V for Vendetta-- I know, I know, that’s so two weeks ago. But the movie, less than flawless though it may be, has rib-sticking power, and I like the fact that it’s forcing itself to churn and burn around in my head to the degree it has so far. And I really liked the degree of debate that it inspired in my comments column—meager by the standard of some blogs, perhaps, but pretty juicy for the old SLIFR. A couple of points of view came to light in the last week or so, after my original piece had been bumped far enough down the page as to be relatively missable. I liked what I read in these pieces—two from posts on other blogs, the other from a private e-mail from a friend whose permission I have secured so I might reprint his comments here—enough to want to highlight them in their own post and ensure that they didn't get buried at the bottom of a two-week-old item.
First up, David Lowery, proprietor of Drifting had this to say when he checked after reading my post:
”Wonderful review, Dennis, and one which I would have agreed with completely up until I saw the film again the other day. I think it's a fairly successful adaptation of a difficult work, and I admire it greatly for what it does right - but the filmmakers make one or two very crucial errors that essentially dumb everything down, that make the politics subversive on a very surface level (which, granted, is still more than one might expect from an action movie). I'll have a review of my own at my blog shortly in which I go into these issues more throroughly. For the meantime, I'll just say that I'm glad people are seeing it and that it's inspiring so much writing and eloquent, multi-sided discussion - that alone validates the film.”
I was definitely intrigued. I like the process of debating ideas about movies, especially one like this, and I like to think I can keep an open mind about thoughts that don’t fall in line with my own. And that last sentiment was certainly one I could get behind. So I kept my eyes open for David’s own post and, sure enough, a few days later David was ready to go. Here’s a taste:
”It's not the ideology that's problematic, necessarily, but that the Wachowskis and director James McTiegue don't have the courage of their convictions. The film, so revolutionary up to a point, is ultimately unable to commit to the concept of noble anarchy espoused by Alan Moore in the original graphic novel. The film wants to support this, and it makes steps in that direction; but at the crucial point, it sidesteps the issue and reduces a legitimately challenging thesis to something of more Orwellian proportions. Granted, Moore's novel was a polemic against Thatcherian fascism that owed much to 1984, and in preserving a great deal of his solution to Big Brother, the film is quite radical. At the last minute, though, the filmmakers take what it is a very gray area and make it distinctly black and white; after aspiring for intelligent provocation, the Wachowskis settle at the end for inspiration.”
What’s fascinating about Lowery’s approach is that for all of his exposition of what he sees as the film’s flaws, he still makes a reader want to see the film for their own experience with it. In fact, by the time he concludes his own comments, he’s ready to see the film again and enjoy it and admire it despite his own criticism. Check out David Lowery on V for Vendetta and enjoy a very good writer grappling with a very provocative film.
The second piece, entitled “The Smallest of Killings: The Public Sacrifice of Alan Moore and V for Vendetta,” fooled me. Posted on Chris Stangl’s blog The Exploding Kinetoscope, I admit I was expecting another anti-Wachowski tirade from yet another angry fan of the graphic novel. Instead, the article serves up the perspective of a very levelheaded appreciator of the graphic novel who attempts to see what film adaptation does to the original work, how it filters and/or alters the original ideas, and what the film ends up doing apart from the original work. Here are a couple of choice excerpts, the first considering how the film compares to Moore’s storytelling strategy:
”There’s no way for a narrative film to get away with the kind of radical formal experimentation of Moore’s novel. This is a book in which a chapter is structured as sheet music, for random example. But retained are Moore’s trademark impossibly complex networks of visual motifs, echos and mirrors; in Vendetta, the flashiest is the letter V itself, showing up as graffiti, as crossed knives, as a massive row of dominos, as a smear of blood, as a Roman numeral on a prison cell, and in a crucial moment, in the linked arms of two young lovers. The film cannot best the novel’s exhaustive inventiveness, but when the parallel rebirth of Evey in a nighttime rain, and V’s origin story by fire are startlingly intercut, it demonstrates a respectful attempt to retain a sense of Moore’s craft.”
And then, on the film’s point of view:
”It seems to me that V for Vendetta is primarily about how fascism works, how it happens, and a warning that it is the complicity of a citizenry that will allow it to happen again. There are other important questions posed, about the tensions between individuality and nationalism, about media manipulation, about the fate of ill-mounted revolutions. But that’s the core idea. While the celebratory blowing-up of Parliament at the film’s finale, it must be admitted, is unequivocally “positive,” there is never the assumption that V’s means have justified his ends. He spends equal time carefully preserving works of banned art, but destroys beautiful historic architecture; he teaches Evey the power of personal spiritual freedom by torturing her; he cultivates extinct roses only to use them as calling cards for murder: V can only understand art and people as the ideas they symbolize. He can only love or do violence to them based on that relationship. It’s a shortcoming for a human being as much as it is a strength for an activist. And so Vendetta asks: IS this guy right?”
There’s much more in Stangl’s very well written and reasoned piece, and it’s worth checking out at his appropriately titled blog The Exploding Kinetoscope.
The other notes I found well worth passing on came in a private e-mail to me last week. They specifically referred to some of the comments made in the wake of my own thoughts on the film. But the main reason I wanted to publish them is because they convincingly offered a response to one of my major complaints about the film. Here’s what I said:
”V For Vendetta is by no means perfect. When Evey's friend, a host of a national TV talk show, played by Stephen Fry, stages a brutal satire of dictatorial figurehead John Hurt (seen throughout the film mostly on video monitors invoking the spirit, if not the letter, of 1984's Big Brother), it seems a crucial misstep that he so arrogantly misjudges the dictatorship's willingness to come directly to his home and shut him down permanently. The incident is used to remind Evey of the abduction and execution of her own parents and lay the groundwork for her own imprisonment, but it's a narratively sloppy way to achieve those ends. Fry's character, who functions largely as a safe-and-sane harbor for the fugitive Evey, for all intents and purposes an above-ground mirror version of V, could have easily served as more than just a ill-thought-out plot device. (I'll be interested to see if the comic book makes the same mistake.)”
I haven’t made it far enough along into the book to know whether or not this development is taken whole hog from Moore, but even if it is I doubt I’ll still be thinking of it as a “mistake,” thanks to these thoughtful comments and their ability to open my eyes a little bit:
”One thing I wanted to say about Stephen Fry's character... The way I interpreted his staging of the satire of John Hurt's character is that Fry's character does what he does because he's simply tired of wearing the mask of the jolly funny man for the state-run network. He knows that he will be put out of his misery once they find his copy of the Koran, and he doesn't care because he's weary of lying about who he really is and lying to the viewing public by distracting them from the horror that exists all about them. His celebrity has given him comfort and the ability to collect things, but he has to put on a front because it is expected of him, and all those pretty things have to be kept locked behind closed doors. And given that the Wachowskis are such private guys, and that one of the brothers maintains an alternative lifestyle that most people would find peculiar, I think it's safe to say that Fry's character mirrors one or both of them more than he mirrors V.”
The reader went on to wonder whether it was the filmmakers or their corporate sponsors who were making the kinds of explicit links to the Bush administration that SLIFR regular That Little Round-Headed Boy was hearing some reviewers claim, links that he was not seeing in the film itself:
“That Little Round-Headed Boy put forth his take regarding links to the Bush administration, suggesting that the moviemakers themselves might have started that particular discussion. I think that it was Time-Warner, and not the Wachowskis, who started the whole thing. While they stopped short of featuring the movie on the cover of Time, they did devote two pages to the controversial nature of the film (and a sidebar review that was very favorable), and they didn't shy away from mentioning the current administration and 9/11. Odd, but the other day I was thinking how 9/11 has eclipsed so many things, like the Oklahoma City bombing, where a terrorist with an ax to grind with the government and explosives consisting of or derived from fertilizer leveled the federal building. Anyway, TLRHB said that he'd give credit to Spielberg for, I guess, being able to weave politics into his art, I'd have to disagree. The Wachowskis seem a whole lot braver than Spielberg, who really chickened out in Munich in my estimation, not that I expected him to do otherwise.”
Finally, the reader took issue with the Alan Moore quote cited by Benaiah at the end of his own negative assessment of the film in the comments section of my post.
“I keep meeting people who love this movie, and my only solace in my bitterness after seeing what they did to Moore's brilliant work is a quote from the author himself: Interviewer: ‘How do you feel about Hollywood ruining your work?’ Moore: ‘What are you talking about? They didn't ruin my work. It is right up there on the shelf.’”
I thought Moore’s quote was funny and, if somewhat maddeningly egocentric, then also a fairly clearheaded way of separating his own work from the adaptation without trying to make it seem like a successful adaptation was an impossible proposition. (Of course, this comment is taken out of context from the interview in which it originally appeared, and it is well known that Moore’s general attitude approaches just that level of artistic arrogance.) But the reader, in his e-mail, thought a whole lot less of Moore’s response than either I or Benaiah did and wasn't too shy about saying so:
”That quote by Alan Moore is just glib shit. It's what I would expect of a writer who sounds pretty talented as well as quite full of himself. If you're a fan of his and his books, a quote like that makes you say, "Yeah, way to zing 'em!" But what writer under the sun looks forward to having her/his work adapted? And, in the case of this particular work, to have one of the biggest communications conglomerates in world release the dang thing-- man, irony is just cold.”
V for Vendetta may have fallen off the average moviegoer’s radar in time it takes to say Ice Age: The Meltdown, but thoughtful comments like these, and writing like that found on David Lowery and Chris Stangl’s blogs, work to ensure that the tangled, complex responses inspired by the film, and the graphic novel, have a chance to get worked out, or at least massaged and further twisted around to encourage the squeezing out of as much intellectual juice as the film will allow. I still think it’s a terrific movie, and I look forward to wrestling with it again sometime soon.