28 March 2006

R for Review

I learned something very important watching V for Vendetta. Apparently movie critics were the people most affected by the Sept. 11 attacks.

The reviews for this film were vicious, idiotic and pointless (Just keep reminding yourself that the NYTimes gave the Beatles a bad review the first time out, and your head won't explode). V was a great movie. Mind you, not a top ten of all time sort of movie, but it was good and smart and stuff blew up. And I'm a big fan of stuff blowing up. I would even argue that with the careful editing of a handful of voice over lines it quite simply be my favorite movie of the year, and that's with me having seen Night Watch and knowing I'm going to go see X-Men III, Lucky Number Slevin, and Brick. (Which all look like tré awesome riffs on genre and tropes. And at least one of them has Josh Hartnett in a towel. Yum.)

There were sometimes I felt the script had been Americanized. Had the director been English all the passing refrences to the US would have been out (wich felt more grafted on than the new bio warfare subplot), as would the annoying habit of characters to inform the person who has just quoted Shakespeare what play they were quoting. (Mind you, that's a thing smart people actually do to each other, but the tone is different. Less explanatory than guessing.)

But that doesn't account for Manohla Dargis' psychotic review in the NYTimes, where she lambastes the film for being infantile, for having pretentions of being smart, for pretending to be subversive when it's not and for being on the side of terrorists.

Ok. Wow. I'm sorry for your city's loss. (If it matters, the Voice, the NYSun, the NYNews, the NYer, Newsweek and most other major newspaper reviewers came more or less down on Ms. Dargis' side. Notable exceptions: Roger Ebert, the NYPost, and Peter Travers at the Rolling Stone). So let's discuss the lady's concerns.

1) Infantile. (opening line of her review: Thumbsuckers of the world unite....) Um, it's a movie! The chances of it not being infantile approach nil. And to be quite honest, there's NO WAY it's more infantile than any romantic comedy, because those purport that there is a "one" (and that out of the 8+ billion people on the planet the two characters will not only speak the same language and be economically/educationally/religiously compatible, but shop at the same grocery store), that truly f*cked up people can change, and that loving healthy relationships can be based on bets. Oh yeah, none of that's infantile wish fulfillment.

2) Pretentious. So here she pulls a triple whammy of first accusing Alan Moore of being pretentious, but of at least trying to elevate the dialogue and then she accuses V for being pretentious and lowering the dialogue more than any other film based on his work. Now the first is clearly the commentary of a person who thinks comic books are garbage and doing anything thoughtful in them is even worse. And it should be noted that pretention is never something inherent in the work, but only in the creator. Moore didn't write Maus, and he didn't write Persepolis but he did write the books that allowed those to exist. Watchmen is called a seminal graphic novel because it is. Moore's not pretentious because he's not pretending to greatness or stature. He has both of those, maybe not in Manhola's world, but he has them nonetheless. You could say this particular book fails for all sorts of reasons (which I would mostly disagree with) but pretention isn't one of its creator's faults (lunacy, maybe). Now the creators of the film may be pretentious (we'll go with pro'bly). But this is, absolutely, the best adaptation of Moore's work to film ever. From Hell turned a 500-page carefully researched historical graphic novelization into Jonny Depp mumbled nonsense (I am normally a big fan of Depp) and League of Extraordinary Gentleman was an embarresment to the English reading world, let alone the filmmakers (the first book was good, the second sucked, but that's still no excuse for the film). So maybe, in the question of whether or not the makers of the Matrix are pretentious, she may have something.

3) Not subversive. Ok here's another moment for which Ms. D. would get totally smacked down by SnarkWatch over at Believer if she was reviewing a book. (Not that I'm totally against snark, mind you.) She accuses people who think the film is subversive of being fourteen. I'll give her points for thinking a majority of fourteen-year-olds know what subversive means, but honestly, nobody's really going around screaming that this a subversive film. Most of us who know what subversive means (and like it) understand that that if it costs more than one pay check, it's pro'bly plugged into the system. But the assumption that the use of the system is, in and of itself, defeating of any non-system commentary/ discussion/ exploration is just as naive. It's ok to be anti-system within the system. We tend to forget that revolution is primarily evolutionary. You don't get rich guys like George Washington fighting nasty battles over relatively insane ideals (democracy, let's face it, is a pretty wacked out concept for most people in the world, even today) without all sorts of people who were "in-system" critiquing and thinking and talking and refining ideas. Subversion is less important than dialogue and saying something is bad because it achieves something of a higher degree of importance is odd.

Besides, if it was really subversive, would somebody from the NYTimes even get the subversion? Isn't the point of subversion is that it can get past our cultural watchdogs and censors? That they don't see the subversion? Couldn't something truly subversive, parade as subversive, but poorly, making it even more subversive when you finally decode it? (Sorry, I don't think V actually does this, but even if it did, Manhola shouldn't, by definition, notice.)

4) Pro-terrorist. Oh come on. This has got to be the most ridiculous argument ever. A Shakespeare-quoting guy in a mask who fights neo-nazis has about as much in common with the current brand of terrorists as lemons have in common with lobsters (carbon and the letter L?) Saying that blowing things (even major landmarks) up is solely the provence of people who secretly hate America and Freedom and Democracy is really going to end most new construction in major metropolitan areas.

Now really Ms. Dargis, can an infantile, pretentious, non-subversive also be dangerously pro-terrorist? Face it, you didn't like the movie. It reopened psychological and emotional wounds that hadn't really closed. And that's okay. Both are okay, actually. But saying you didn't like the movie, critiquing it's form, style, writing, acting and directing and saying you felt it was too soon after major terrorist attacks is different than an attack on an audience.

I'm still not sure why she went ahead and came after the movie-going public (although it's why I went after her). God only knows there's not many of us as it is. We've become a dying breed and it seems that more than a few of the movie reviewers in the world have a lot of contempt for us, who are the meal tickets of the entire industry, from the paparazzi to the sound guys to the movie reviewers. Attacking us is just bizarre.

My biggest problem with the film is one that will have to wait for another day. But I'll tell you what the best thing about the film was:

The exceedingly lovely story of Valerie, lifted practically word for word from the original comic, juxtaposed against the terror and nightmare of Evey's ordeal. Not a moment of virtuoso filmmaking maybe, but one of the most human moments I've seen in film in a long time. And a testament to the strength of Alan Moore's writing.

Overall a very valuable movie.


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