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Monday, 02 March 2009


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Scott Eric Kaufman

Thanks. It's been fixed.

Brennen Bearnes

Man, I didn't even enjoy the book all that much, but I sure do appreciate the takedown of a review this painfully devoid of a goddamned clue.


Thanks for this, Scott. Lane's review made me so angry (in its slagging of the book, not the movie) that I forgot that you had linked to it, and so it was a real relief to come back to your site and read your deft takedown. Far From Heaven was a particularly nice catch.

Not much to add to what you said, but I also love how his review isn't just aimed at the movie and the book, but at comics in general. He even cites the Two Comic Books that Grown-Ups Are Allowed to Like (Maus and Persepolis, both excellent) as a prelude to "But actually most comics are stupid in all the ways you'd think." You know, film—there's a genre that almost never lets you down.

(By the way, slight typo: "a critic would denigrated" should probably be "who denigrated"?)

Vance Maverick

either way, it makes it directly into the movie, as one of Rorschach’s voice-overs.

This is really weird. Lane is a literary, sophisticated sort of movie critic, yet he writes as though sentences in books are autonomic emissions of the author-function, unlike in movies, where they're contextualized by speaker and setting. I do think he's smart enough that if an editor had challenged him on this (as Kael remembers Shawn doing, for matters of diction) he would have seen the evidently nobody did.


The review does serve something like it's fundamental purpose, though: it tells the reader that those who liked the comic book might well like the movie; those who didn't get the comic book the first time, should stay away. Those who haven't read the comic won't really understand the review, except that Lane didn't like it -- if they trust his judgement, they'll stay away; if they don't, they won't.

You get the impression that he really didn't want to write the review, which forced him to read the comic, or at least talk about it as if he'd read more than the publicity materials. I can't actually tell if he has read the comic.


"You get the impression that he really didn't want to write the review…"

I doubt that. There's nothing Anthony Lane loves more than panning a movie. How else did the same guy get picked to review Transformers, Sex and the City, Star Wars Episode 3, and Speed Racer? Seriously, the New Yorker thought its readers might be thinking about seeing Speed Racer?

Sometimes he's great—and as far as I know all those movies were terrible, as the Watchmen movie probably is—but the underlying current in all the reviews is, "Look what you disgusting slobs are making me watch. How can you be so tacky?" As soon as he saw that they made a blockbuster out of a well-regarded superhero comic, I imagine he couldn't wait to get his hands on it.

I can't actually tell if he has read the comic.

I think he read just enough to draw his shallowest impressions from it and move on.

Vance Maverick

Also, I don't remember him complaining about bogus, pretentious voiceovers in Apocalypse Now. (To be clear: I like them even though they're bogus -- though Herr's book is a bridge too far.)


Interesting takedown.

One thing I'd add - to give Snyder some credit, he did film an animated version of the Black Freighter as a separate movie, and the special edition DVD of the movie is supposed to interweave the two as intended. I think part of the lesson here is that some things are not necessarily unfilmable as they are very difficult to move through the studio system.


Just noticing some things from the review:

"Whether his fellow-Watchmen have true superpowers, as opposed to a pathological bent for fisticuffs, I never quite worked out, but this guy is the real deal." - not paying attention, the fact that Dr. Manhattan is the only true superpowered being in the world is the damn point.

"President Nixon (Robert Wisden), having used our blue friend to annihilate the Vietcong, wins the Vietnam War and, by 1985—the era in which the bulk of the tale takes place—is somehow serving a third term." - again, not paying attention; Nixon's serving out his fifth (?) term, because he engineered a constitutional amendment to allow him to do so.


PS: To give Snyder credit, he did film Tales of the Black Freighter as an animated movie, which will get a separate release. Apparently, the special edition of the Watchman DVD interweaves the two as intended.


Oops. I thought I hadn't posted at 9. Apologies.


Hello Scott:

I am only an occasional visitor, but I wanted to thank you for so articulately explaining some of the problems with the very concept of a Watchmen movie. It is quite refreshing after the dull incomprehension of many of my friends. So, cheers!

Rich Puchalsky

It takes a poor critic to confuse an unreliable narrator with an authorial stand-in.

But since I couldn't care less about the film, I'll go back to the "fate of the human race" comment, which appears to bear on the book. It's really, really ignorant to call this "metaphysical vulgarity" in this instance. And it's not actually that great to historicize this as a period piece of the 1980s either. It's about a fit of sustained insanity that really does threaten life on Earth since before the 1980s, and still does. All those weapons haven't gone away.

And Watchmen makes no sense unless you're willing and able to take this seriously. Dr. Manhattan, Ozymandius, Rorschach, The Comedian, Nite Owl: all of them illustrate ways in which this insanity is justified as being sane. Of course it's insane to blow up half New York to ensure world peace. But that's really not so different from risking blowing up the world in order to ensure world peace. Dr. Manhattan enables, Rorschach with his right-wing beliefs justifies, The Comedian gives a note of nihilist cynicism, and Oymandius is the technocrat who reluctantly carries it all out. The most sympathetic character to the ordinary reader, Nite Owl, stands in for the ordinary citizen -- he just hides in his basement and doesn't think about it, and when he finally does decide that he can do something, his reaction to confronting the system is to accept its reasoning.

One weakness of the book is that its sole female main character(s), Silk Spectre mother and daughter, are subsumed into their chosen roles as relatively passive sex objects, and thus stand for the part of the system that ordinary patriarchy would have them stand for. I'm not sure how Moore could have written it differently, but that always strikes me as a major flaw of the work.

All that sounds chilly, and, worse, naive -- you're not supposed to have art works refer to reality in that sense. Tomemos mentions that Lane cites Maus and Persepolis -- both easier works because of their essential sentimentality. A critic who can appreciate them but not Watchmen just reveals his limitations as a critic.


"He writes as though sentences in books are autonomic emissions of the author-function, unlike in movies, where they're contextualized by speaker and setting"

I wonder, anyone noticed this more generally among film scholars and critics? Is there some deep institutional compulsion to deny continuity from literature due to early anxieties of influence?

I remember my first introduction to academic film, watching Citizen Kane in Mass Communication. The professor noted that never before had a film begun at the end and then filled in the viewer through flashbacks. I (a sophomore English major who had just come from World Lit) raised my hand and proposed that this was merely the "in media res" narrative structure that Homer used. The professor actually waved his hand at me, pooh-poohed me: "This is something completely different!"


Anthony Lane's approach to film criticism is the equivalent of stand-up comedy.


Lane knows some Elvish. That explains his eagerness to excoriate childish/geeky films. Overcompensation.

... The allusion to Dr. Manhattan at the end is interesting as an implied criticism of Gaddis-style modernism. The book may have all kinds of intratextuality that makes it as intricate as the universe seen from Dr. M's mind. But can the rest of us live, or read, like that?

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