Wednesday, 04 March 2009

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Watchmen and the scene of reading (being a response to Anthony Lane's review of Zack Snyder's adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' novel) (Before I begin: Lane casually spoils the film, so do not click on that link if you want a virginal viewing experience.) Anthony Lane would forestall serious criticism of his Watchmen review by characterizing defenders of the genre as "masonically loyal, prickling with a defensiveness and an ardor that not even Wagnerians can match." Anyone who reads a comic not written by Art Spiegelman is a—but why go there? Lane's acknowledgment that Moore wants nothing to do with Zack Snyder's film seems a concession, but in the end he returns to throw a few roundhouses at Moore: Amid these pompous grabs at horror, neither author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race—a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity—to be bothered with lesser plights. To belabor the obvious: Watchmen is a book of the 1980s. Complaining about its concern with issues like containment, nuclear escalation, and mutually assured destruction would be akin to kvetching about the dowdiness of suburban American life in Far From Heaven—and Lane did not. So why fault Watchmen for being insufficiently universal in its appeal? Why insist that a film based on a graphic novel be of the moment the former is produced instead of the one represented in the latter? Because Lane is an ignorant bigot.* Not that I want to defend Snyder's film. As will become apparent, I think the film will fail because it is fundamentally unfilmable. But for someone who complains about the lack of subtlety in film and novel alike, Lane punts some rather obvious points. Foremost among them, he attributes the flaws of particular characters to the author, as when he chastises Moore: You want to hear Moore’s attempt at urban jeremiad? “This awful city, it screams like an abattoir full of retarded children.” That line from the book may be meant as a punky retread of James Ellroy, but it sounds to me like a writer trying much, much too hard; either way, it makes it directly into the movie, as one of Rorschach’s voice-overs. Why assume that Rorschach's a proxy for Moore here? Why not assume Rorschach's narration is intentionally blinkered and overblown? Consider these panels: Rorschach's statements are—to borrow Lane's characterization of the entire film—grimy with misogyny, but more revealingly, they are also self-evidently delusional. Rorschach numbers himself among the psychologically healthy. Even within the fiction of the novel, Rorschach's narration belongs to "the crank file": Yet Lane would have his readers believe that the self-important and overwrought prose of Rorschach's journal stands as an indictment of Moore. Mistaking the flaws of a character for those of his author is argument Lane would rightly criticize were someone else to forward it. He would also take issue with a critic who denigrated as derivative a film which openly played with generic conventions. For example, were someone to slag Todd Haynes for directing the aforementioned Far From...
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"READING IS FUNDAMENTAL. WITH DUMMIES LIKE YOU, WHO NEEDS THE MENTALLY DISABLED?" (My actual review of the film can be found here. That post I'm holding off on is still M.I.A.) I’m holding off on that other Watchmen post because I think I might, um, be wrong about something fairly central to my argument. In the meantime, I have a declaration to make: I love Debbie Schlussel. Her review of Watchmen is simply to die for. To wit: If you take your kids to see “The Watchmen,” you’re a moron. If you see it yourself, you’re also probably a moron and a vapid, indecent human being. Set aside the fact that she punts the film’s title. Set aside the fact that she punts the film’s title even though the poster is included in the post. Concentrate instead on how she castigates hypothetical parents who would take their children to an R-rated film. Who is her audience? Who does she imagine it is? I know, it’s being heavily marketed as a superhero movie, with action figures for your kids. I see now—her audience consists of people who never click on links. Because if they did, they’d see Schlussel links to a limited run of 5,000 figures designed for I-buy-Power-Girl-statuettes crowd. But what about the hypothetical children? Who will care for the hypothetical children? But then, we see cops looking over their naked, bloodied, dead bodies on a bed, with the words “LESBIAN WHORES,” written in blood on the wall. Mommy, mommy, what’s a lesbian? What’s a whore? So our hypothetical terrible parent takes her hypothetical toddler to see an R-rated movie and—what’s an R-rated picture again? An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures. Thank you, official Motion Picture Association of America guidelines. Let’s compare rubric of the R-rating to Schlussel’s litany of offensive scenes in the film: Schlussel: Two superheroes have an explicit sex scene in a spaceship–she’s on top, then he’s on top, awesome–you can teach your young kids multiple sexual positions before they even reach puberty, by taking them to see this (there’s a less explicit sex scene between the slutty superheroine and another superhero not long before that). MPAA: . . . sexually-oriented nudity . . . Situation normal. Schlussel: Superhero “The Comedian” (a bad Robert Downey, Jr. look-alike) brutally beating and raping another superhero[.] MPAA: . . . adult themes . . . Situation normal.. Schlussel: [S]uperheroes hurling obscenities[.] MPAA: . . . hard language . . . Situation normal. Schlussel: A man’s hands and arms being sawed off with an electric saw–we’re shown the bloody stumps...

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