On Friday I saw Frank Miller's Sin City
, directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. That's right, both of them. Rodriguez, now rather famously, absconded from the Directors Guild of America so that he could have Miller as a codirector for the movie, which is based on three of Miller's graphic novels. Quentin Tarantino also directed a scene. The movie's been heavily hyped. But I've read only part of one of the three novels, and I'm remarkably unfamiliar with Miller ,Rodriguez, and Tarantino. I've never seen most of the stars, with the exceptions of Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro. So I actually had very few expectations.
The film is notable for its dedication to the comic book format, and most of the scenes were shot on green screens, with everything but the actors painted in later. The clarity and precision of the shots and compositions makes Sky Captain
look like Impressionistic child's play, and it's easy to forget the unconventional methodology and sink right into an almost three dimensional abstraction of film noir.
Morally it's not a profoundly illuminating, thought provoking film. (Though it did pay notable attention to the problem of killing cops when the right course puts you on the wrong side of the law. ) Each of the three interlocked stories centers about dark, tormented men taking out their aggression and conflict by championing women and fighting evil powers. Even when the women are themselves armed killers, the stories take the strong position that a man hitting a woman is symptomatic of evil, and that a prostitute is no less deserving than the next girl. The extreme violence can't be justified as an object lesson in karma, however. Rodriguez clearly does not want you to take your children to see this film. It still manages to have a strong ethical undercurrent, however, acknowledging some basic issues of life without attempting to be conclusive. In a messy world where one's actions are very likely useless, does one still try to do the right thing? Can one fight destiny? Power? The system? It's the kind of abbreviation of tormented conflict one has to make do with when one is being chased down by the cops and the mob at the same time. The lack of organic texture which is usually such a big part of good movies adds to the abstract, theatrical feel. I found an interesting transcript of a Rodrigues&cast press junket
, and the following quote jumped out at me:
The rain, the car, the road, nothing was there. [Tarantino] got to just concentrate on getting performances. That was the beauty of a green screen for us. All that other stuff that used to take up time for rigging, then hurry, hurry and get the performance. All of that was gone. You were just getting performance. That’s why the performances were so great. That’s all they were concentrating on was eye-to-eye, working with each other.
Odd for such a technological and visual movie, but it did have the primal feel of raw, intimate theater, stripped down to the basics of great American noir, with a bit of City Horror and a dash of Superhero Fantasy thrown in. Absolutely, killably despicable villians. Gorgeous, vulnerable, dangerous women. Tough, ugly heroes. Beautiful cars with long fins and chrome trim. Guns and razor blades and cigarettes. The occasional samurai sword. A friend of mine familiar with the graphic novels likened them to a caricature of comic books. The men are all killers, the women are all hookers, and there's even overlap between the two sets. No one gets killed prettily when they could get killed gruesomely. Even honor and self-sacrifice are expressed with a brutal vulgarity. I don't think I could stomach reading the whole series of novels, but two or three hours of the gorgeously high contrast photography was a nice bite sized amount of grim darkness. I place a high premium on artistic unity and self-consistency, and Sin City
has them in spades. Overall, a very good watch.