March 11th, 2009
|09:49 am - Unfunny satires|
This is an excellent post on Watchmen the book, by Amanda at Pandagon, who is going to watch the film later. I think she does an excellent job of summarising why liberal criticisms of the film (eg that it's sexist) miss the point.
(such criticisms would be) completely valid when referring to a modern, straightforward superhero movie. Should Catwoman be unable to defend herself in the next Batman movie or should Batman start railing against evil liberals, I’m going to get angry. But the point of “The Watchmen” is that it’s about juxtaposing the myth of the superhero with certain ugly realities, and the conclusions reached---especially about how the profession would attract mostly sociopaths and self-promoters, how women’s success would be related to their sex appeal over their skills, how sexism and homophobia would still touch you even if you were a masked vigilante---strike me as entirely realistic.
She coins the (not very elegant) term 'unfunny satires' for films like this. The other examples she gives in her review are 'No Country For Old Men' and 'Pulp Fiction'.
“No Country For Old Men” uses the format of a crime thriller to question the narrative structures of a crime thriller, particularly the way that your typical crime thriller uses the darkest parts of humanity to guide you to a place where you feel pretty good about yourself and the main characters. Instead, you’re asked to consider violence something to truly despair over... the book of “The Watchmen” does the same thing, except I think Alan Moore is overtly hostile to comic book conventions
Not having seen the film of Watchmen she asks:
Will it translate? ... Storytellers of any sort try to throw up a lot of signposts to indicate exactly what sort of story they’re about to tell, so you the audience will be ready to accept it for what it is.... “The Watchmen” has a real obstacle to communicating to the audience, which is that every signifier... has been used by other movies, especially “The Dark Knight” to indicate a dark superhero movie that has some uncomfortable scenes in it, but is fundamentally not going to question the narrative conventions or break down the fantasy and throw it in your face.
Something else I want to say though. I think these three films have something else in them, beyond their function as 'unfunny satires'. Throwing narrative convention in your face, could be pursued in its own right - such as in Tropic Thunder, or Kelly's Heroes which I was thinking about this week - and that kind of film is fine.
But it seems to me that in Watchmen, No Country and Pulp Fiction the satire is part of a much larger project, which I can't hardly define. Because when you see them you feel opened up into something better, and I don't know why. I need to find a better way of talking about this, because I want to be able to work it out, and work out what films and books have it, but I'm really struggling to put my finger on it.
Thanks for the link - that was very much worth reading.
Watchmen was indeed a novel in comic book form. It was originally published as a twelve issue miniseries and only later bound into a graphic novel. And it attempted to subvert every convention of the superhero genre. The problem is that notwithstanding the recent spate of comic book inspired movies — caused by the new technology that at last allows us to bring the comic book page to the screen — the movie audience is not accustomed to these conventions like comic book readers were. Comic book readership is nowhere near as widespread as it was a generation ago, not to mention compared to its heyday in the 1940s. So I find myself having to explain these over and over.
What's really weird is how little discussion is around the real theme of the book — nuclear weapons. The 1950s is often thought of as the era of fear of nuclear war, but they had dozens of warheads then. In the 1980s, there were tens of thousands. There are still thousands.
Ah, I remember well when Watchmen was being released one comic at a time, because I was living in Brixton with a guy who was reading them. I also do remember thinking that the chances were we woudl all be killed in a nuclear war. Whereas now I think we'll be killed by environmental collapse, or possibly a meteor.