And I may throw in another word or two about “Superman Returns”, too.
But for now…
Well, it looks marvellous, but what the hell is it? I really haven’t been sure for some time now that Frank Miller’s vaunted noirishness isn’t just a sort of collage, that works very well sometimes and verges on the ridiculous at others…but seeing this movie wasn’t at all an encounter with the parts of Frank I don’t care for, and a realization that I don’t like them much. Instead it was an adventure into the hilarious collapse of Millerian tics and tricks, that may have made me like him a bit less, but absolutely made me love him a lot more.
Let me explain: Sin City is a musical.
Seriously, it’s a musical. Notwithstanding the absence of any singing and dancing, no other form of film fits with what’s on display here; strip “Siddown You’re Rocking The Boat” out of it, and replace the goofy pastels with the strict hypercolour, and what you’ve got more than anything is the queerest of all possible knuckleball homages to Guys And Dolls, that is capable of being imagined — because only musicals indulge in this sort of massive jamming-up of a million exaggerated story motifs, that exposes their intrinsic over-the-top silliness. Really, consider the environment of Sin City: I almost laughed my head off when the Discover card was mentioned, it was so thoroughly sour a note…nothing here signifies anything greater than a swirling colour on a soap bubble, the whole thing patently fails to exist in any meaningful way at all, so…people have Discover cards? I’m sorry, I just don’t believe it. Silly? The silliness on display here is awesome. Even the aggressively non-black-and-white black-and-white-ness signals that it’s all just a dream, and the sex stuff, Good Lord the fabulously stunted SEX STUFF…
Heh. “Stuff”. Oh yes, this is a boy’s club, no question about it. But so what? So we get a collision of Quentin Tarantino and Frank Miller, so what’s the problem? Partly due to the “musical” mashing-up, and partly due to the schlockiness of the exercise, and partly — it’s a thought I’ll return to in a future post — due to the replacement of fairly anonymous drawn figures with fairly specific-to-individual lit faces, Sin City sends itself up so raucously that you can’t help cheering it on. At a certain point the whole thing’s a lot like watching MST3K cover a slasher movie you really like…oh, the evil priests and politicians, oh the noble sacrifices, oh the pointless “survivors”, holy cow what a medley of cliche it all is! But noir, it ain’t. Because everyone here is an innocent, and no one here is an adult, and goddamnit if Sin City’s about anything, for heaven’s sake you know it isn’t…I mean, don’t look for meaning in the armed vixens of the Prostitute’s Sector, you know? You won’t find it, and besides you’ll look ridiculous by seeming to think it’s there. Don’t mistake the dance numbers for the exposition, is what I’m saying, because this whole thing’s a lot more Rocky Horror than it is Red Harvest, and if you don’t know that going in…
Well, that’s one thing. But if you still don’t know it when you’re coming out, then it’s entirely possible that you may not love Frank Miller’s bullshit as much as I do, and it is bullshit, in fact it’s utter bullshit…!
But it’s magnificent bullshit, too, that’s the thing. That’s what I love about it. It is absurdly singleminded play-acting, with a punch-in-the-face clear aesthetic backing it up, and if it were not so absolutely brilliant it would be absolutely awful…but then again if it were not so absolutely awful, it wouldn’t be so absolutely brilliant. A musical? Oh, definitely, a musical comedy to be sure; but edgy, which is where the brilliant failure comes in, because Sin City is such a harmless piece of fluff trying, and failing, to make itself look so threatening and portentous, that it has to make you smile. Because it is just so damn cute, when it tries to do that! Adorable little vapid thing, you’d have to be an ogre to dislike it.
I expected to dislike it.
Instead, I found it absolutely fascinating.
And I seriously may have to re-read ASBAR now. I’m telling you.
But first, I may have to re-watch Superman Returns, because I’m pretty sure it’s sort of the anti-Sin City. No, not the anti-Batman Begins, the anti-Sin City! Because everything so stupendously not-to-be-believed S*E*R*I*O*U*S about Sin City is executed just as moronically in Superman Returns — the smugly-clinging false poignancy, the dopey sacrifices, the patronizing tone — yes, they both go desperately wrong from the very first decision…
But Sin City’s great at wearing its incoherent genre-retardation on its sleeve, and Superman Returns isn’t, and I’ll tell you why. Because Superman Returns didn’t have the guts to be a comedy, and it didn’t have the guts to be a musical. As either of these, it could’ve worked — but it chose another kind of self-consciousness, and so it blew itself up. Who believes that Superman Returns was a story that needed to be told? No one, I hope, because it wasn’t; there are probably even people out there who loved Steven Spielberg’s Hook (I haven’t checked lately, but I’m sure there are), who felt vaguely insulted by SR’s aphasic yuppie-pomo young-adult nostalgioporn. And like Sin City — like Hook — SR was not really about anything, or at least not about anything that the viewer didn’t drag into the theatre along with him, but the difference is that where Hook of necessity had few illusions about what its own reflexive structure was in service to, and Sin City waded into its illusions with such great and perverse gusto that it inevitably attracted a kind of forgiveness for insisting on having them in the first place, Superman Returns lacked both conviction, and something to have a conviction about. Hook was not, I think, a very smart movie…but without question it was an intelligent one, and since that intelligence was the only thing it was really trying to achieve, it sufficed. Sin City, by contrast, wasn’t very intelligent at all…but, it was smart enough to get the job done, when it counted. SR, though, failed so terribly not because it lacked these qualities, but because it couldn’t figure out how to use them to compensate for its shortcomings; unable to manage complexity (and it should probably never have tried for such a species of complexity in the first place), it didn’t have much simplicity to fall back on, either. “Superman Leaves” would have been a much better movie, either way…but of course that was the very first decision, and it was dead wrong, and Superman never recovered from wanting to be something other than Superman.
Sin City makes the same kind of initial mistake, of course. If there was ever a more misguided idea for a comic-book movie, I’m not sure I’ve heard of it.
Then you’ve got all this zany distorted Guys And Dolls energy surging through it, and somehow it triumphs. Because somehow, improbably, it manages to recognize itself for exactly what it is. So bravo, Frank, you nutcase! And so sorry, Superman. Because it really was a shame that you turned out like you did.
Poor, poor Superman.