March 05, 2009

Now you are here, at 9:48

An official Watchmen talkback seems moot in light of O'John's post but feel free to continue the discussion we've been having. Because the cat's out of the bag all over the place, though, and to preserve Walter's delicate modesty, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that our Mr. Chaw appears on the upcoming DVD/Blu-ray release of Synecdoche, New York.

Boy, does he. The 40-minute featurette, titled "Infectious Diseases in Cattle: Bloggers Roundtable", finds Walter and four other online critics--Andrew Grant of FILMBRAIN, Karina Longworth of SPOUT, Chris Beaubien of SCREENHEAD, and Glenn Kenny of SOME CAME RUNNING--discussing the film in-depth. The piece was shot in a Kaufman-esque Tribeca loft this past December, and I've been dying to blab about it since but bit my tongue for fear of jinxing the outcome. Can you conceive of a more fitting movie to mark the occasion of Walter's/FILM FREAK CENTRAL's debut in a DVD supplement?! Making this even sweeter, the great Tim Lucas just called it "one of the most engaging and intellectually stimulating DVD supplements I'd seen in quite awhile" in a comment posted at SOME CAME RUNNING; can't wait to read his fleshed-out thoughts in the pages of VIDEO WATCHDOG.

And now back to Watchmen. Have you seen this, by the by? (Follow the link and click "Pop-Up" under "WATCH THIS MOVIE!") Funny shit--and, as a child of the '80s, it definitely resonated with me. Still, it's symptomatic of a remix/sample culture for which my tolerance is steadily weakening; pop will eat itself, indeed.

36 comments:

Jefferson said...

Funny thing, though -- that's actually an actor hired to play Walter, just like all the other "bloggers." Little did they know it would be a lifetime commitment.

Dan said...

Re: Walter's Watchmen 2/4 review. I take solace in the fact he gave Hancock 3/4, and that film was a turd that ruined the original script's intentions. At least Watchmen has shown more faith in its own source.

Can't wait to see Synecdoche. That film passed by multiplexes here in the UK.

Patrick said...

Walter is young! I imagined the voice of authority to be a grey-haired victorian-style gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Wow, amazing news, Bill. I sense an Amazon pre-order in my future.

Patrick said...

So more than 20 years ago, Neil Gaiman interviews Alan Moore, who is full of hope for the future of the comic medium, and now, Moore gives an interview to Wired saying the opportunity was squandered. Nice bookend.

(I haven't read the Salon interview yet.)

I'm not as much of a comics afficionado as some other people, and I wonder how right Moore is. In my limited perspective, I agree with him if you look at comic series; on the other hand, there are examples for graphic novels which do follow up on what's possible. Mostly though, these books seem to avoid genre, i.e. Maus, Persepolis, Barefoot in Hiroshima (if that is the english title), the one about the epileptic brother, ...

V for Vendetta, Watchmen, even From Hell are genre works (as is Sandman and as are probably other works I don't know).

The problem for me as a comic-non-geek is I got my fix with Moore and Gaiman, but books like theirs are too rare, and when I try to follow suggestions (like The Authority), I get disappointed. I mean, I read the Buffy comics and The Boys, but these are only diversions, and The Boys strikes me as the kind of posturing Moore describes: make it violent and full of sex, i.e. go through the motions without really saying anything.

Is this typical of comics, or of mass mediums in general? I mean, there are a *lot* of rubbish books out there, and I have pretty much given up on fantasy novels in particular since George RR Martin and especially China Miéville showed me what most authors don't do. Then again, who reads Miéville? And who reads Stephenie Meyer? Who watches Synechdoche, New York, and who watches 300?

Maybe if the comics market had been ten times the size it was in 1985, the same number of people would still have read Watchmen, only that would have made a much lesser impact?

Stop rambling now.

Anonymous said...

As if I weren't anticipating the Synecdoche DVD enough, also glad that the features that are on the blu ray also made the standard.

And have any of you read The Watchmen lately? As in after you were a teenager? I picked it up last summer from the local library after years of hearing the hype and never finished it - I found it profoundly dull and couldn't care less about any of these characters who are so beloved. Just more fodder for me to continue to be dismissive of comics, all of the great movies "based" on graphic novels more or less throw out their source material or take the few useful bits, for instance, Ghost World was a great movie but the book was a worthless little trifle that exalted the ironic posturing of the characters instead of using it to expose vulnerability. The less said about the book A History of Violence the better.

And I really, really, really do not like this Moore character just as a person. What a double talking mealy mouthed hypocrite, how many checks can you cash while bitching about the lack of respect for intellectual property on behalf of the major studios? Seriously this guy needs a punch in the mouth whether you like his books or not. You know if they have adapted four or five of your works and all of the movies suck maybe the source is part of the problem. I can't trash the almighty Watchmen without being considered a troll, but if you love it, read it again. It will at least feel a whole lot less innovative after anything it may have invented or popularized has become industry standard.

Walter_Chaw said...

Well said.

Dave Gibson said...

Yes, please—re-read Watchmen. It’s damn silly. Silly in a good way, of course. I have all of Moore’s Swamp Things too—did you know the walking bog creature talks like Ralph Waldo Emerson when he’s not mackin’ on the blonde lady and beating up biker gangs?

John Huston made a fine adaptation of Joyce’s The Dead. Cronenberg did Burroughs proud. Tristram Shandy—who’d a thunk it? Let’s have a moratorium on parsing the alleged un-filmable complexity of Watchmen or at least read Tristram Shandy and then use Watchmen and “complex” in a sentence.

Is adapting a novel for the screen simply a matter of stuffing a closetful of clothes into an overnight bag? I mean, thanks for trying to recreate the closet experience and all, but just look at those pants.

Why is Dr. Manhattan not wearing pants?

Um, Zack Snyder’s Watchmen: Great opening tableaux/montage; indefensibly gruesome violence. Agatha Christie style dénouement; lots of smackin’ the ladies around (literally and thematically) and the reappearance of the classic “sissy” villain (he has a Ti-gah! Grrrrr….) .Yeah, Alan Moore is a visionary genius—from 1938. I eagerly await his bold new visions of Charlie Chan and Dondi.

Still, kinda watchable. More tolerable than Bats. Jackie Earl Haley—back without the help of Tarantino, good on ya. Now, push the agent on a juicy “non-irredeemable creep” gig.

What’s with the Bush joke at the closer? That is so 1981 through to earlier this year.

Wolverine is supposed to be short damn you. SHORT. Was that Kitty Pryde? Super awesome. Hey, I do pay money to see these damn things

Alex Jackson said...

No, I actually read the novel just a year or two ago and adored it. I really feel that it deserves the praise it gets.

Maybe you have to still have some rudimentary curiosity about ethics and theology. And not already have all the answers figured out, I guess.

Like how should a superhero behave? What does it mean to do good? Ozymandies is not a villain, right? If you have to kill a million people to save a billion it would be immoral not to kill the million wouldn't it? Or should you do as Night Owl-- distance yourself from playing God and do help humanity just a little bit to add spice and meaning to an otherwise dull existence?

And the God question. A being powerful enough to create the universe would not be able to empathize with humanity, yes?

This is all more than enough for me to chew on.

theoldboy said...

Anon: Alan Moore didn't get any money for the Watchmen adaptation. It all went to Dave Gibbons. And I completely adore Alan Moore. He might have burnt a lot of bridges, but from every interview I've read or seen with him, he seems like a lovely, generous human being. I'm also currently rereading Watchmen, and while I find some of the writing, mainly the stuff that has to do the expositional heavy lifting, a bit more stilted than I remember from reading it for the first time a few years ago, it's still panel-to-panel brilliant for virtually its entire length, and Rorschach and Dr.Manhattan are still sublime, especially Manhattan.

Ian Pugh said...

When all's said and done, screw fidelity, man. I would have certainly welcomed a film that had a new and interesting perspective on the material without constructing straw men--or at least one that gave a shit about its characters, and gave them some reason to interact without falling back on the unseen particulars of the novel like a crutch. Should go without saying, since it's happened so many times before (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Justice League: The New Frontier, f'r instance), but you can't claim an attempt at fidelity when all you've done is taken a pair of scissors to the book... especially when you decide to fill in the thematic gaps with a musical soundtrack that resembles a greatest hits compilation.

And by the same token, that's also why you can't make one major change to the original text--however time-saving it may be--and pretend that everything else can stay the same. (Spoilers.) I couldn't care less about whether Ozymandias' plot involved a space-squid, an atomic bomb or a long-haired dachshund--I do, however, take issue with the fact that the resultant shift of blame turns Dr. Manhattan into a martyr after stripping the character of all of his (former) humanity and most of his effect on mankind. So the subsequent line "perhaps I'll make some [human life]" isn't the terrifying promise from a dismissive, weak-willed logician given impossible powers--this is E.T., telling us to be good. Even then, however, it might have worked if Snyder had something to say about a world where God walks among us. But he takes perverse pleasure in eviscerating/humiliating anyone with less than ten minutes of screen time--and you realize that, just as war only matters when it applies to the Spartans, the presence of an omnipotent being only matters when it applies to the superheroes. You can't expect any writer or director to include all (or, maybe, any) of the minor personalities that gave the original plot that much more humanity, but I'd feel a lot better if these guys didn't treat every single one of them as contemptible cannon fodder to ennoble the masks. One death a tragedy, one million a statistic, right? A director's cut will explain everything, I guess--but what do I do with what I've got right now?

But yeah, A History of Violence is a pretty terrible book. Nothing of value lost in that radical adaptation.

Patrick said...

I also recently read the Watchmen, and while parts of it may sound/read like the kind of pseudo-philosophy the Matrix had, it really does have depth of meaning. Yes, it can be silly, and why not? V for Vendetta, too. I mean, if you don't want silly, then even Persepolis or Maus – a comic about the fricking Holocaust – won't help you. Continue to be dismissive of comics; you don't sound like you could be persuaded otherwise, anyway.

I mean, the fricking hero of the book is a mass murderer or, depending on how you look at it, a clinically insane psychopath, Superman doesn't give a fuck and Batman needs the costume to get a hard-on, and it's not just a gimmick, but actually a reasonable explanation. Was it right to bomb Hiroshima in order to stop the war? Carpet-bomb Dresden? Do you have to be incapable of seeing nuance to do the right thing? Can you be all-powerful and caring?

But I guess people in costumes are just silly. Don't read V for Vendetta, man, it'll kill you, and not in a good way. That guy's costume is silly.

I'm not too partial on Moore, myself, though he does seem to be a generally sweet man protective of his work.

Now, Dave Gibbons I understand (though the "Bush joke" – I assume the "cowboy in the White House" – is from the comic and originally meant to be a Reagan joke, just as it says. So it's not like they invented it, even though they may have left it in the screenplay thanks to Bush).

Patrick said...

Now, Ian I can understand. That makes me think about the right way to adapt a book for the screen. I mean, basically, you can have (from Kreuzer):

1) "documentary" versions of plays where you simply film off the stage

2) "illustration" where you try to be as close to the original as possible (Sin City)

3) "transformations" where you interpret the original and make it your own while still following the basic structure

4) "reworking" when the changes you make to the original content or structure are meant to comment on or distance yourself from the source

5) "source mining" when you simply use the original as a jumping-off point.

Aren't all approaches equally viable, depending on the source material? Number 1 is the least cinematic, and number 5 is the most autonomous approach. Still, they can all work – I still enjoyed Sin City, for example.

I think, however, that with comics people tend to think an illustrative adaptation is simple and the best approach, when it isn't, necessarily. Just filming the panels is not the same as reading them. Also, a director's foremost task should be to make a great movie with all the strengths and weaknesses of that form, and for that, he needs to make the source material his own. So maybe the adaptive approaches do have a hierarchy?

DaveA said...

Watchmen opening credits:

http://content.motionographer.com/Watchmen_MT_H.264.mov

Dan said...

You can't win with the fidelity argument. If Watchmen had been updated to modern-times (as Greengrass planned) and only took its cues from the book, there would have been a major backlash from disappointed fans that they "didn't just stick to the fuckin' book, that everyone loved."

And Alan Moore, unlike many people in similar positions, DOESN'T make any money from adaptations of his work now. I actually respect him for having the balls to lose that massive revenue, although I do wish he'd sit down and give V For Vendetta and Watchmen a chance -- both aren't terrible. It's just that From Hell and League were abominations compared to the source material. Incidentally, From Hell really WOULD make an awesome mini-series, and justify that completely.

theoldboy said...

Dammit DaveA. I haven't seen the movie yet and I couldn't resist your temptation, you evil, saucy manvixen.

Good sequence, though. Not quite as amazing as I was expecting, but perhaps it works better with a bigger view of it.

Anonymous said...

Oldboy, the key word is THIS adaptation. He got 3 million dollars in the 80s for one that never surfaced.

A History of Violence's third act that's completely not in the movie is just so atrocious. It was painful to finish the book and to look at it and see it claim any connection to Cronenberg's masterpiece.

Maybe I'll bother to finish The Watchmen but it definitely didn't do anything to turn my fundamental dislike of superhero comics on its head, and I guess I'm so decidedly an atheist that I really don't have any curiosity about theology. And weren't those ethical questions the basis of every comic superhero story ever, even decades before Watchmen. I think it's impossible to make a *bad* adaptation of a *great* work. It's possible to do bad to a good work, but not a great one. Can anybody think of one - one that didn't deviate that far from its source? Sounds like we have another Moore adaptation stinker.

Alex Jackson said...

And weren't those ethical questions the basis of every comic superhero story ever, even decades before Watchmen.

I'm hardly an expert on this sort of thing, but no. I don't believe they were.

What's behind your dislike of superhero comics anyway?

theoldboy said...

Anon: But he hadn't yet developed his distaste for Hollywood in the 80's. He didn't start with that until Hollywood actually adapted some of his work and completely butchered it, for example turning From Hell from a rich, dense, fastidious, disturbing dissection of Victorian England into a fucking murder mystery, i.e. precisely what it wasn't supposed to be. Then they turned the breezy, funny, brilliant League of Extraordinary Gentlemen into Dyspeptic CGI Retardation With James Bond, and V for Vendetta into Ayn Rand For People Wearing Che Shirts.

theoldboy said...

And the History of Violence comic is a wooden, soulless, nasty thing best forgotten about. I can't believe I still have a copy of it.

Anonymous said...

Ozymandies is not a villain, right? If you have to kill a million people to save a billion it would be immoral not to kill the million wouldn't it?

It's always been my opinion that Ozymandias was, under the surface, a clear-cut villain, the well-intentioned extremist that play so well in so-called ambiguous works. Veidt's key moment to me is when he witnesses the carnage he has wrought and stands up and shouts "I DID IT!" in triumph. I don't know how it would have played in 1985, but in 2008 we know that 1) the Cold War ends without the US and USSR finding a common enemy, and 2) a devastating attack on New York, which provided at least a large portion of the world with a common enemy, did not make allied nations more peaceful and amenable with each other. Yeah, yeah, different worlds, different situations and so on, but Veidt's utopia looks very precarious, especially with that final scene. Is Veidt smart enough to maintain his fragile peace? I don't think so, at least not in the book; maybe in the movie. If he is smart enough, was blowing up New York really the only way to achieve peace?

Personally, I read Ozymandias as Moore's devastating takedown of comic book logic -- when the tool in your toolbox is a hammer every problem etc., etc. Superheroes solve problems by beating people up. Ozymandias has identified the problem as humanity, and he delivers it an epic beatdown.

--Kim

Anonymous said...

My dislike of superhero comics is mostly rooted in how ridiculous they look and act, part of it is the costuming. Even in The Dark Knight I think, "If I'm making this movie he doesn't wear a cape at all."

Either way, this movie is a flaming piece of turd. More Hack Snyder idiocy filled with severed limbs and bones breaking, not to mention his weird adolescent desire to remake his favorite movie Sin City. This guy is so lost shooting action it's horrendous. Poor Jackie Earle Haley trying to save this disaster.

That ending, my God, how awful, i hear in the book they drop a giant fucking squid in the ocean so I guess it's an improvement?

Oh well, I got dragged to it once. Friends weren't gonna let me off the hook after I trashed what I read of the book for being boring and slow, now there's a boring and slow movie too. Incompetent to boot.

Alex Jackson said...

Personally, I read Ozymandias as Moore's devastating takedown of comic book logic -- when the tool in your toolbox is a hammer every problem etc., etc. Superheroes solve problems by beating people up. Ozymandias has identified the problem as humanity, and he delivers it an epic beatdown.

Great point. That helps me view the book with some kind of overarching absolute moral perspective.

Ozymandias is a superhero and as such he is susceptible to Moore's critique of superheroes as a whole. If we view him as a villain, it would make Rorschach the hero as he is the only one who holds him accountable for his actions. And of course, Rorschach can't legitimately be thought of as the novel's moral anchor.

Erin said...

Awesome about the Synecdoche conversation, Walter! I can't wait to see it!

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Mr. Chaw. By the way, any thoughts on The People vs George Lucas?

permazorch said...

(They turned) V for Vendetta into Ayn Rand For People Wearing Che Shirts.

theoldboy kicks ass again! I believe you nailed it.
Incredibly sad (for me), as I loved V for Vendetta, and consider it succinctly better than the source material. Though I've never owned a Che t-shirt (and I'm repulsed by Randian jive), theoldboy gets the essence right, unlike Z. Snyder.
Walter Chaw does it right, 100%.
Even worse, I think I'm the oldest geek, here.

theoldboy said...

I actually sort of liked Watchmen. Besides the violence, which suggests that Z.Snyder is a closet sociopath, the first hour and a half is kind of great. It botches the landing, though, and W.Chaw's review is completely accurate, even if for a while Dr.Manhattan's take on Watchmen actually floats my boat. It might have been made by someone who is eternally 15 years old, but at least that 15 year old is a little precocious. I might see it again while it's out, just to relive the first hour and that zoomout from the Mars smiley as Jimi's Watchtower kicks in, the latter despite its obviousness pretty much summing up Watchmen in either form for me.

Bill C said...

Well spank my ass and call me Judy: I liked WATCHMEN. It's not an intellectually dazzling adaptation, but it's a deeply felt one that captures the basic aftertaste of the graphic novel. Certainly those opening credits bought a lot of goodwill from me (I wasn't expecting to be near tears by the end of them), but I dunno: I felt fucked good and put away wet by the time it was over. And this may be going way, way out on a limb, but I thought Malin Akerman was splendid casting. Laurie really is that hollow on the page, the kind of stylish brat who drifted through countless tony '80s movies. All that's missing is the shoulder pads.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I liked the movie too, and weirdly enough I agree with every word of Chaw's review. The criticism that Snyder hears the lyrics but not the music is spot-on, and Snyder clearly really loves the lyrics and the lyrics were strong enough to get me by.

--Kim

Patrick said...

I thought Laurie in the comic was a little stronger, but as sort of the least fucked-up of all of them, it's also the once character I didn't have great expectations of.

Also, I'm glad someone else here liked the film.

Anonymous said...

The biggest problem with Watchmen the movie is that it will always be compared to Watchmen the graphic novel. Though this comparison is expected, it isn't really a fair one. I try to never make the comparison between a movie and its source material, they are different mediums and often are trying to do different things. Watchmen the movie was really fucking good. Yes, it's not as ironic or complex as Watchmen the graphic novel, but if it wasn't for the Dark Knight, this movie would be credited for the first great take of a superhero movie (and I don't count Superman Returns, one of the most dull movies in years).

This is not to say that Watchmen the movie is perfect. Some of the slow-mo was excessive and out of place, Akerman was AWFUL, and at times I thought I was watching an adaptation of a Frank Miller comic due to the absurdly graphic violence. But, considering my low expectations and the abundance of Schoonmaker Juice, I was surprisingly blown away.

-Genericcactus

Alex Jackson said...

The criticism that Snyder hears the lyrics but not the music is spot-on, and Snyder clearly really loves the lyrics and the lyrics were strong enough to get me by.

Yeah...

Snyder has yet to make a film I didn't like. I liked 300 actually, it can be appreciated simultaneously ironically and sincerely. I have to admit that it is exactly what you're worried a Zack Snyder Watchmen adaptation is going to be like. It fits all those preconceptions to a tee.

I wouldn't say it's too much Dr. Manhattan as much as it's too much Comedian. It's not tone deaf as much as simply tasteless.

But yeah, I still get excited by this material. I found myself looking more at the relationships between the varying ideologies as embodied by the superheroes. The people I went with liked Rorschach the most and thought the Comedian was a monster. I thought this was curious as the two characters share the same basic worldview. And Rorschach seems to adore the Comedian more than any of his peers.

I think what the film might ultimately prove is that egoism is far less attractive than brutality. The only sense in which Rorschach has ego is that he wants criminals to fear him and he wants to be the one to punish them. He doesn't take care of himself, he's suicidal, he willingly allows Dr. Manhattan to execute him rather than compromise his principles. It's OK to be sadistic and it's OK to be without compassion if it is in the selfless act of killing off criminals.

Ozymandias wasn't met with quite the same repulsion as the Comedian. Part of it may simply that he has a concrete (possibly warped) code of ethical behavior. He's extremely arrogant, the egoism of Rorschach appointing himself the Watchman of humanity taken to the nth degree. But because he is a moral person, he is still more humble than the Comedian who does whatever he wants simply because he gets pleasure out of it.

Anonymous said...

So a rorschach test for the audience then, Alex_Jackson?

Ryan said...

Walter, awesome job on the Synecdoche featurette; a lot of really edifying stuff from everyone involved. Although that chick's glasses became pretty distracting by the end.

Alex Jackson said...

Wow. You guys read the French Connection review. This is pretty unbelievable.

DVD

Blu-Ray

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