept that right now, you can be more connected and informed than anyone else in the entire span of human history. The feat of technology that delivers entertainment, culture, news and community at the push of a few buttons is one of the few genuine human achievements that have completely reshaped the world from what is was only a generation ago. Life without it is almost impossible to conceive of, and the very way that you know the internet has changed the life of billions? You don’t even think about it – the internet just happens.
One of the side effects of this normalisation of global connectivity is that art and more specifically our experience of art has become indelible democratised. For the first time in our cultural history artists and creators now share an incredibly intimate digital space. We comment on their blogs, fund their kickstarter ideas, re-tweet them and share their work on our facebook walls all because they have made their work, whether it be ideas, art, literature or music available to us, immediately and wherever we are. What’s curious about this, and maybe something we haven’t talked about enough, is how this affects criticism.
You see? I imagine a few of you made your assumptions about the word just from reading it. Criticism in the age of the internet has become something vicious and personal. Trolls have replaced commentators and ‘the critic’ has drifted away as more and more culture has drifted online. Several things are happening here – our understanding of the role of the critic has changed and more crucially, how criticism is practised has changed too. So let’s start there:
Firstly, critics. For all of the negative connotations the word carries, the truth is, on one level, really quite simple. The act of criticism is what happens when an individual comes into contact with something that provokes a reaction, usually in an encounter with culture but not exclusively.
That meal you really enjoyed? Food criticism.
The movie you posted about? Film criticism.
Your favourite book?
You see what I’m saying I hope – criticism is not quite the same thing as criticising. We exist in an age when culture is all around us and almost completely all-pervading and so we need to engage with it. This act of engagement, whether we admit it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, is a kind of criticism.
What’s crucial to say though is that whilst we all engage with culture in some form there is a difference between the cultural criticism that is done on a daily basis and the kind of thing done by those who identify as critics. I mean, not all of us have a column in a paper, not all of us get invites to premieres or critic’s screenings and not all of us have the same platform that CRITICS do, despite all of us taking part in the act of cultural criticism on a daily basis. So, what is it then that critics actually do?
Well, here’s where things get more complex in the age of the internet because that new found shared space of creators and consumers share has complicated the process of criticism a great deal. A lot of people tend to treat criticism from the people they read or like as gospel – either forming opinions from what the critic says or using the critic’s opinion to validate their own. For proof of this you only need look at the myriad of reviewers out there – on YouTube, across the blogosphere and even in more established digital media who have the temerity to dislike something popular. Sit and watch the comments roll in from people shocked that someone would have the gall to disagree with WHAT THEY THINK!
‘Well, you just don’t understand this…’
‘It’s clear you hate anything produced by….’
‘I don’t think you’ve reviewed this at all…’
‘All you’ve done is pick holes and emphasises the bits you didn’t like…’
And so on and so on and so on…
Two things are happening here – firstly, critics aren’t here to validate your opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter. The job of a good reviewer or critic is to accurately explain what their own experience of something was. Not to explain why you are right to think the way you do, but to explain why THEY think the way THEY do. This is my problem with scores actually – whilst I accept that scoring is useful, the problem is that scoring something with an arbitrary number perpetuates this idea that a critic can sum up a piece of work and how it made them feel in one easy to digest, black and white, right or wrong sound bite. This immediacy of the internet makes people want the easy answer but if anything can be summed up as good or bad then I wonder how good that thing really is…
I understand the reactions like the ones I gave before – this closeness that the internet engenders makes people really protective about the things they love, and that protectiveness means that criticism often meets with hostility. If you want proof, you only need to see the outrage when Anita Sarkeesian suggested that maybe women haven’t been represented that well in pop culture and we, collectively, could talk about it. If you want more proof, see the rage and the anger when the misogyny of fighting games was exposed, when Hitman Absolution happened and people called it out for the sexism and violence against women it perpetuated. People reacted so angrily and without being overly general, it tends to happen more online because this is where geek culture found its home. I get it, I do – a culture that is so young, and has been marginalised for so long, doesn’t take negative attention well. But there is a difference between being attacked and entering the conversation. You see, nobody will take the things you like away from you, nobody will suddenly declare that the one thing you really love is suddenly unacceptable. It isn’t going to happen, but part of being in the culture we live in, is talking about it – all the good, all the bad and what comes next. If there’s one thing that needs to happen more online, in forums, threads and feeds it’s that. Criticism and culture are for all, and here online there is the best chance EVER to bring them, and all the people who love them both, together.
Now, that’s great –right?
To Be Continued.
Well things have been really quiet here for a couple of weeks so once again, I’m forced to issue another apology. This time however, it is for something slightly different than in times previously. I haven’t been working on really important things or going off and trying to have a life, instead, for once, it was something that I couldn’t actually help.
In short, my trusty Toshiba decided to stop acting as a laptop and instead decided to act as an extremely expensive paper-weight. Not only is the hard-drive completely screwed it has also cost me all of the stuff I had on there! So, I lost all of my work, all of my music and all of the columns I had written in advance. To sum up, that sucks!
So as the brighter amongst you will have swiftly realized that this may well have thrown a spanner in the works with getting Classics Month continued until I can get regular access to a computer. In the mean time I’m going to do my best to keep adding things here; maybe short reviews, polls on where the site can go in the future and anything else you guys would like to suggest.
So, I guess the attempt has to be made to find the cloud in the silver lining, but once I’m back online properly then thegreatandthegood should be back, bigger and better than ever before!
Don’t forget to join in the conversation here and if you want to complain about the lack of activity on here, bemoan the fact I haven’t finished Classics Month yet or just want to buy me a laptop (worth a try….) then you can get in touch on Twitter
Well, this is a new one for me, it really is. As someone who adores the written word, I’ve never found myself in the position on this blog that I find myself in here today. This is a book that I cannot, in all honestly, recommend to people if they haven’t read it. If you haven’t read it – don’t. Now, this isn’t to say the book isn’t possessed of any literary merit whatever, in fact quite the opposite as it may well be one of the best decade books ever written.
But I can’t. I can’t tell you to go out and buy this. Because this is American Psycho.
American Psycho is the only book that I’ve ever read that I couldn’t finish it one sitting. It is compulsively readable and impeccably written but this is the only book that despite the amount I was enjoying it I had to put down and walk away from it. It is the only book I have read – EVER – that made me feel physically sick, in a stomach churning sequence involving a woman, a rat and some cheese.
Allow me to provide a brief synopsis for those who haven’t read the novel. Set in the boom years of the 1980s the book focuses on the life of the twenty-six year old Patrick Bateman, a massively succesful yuppie who works on Wall Street alongside his friends and spends his time in exclusive restaurants and clubs. Bateman is obsessed with details such as cloths labels, restaurant menus and pop music. The conversation is banal and vapid and Bateman is riddled with existential ennui and angst as the materialistic world of that he exists in is so vacant of real substance that he often mistakes people he knows for others.
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, surely? How can it can be something that I wouldn’t recommend?
Here’s why. Patrick Bateman is the most chilling and violent sociopath ever put into writing. A man who indulges in the darkest fantasies of torture, rape and some painfully hard to read murder scenes all described with a chilling amount of detail and frightening lack of affect. As the novel progresses everything slowly ramps up – his digressions on pop music and clothes stretch over pages and the attention to details and products becomes obsessive. Terrifyingly, the line that the book walks between reality and Bateman’s fragile grip on reality starts to blur. Then, he snaps entirely. The prose disintegrates into psychotic episodes as Bateman, and thusly, the books narrator, totally loses his grip on sanity. The genius of the book is that the whole thing is played so straight in its presentation but so graphic and unhinged in the events that the reader can never really be sure what happened, happened. The whole thing is completely ambiguous and deeply, deeply creepy.
The book was an overnight smash and immediately condemned as pornography designed to incite violence towards woman, and though the inevitable backlash got Bret Easton Ellis dropped by his publishers it also made him a literary mega star. Even now, it’s become one of the most analysed and talked about books by modern academics and critics desperate to explore and explain the transgressive and post modern aspects of the text. Or, if you prefer, it’s a cultural oddity that the guardians of taste are desperate to explain and in some ways legitimise the violence and transgression that the text contains, (if I can be pretentious with my language for a second…)
Ellis himself plays around with this idea with his own relationship with the media. Doing my reading into the background, this quote highlights the tensions within the author’s mind and the aims of the book;
‘[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumeristkind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of “American Psycho” came from. It wasn’t that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street… Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that’s something that I’ve only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn’t able to talk about it on that level…’
In short Bret Easton Ellis succeeds but in a way that many (myself included) found and still find really hard to stomach. So onto the film and how does it compare?
Firstly the book was written in 1991 and the film didn’t come out untill 2000. Given that there were certain areas of the world that had a less than enlightened attitude to the book, selling it as pornography the decade between the two events is actually fairly impressive. As it went through various rumours many big stars were attached to either star or direct with eventually Christian Bale coming on as Bateman and the cult director Mary Harron running the whole show.
Let’s do the positives first – Christian Bale and the cast are just pitch-perfect. Bale in particular showing the method acting obsession in his character building that will eventually lead to him being Batman and starring in Werner Herzog movies. His Bateman is terrifyingly good, all dead eyed stares and explosive levels of violence and the dead eyed charm works well throughout the film, particularly in the amazing ‘business card scene’. It turns out that Bale spent a lot of time (up to three hours per day) working out alone to get into character and bulk up. As for his inspiration for the personality? Bale himself is on the record as being inspired by the dead behind the eyes friendliness of a little known actor called Tom Cruise and when you see the film the comparison makes a strange kind of sense.
The rest of the cast is very good indeed, especially Reese Witherspoon as Bateman’s vacuous fiance and Jared Leto as the business rival who makes the mistake of getting in Patrick Bateman’s way. The rest of the film follows the plot of the novel really very closely and manages to capture the tone and aesthetic of the book perfectly and most of the lines, especially Bateman’s voice-over, are lifted verbatim from the original novel.
So, this must be another great adaptation then?
No. But in this case, I think that this has to be a good thing.
Let me be utterly clear. To directly re-create the book into a film format is not possible. It just isn’t. The violence, sexism and brutal, tense prose could not translate to a film that anyone would want to see. Bateman, in that version, would be an unwatchable monster and some of the scenes that the book details just wouldn’t be possible to re-create on the big screen, or if they were I’m not sure whether you would want to see it, (the aforementioned rat scene springs to mind here.)
So, if I can call the adaptive process here a failure it would have to be on these grounds. The book is simply that far outside the norm of the horror/serial killer genre that the film could not be made when it was if it tried to copy the film. Yes it may be harsh to call it not a good adaptation but the Batman in the film is actually a well constructed character rather than the amoral void that Ellis creates. The book shows the utter degeneration that serious psychosis brings, Bateman looses all traces of his humanity and seems truly alien. Christian Bale’s Bateman is a monster, that much is true but seems much identifiable in the line of cinema serial killers.
So, no. This isn’t a great adaptation. But in all honesty? That is nothing but a good thing – it allows the film to be one of the finest cult horror thrillers of the last twenty years rather than something that would get you a ten stretch inside for owning and some serious psychological damage for viewing. There were some rumblings some Ellis’s Twitter feed about a month ago that he was looking at the possibility of a sequel and to be honest I’m none too sure – Bateman seems like such a product of the vapidity of the 1980s that I can’t imagine him walking around today – though maybe that says more about me than him.
There’s my two cents then ladies and gents and I hope I haven’t put you off the film as it is well done and really worth watching. And for those who still haven’t been dissuaded from seeking out the book, nothing more I could say would make any difference, but one final piece of information. One of the first lines from the book is a famous quote from Dante’s inferno; ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’
So read it if you must, but remember – you were warned.
ThePageBoy’s journal. April 2nd 2012
Rom-com found in alley this morning. Reviewer’s footprint on DVD case. The blogs are extended gutters, full of unread posts and comment threads that nobody cares for. One day, all the readers will drown in a flood of mediocre criticism that foams up around their broadband capacity and all the trolls will drown. All those with tumblr accounts and the people who play Farmville will look up and shout, ‘Please don’t review Watchmen!’
And I’ll look down and whisper….
So seeing last week as I reviewed the, frankly, fantastic V for Vendetta I hit upon a small problem. In the run up to me publishing the column I was promoting it on Twitter and was asked when I was going to do Watchmen and basically replied with ‘not any time soon.’ More fool me, due to a combination of work and other commitments I find myself falling a little behind and I needed something to write about so here we are. Well done Internet, as this generations equivalent of the spoiled child, you always get what you want.
If you haven’t been paying attention to this blog (which I realise looking at my traffic stats is a hefty proportion of the world) then you may not have picked up on the fact that I really REALLY like this comic. In terms of complexity, inter-textuality and stretching the boundaries of the form I can think of nothing that compares to it. If you haven’t read it, go ahead, click over to Amazon right now and order it. Do it. Go on, you can trust me. You’ll thank me later.
Anyway, Watchmen is basically an alternative history. In a version of 1985 where Richard Nixon won a third term, where the Cold War with the Russians has become dangerously close to destroying the entirety of humanity and where former masked vigilantes are struggling with the burdens and pressures of trying to be a hero in a bleak dark and dangerous world. Now, I’m simplifying massively here but the plot is basically the same tired cliché of ‘save the world’ but the way this is done makes it possibly the best comic ever written.
Essentially, and in a stroke of complete genius, the destruction of the world is used as the frame for a nuanced and sophisticated exploration of how these people are trying to save us all. There is Rorschach, the man whose brand of justice is based upon the idea of punishing the wicked with a violent fervour not seen since Patrick Batemen took a nice girl out for dinner and a chainsaw. There is the genius Ozymandias, man who believes he is so much above the common man that he can literally be the salvation of the race. There is the tragic Dr Manhattan who through a terrible accident is blessed with the powers of a God, but has to watch as his disconnect from humanity becomes so great that he struggles to see why life even matters. There is the Comedian, a man with a name laden with heavy irony – full of moral certainty and a nihilism that the only logical thing to do is laugh at the absurdity of it all. Finally the Night Owl and Silk Spectre – two people, who for differing reasons attempt to just do the best they can. These are not your usual superheroes; the psychological profiles that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons weave are breathtakingly complex. The plot revolves around this, showing the flaws and the struggles of trying to save the world, culminating in a horrific plan that murder half the population of New York.
For those who haven’t read the book (I told you, go order it) I will be getting in to areas that will include spoilers so consider this your warning. Firstly though lets talk about the film, released in 2009 after being trapped in development Hades for a decade or more with even the great and completely bonkers director Terry Gilliam declaring it ‘unfilmable.’ Zach Snyder on the other hand, disagreed and whilst the film performed well at the box office it divided the critics fiercely.
So, lets start with the good. Snyder is a man with some really competent aesthetic skills. This may sound like I’m damning with faint praise here but it is a very impressive job that’s done. The world the film evokes is expertly done, the design and the cinematography have the same hyper-realist edge that 300 did and it works for the most part, very well indeed. The establishment of the film’s world is something that the team behind it should feel incredibly proud of, for a reason that I suspect many of you will find a little silly at first. I am referring to, of course, the awesome credit sequence. Yes, that’s right the bit of the movie where they give the important people a chance to see their name on the silver screen. It is used perfectly as a chance to present snap-shots of the world the story inhabits, fleshing it out and bringing to life without any need for boring exposition or even any dialogue at all. The use of Bob Dylan’s ‘Times They Are A-Changin’ is a master-stroke and choosing to base the shots on extracts from part of the text of Watchmen is a stroke of adaptation genius that someone deserves major credit for. (Geddit!! sorry…)
The casting is by and large really good too, Patrick Wilson gives the film an emotional core that ordinary viewers can relate to, Jackie Earle Haley is bloody terrifying and Matthew Goode is pitch perfect as the messianic monster of the piece. Special kudos have to go to Billy Crudup as Dr Manhattan who gives the doctor both power and a hear-breaking distance from the rest of humanity.
So it looks great, the actors are great and the story is based closely on the source, thus we have a good adaptation, right?
Well..Here’s the thing. I want to love this movie, I really do. And there are parts of the film I really like. A lot. But this doesn’t quite work as an adaptation. This isn’t a slam on anyone by the way, I agree with Terry Gilliam that this is unfilmable. I will only be touching on a couple of points but here is where the spoilers come in so…look away now if necessary.
Firstly is a problem that has become something of a trend and thus I will name…Cool shit syndrome. Now, this is where a director sees something in his source material that is really cool and then decides to put it in to his film regardless of context, for the best example of this I’ve ever seen thus far please turn to my review of Daredevil. The point is one that I can’t believe has to be explained to be people in a creative industry, namely that everything in a work of fiction is there by choice. Stuff doesn’t just happen in a comic because it looks cool; the iconography and aesthetics of comics are deliberate, so that when stuff happens it is cool for a reason. Now, the film is not the worst offender of this type, I mean it isn’t a Michael Bay movie but there are moments watching this where I thought to myself, ‘this is only here because people thought viewers would think it was cool.’ Now I have no problem with cool stuff going down; what I worry about is if that the only reason it is there is for how it looks. Because that is really dumb.
Secondly, Alan Moore syndrome. Studios! Stop trying to make Alan Moore’s work into films! They are clearly supposed to be in the form that they are; in fact, much of the brilliance in Watchmen comes from the use of form. Things like panels, background clues, motifs and tropes that are repeated are essential and work best in sequential art not in film. The rigid form of the 12 chapters works in the comic to add cohesion to the pages narrative and give time and space to flesh out characters. Play a game once you’ve read the book, go and watch the film and I swear you’ll be able to mark off where the film moves through chapter. It feels bitty and fragmented and whilst the bits are great to watch they end up as just bits.
Thirdly and this one is important. It is possible to copy the plot and action of the original source but miss the philosophical reasoning used. (Go away and read my V for Vendetta review if you don’t get that…Sorry, I’ve been very needy in this column) Let me explain… The plan of the villain in both the film and the book is broadly the same, uniting the world against an enemy in order to prevent the nuclear war. In the film, the villains plan is to blame Dr Manhattan for a series of huge explosions that kills millions to save the rest of the world from destroying itself. In Watchmen Alan Moore takes a different route, instead of using another character as the fall guy it turns out that the villain has created a psychic monster, a form of evil beyond the limits of human imagination and comprehension.
Let me summarise; in the film the enemy who unities the world is a man who can blow things up. In the graphic novel, the enemy that unities humanity is an enemy that is so terrifying you can’t understand it or it will drive you insane. The film feels a little less impressive somehow, no? The graphic novel’s way of dealing with this also closes the huge gaping plot hole the film wants you to not notice. Answer me this. Why does The Comedian visit his mortal enemy in the film? Er….coming up with nothing? Try this one. How did The Comedian find out about the evil plan? Er……. What does The Comedian say the evil plan is? Er………………..
Whereas in the graphic novel, The Comedian comes across the island that is filled with the people creating this nightmare of evil and realising the repercussions, knows that people are going to die. Crucially, The Comedian has his visage of cynicism shattered when he realises that he doesn’t know where he stands upon it. Now that I’ve explained it, the film looks more and more like it doesn’t quite get it right.
So please, film types – pay attention. Stop trying to adapt Alan Moore’s books. Just read them instead.
Given the current political climate here in the UK and the fact I don’t know who reads this I suppose I should be slightly careful about how I put this. To some, the Tory party aren’t….good. At all. Or even a bit. When the Conservatives controlled much of British politics for the 1980s it led to a large counter cultural movement. This took in music, comedy, literature and art and even comics.
In fact some of the best writers of comics made their start here, and one of them wrote the only graphic novel to be included on Time’s list of the 100 greatest novels of the twentieth century; Watchman.
Which I’m not going to be doing, at least not yet. If the reference to Tory politics didn’t give me away then I will be looking at one Alan Moore graphic novel, the now hugely famous V for Vendetta. Published first in ten issues from 1982-1985 the story deals with the fallout on a British society surviving a nuclear war, falling to a fascist government and the efforts of an unnamed and masked anarchist to bring truth to the people and bring down the government.
Whilst at the time the comic run did achieve some success it was arguably the 2006 film that brought it to wide popular attention. It was directed by one of the assistant directors from the Matrix trilogy and was originally slated for release the day before Guy Fawkes day 2005 but released in March the next year to fairly positive reviews and a decent box office performance.
Considered in isolation the film is a remarkably well put together movie. The design and production of the film adds flair and class to the action film and the whole world of the film feels well put together and thought through. The casting is particularly good, clearly drawing influence from the graphic novel. Particular highlights are John Hurt as the head of the Norsefire government, Stephen Fry as a TV host walking a dangerous line between freedom and punishment and the wonderfully creepy Tim Pigott-Smith as the head of the secret police. The leads are the main draw though, Hugo Weaving‘s voice adds some much-needed gravity to the role of V and whilst Natalie Portman struggles to keep up with him, she still manages to draw out the psychological damage living in a nightmare of a world.
As I said, there is a great deal to like in this film; mainly due to the risks that it takes (for a blockbuster, anyway) The issues of censorship, psychological terror and the ability of our politics to be exploited by those eager enough for power to do so are themes that you don’t normally expect to see in a major cinematic release. My own personal favourite parts of the films are part of these unexpected scenes. The flashback sequence featuring Natasha Wightman as one of the regime’s ‘social undesirable’s’ imprisoned for falling in love with a woman, are some of the films best moments. Heart-breakingly sad, beautifully written and touching it adds emotional clarity and realism to the film, surprising for the sheer unexpected nature of it.
The sequences that these scenes are contained within are also worth bringing up. Portman’s character plays a vicitm of the regime – someone who has lived with fear as a psychological reality that poisons the mind. She is captured by V, the nameless revolutionary, and without her knowledge of who it is she is tortured and convinced that she is about to die. At the very end, she discovers her courage, looses her fear of death and V reveals what he’s done to her. The whole thing is far from easy to watch and brings V away from being a simple good guy and drags him into an extremely morally grey area. To be honest, I like this – without the hero becomes a little…dull, and given the terror that this government aims to inspire and rule by a straight forward good guy just wouldn’t work.
If you haven’t seen the film, I really recommend that you seek it out, and I hope that I haven’t given too many spoilers that would leave a first time viewer feeling cheated. But once you watch it, then go away and read the collected ten issues that make up the magnificent V for Vendetta. When you do, I won’t be surprised if you feel as I do; as if the film is not quite as good.
To be honest this is not a conclusion I really wanted to come to – as I really enjoyed the film; but the graphic novel is sheer genius. To justify what may sound like fandom drooling a little explanation of Alan Moore’s way of working has to be put in here. Here’s a list of all of the things that Alan Moore wanted to get into the plot. Ready? Here we go…
– George Orwell
– Thomas Disch
– Judge Dredd
– Harlan Ellison’s, ‘Repent Harelquin’ Said the Ticktockman
– Vicent Price’s Theatre of Blood and Dr Phibus
– David Bowie
– Farenheit 451
– The Prisoner
– Britain post-WW2 cinema
– Thomas Pynchon
– Robin Hood
And that isn’t even all of the references that Moore manages to squeeze into his work. The short amount of space is crammed with references, visual clues, wordplay and allusions much in the same way that Watchmen did, as here as with that masterwork Moore makers it work. Without hyperbole this is pop-culture artistry of the highest order; made even better by the fantastic art work of Moore’s long time partner in crime, David Lloyd, (whenever you see his name, buy it. The man is one of the best comic artists ever…)
The best praise that can be lavished on this book is that is in very much a work of British dystopia, the tradition of Huxley and Orwell; that branch of writing that always asks the most awkward questions and refuses to do as it is told. The politics of the era is a clear influence on Moore who has been recorded saying that the Tory party would obviously lose the 1983 election and that a Labour government, committed to disarmament would allow the UK to escape the oncoming nuclear war. In the aftermath, Moore believed the facists would take over the British system and turn Britain into an extreme dictatorship.
Whilst this is something that comes across in the film, even with the updating in the film’s setting here is a somewhat deeper reason why I feel the book is better. Brace yourselves, there may be some light philosophy ahead…
I’ll try and put this as simply as possible so, here we go….The film makes a few changes to the political orientation of the graphic novel. Whereas in the book the government are unmistakenably facists, the film plays the villians rather differently. Still, unmistakenably bad people, but rather more like extreme Republicans. Whilst this is probably to do with updating the films setting and the Bush era of US politics that produced the film, it also changes the hero. Here, V becomes a liberal do-gooder, aiming to unseat a government to free people to do as they wish.
All very well and good, there is nothing wrong with being a liberal do-gooder and the change in perspective allows certain sections of the US media to complain about their favoured bogey-man, ‘Hollywood elite.’ Which is never a bad thing and does always supply some good fun
This is an unmistakeably British book. It is about British politics, the British psyche and the British people. Interestingly Moore does not make V a liberal, possibly seeing that as something far too within the political mainstream to really challenge the order of the government’s rule. Within the pages of the novel V is an anarchist – someone here to bring choas to the rigidity of the social order, but crucially someone much more dangerous.
This change in philosophy is really what got me thinking about which was better and I have to side with the book. Whilst the film is excellent it misses something of the orginal source material. When the sin of omission is this subtle it would usually feel like nit-picking or just finding flaws for the sake of it, but the more I think about it, the more this matters. Something as textually dense as work written by Alan Moore doesn’t allow you to make even the smallest mis-step. It isn’t like this is a new issue either, as this is a problem that the adaptation of Watchmen also runs into.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad film. Far from it, this is a really really good film. It could have been an incredible film, and in reality it came within a hair’s bredth of being fantastic. And the fact that it misses by such a small gap is just frustrating beyond words.
But then, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?
Exciting news! Here’s the first sneek peak of some of the new design work going up on the site. Hope you love it as much as I do. It was done by a very talented friend of mine, who, as soon as he gets a website of his own, I will be plugging here.
And don’t worry – Coming tomorrow, Marvel Month III!