Tuesday, April 05, 2005

On Friday Jim D e-mailed me before I'd finished my third cup of coffee to tell me he was headed in to see Sin City. Apparently he was stranded in Houston. Long story.

He called me after exiting the theater, gave me a nickel review, we talked a bit about the flick and then it was time to say adios (it being a work day).

Saturday Jamie and I overcame some minor obstacles in order to go and catch the flick. I was a few feet from Jamie in the parking lot when I remembered a plot point from "The Long Goodbye", and suddenly it occured to me, "Hey, you might not like this movie."

"Why's that?"
"It's, uh... It's going to be really violent."
"I know," she nodded. "I picked up some of your comics."
That's the kind of dame I married. The sort of dame who is going to shrug off a bit of squeamishness in order to check out something new and different and that I might have been ranting about for eight months.

Review are in for Sin City, and most of them are only semi-positive. I guess that's to be expected. Opening weekend receipts were good, but are expected to drop-off once the eager fanboys wander off.

I'd suggest reading Peter Sanderson's comments upon the reviews of Sin City. It stirs up a lot of what I was thinking in both reading the reviews and then heading to the cinema.
Thanks to The Beat for posting the link.

In my head, I do keep some boundaries regarding genre, but I have come to recognize many of the rules which dictate genre are more or less useless if you want to ever take a medium seriously. They also rely far too much on specifics of visual detail and too little on story telling.

An easy example: Star Wars is, despite the star ships, etc... not really a sci-fi movie as scientific principles are completely not the focus of the story. Instead, Star Wars is a fantasy movie using trappings of the sci-fi genre such as laser pistols and robots. Just as last year's I, Robot was not as much a sci-fi movie as much as a police procedural/ cop actioner (vs. the Asimov books which are some of the purest sci-fi around).

It had always sort of puzzled me why folks were so quick to hang "film noir" on the Sin City comics. Yes, the images were black and white, and people sort of grumbled about the city being a lousy place to be, but these were tools lifted from noir. However, in watching films like Laura, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Combo, or The Killers, one wasn't going to see a lot of similarities. Sin City is razor sharp, rat-a-tat action with beheadings and cannibals. I think Laura has three gun shots occur during the course of the entire movie, but it's mostly people standing around talking. The lack of color was most assuredly a budgetary concern in most of these films, and one can hardly place the course of events in The Maltese Falcon in the same realm as those in Marv's Story from Sin City (The Hard Goodbye).

The Sin City comics are inked in stark black and white, punctuated occasionally with color (see That Yellow Bastard), a fantastic choice to bring mood to a world of eternal night and a moral spectrum completely comprised of grays. But with Marv punching his way through doorways and Dwight jumping off of window ledges, I wasn't quite finding the glove-perfect fit I was looking for. The original films dubbed as "Film Noir" were usually talky films done on a budget. What they couldn't do in money, they made up for in topsy-turvey plots and a cast of outlandish characters. For whatever reason, I saw Sin City as strictly nitrous fueled pulp tales/ crime stories using elements of noir.

But I've decided I was wrong.

What makes these movies/ comics/ book fall within the same realm is not so much the specific visual cues and elements, because you could, theoretically make a noir take place in broad day light and in color (see 1984's Blood Simple). Sure, Frank added his usual touches that bespeak Frank's fingerprints on a story, but he's kept the essence of the genre (if that's what you want to call it) completely unadulterated and intact.

So I'm still not sure what makes the film noir genre. I guess my criteria is that the story has to be about characters who have more or less given up on their life or are more or less ambivalent getting pulled in to a situation which is a) bigger than them, and b)is going to give them one last chance at redemption. Sometimes that thing is a bag of money (but usually it's what the money can buy them), more often, that thing is a girl.

And if Sin City manages to do one thing, it manages to pull off the two criteria above with aplomb.

But, as I say, I don't care too much for blocking things off into genre.

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