Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Watchmen: the movie - update

Further to Watchmen: the movie, time for graphic novel enthusiasts to start looking at cinema schedules: Watchmen just had its premiere screening, and initial reviews are good. 1 The MetaFilter post links to a couple of interesting Wired magazine interviews with the graphic novel's creators. Artist Dave Gibbons' Gut Feelings on the Watchmen Movie explores an artist's reaction to seeing his 2D work expanded into a realistic medium, and Legendary Comics Writer Alan Moore on Superheroes, The League, and Making Magic explores various themes from his work (Moore, following past unsatisfactory dealings with Hollywood, has dissociated himself from the film).

Moore and O'Neill's forthcoming The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol III) (previewed here) looks worth checking out: moving on 12 years from Vol II, which retold The War of the Worlds, its setting is the early 20th century of The Threepenny Opera

Because—as ever with the League—we tend to base the adventures upon the fictional landscape that was around at that particular time. Since this is set in 1910, we found the idea of bringing in Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill irresistible. So I've rewritten the libretto for a number of the more gutsy and dark and powerful and sardonic Kurt Weill numbers. There's a new "Mack the Knife," a new "Pirate Jenny," a new "MacHeath's Plea From the Gallows," a new "What Keeps Mankind Alive."

The third part of the Moore interview is especially interesting for his exposition of what the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen mythos is attempting to achieve

Moore: ... I suppose we're attempting to come up with a kind of unified field theory of culture that actually links up all of these various works, whether they're high culture or low culture or no culture.

Wired: How do you position yourself on the continuum from homage to parody to commentary? If you're engaging with all of these other texts to try to do what they did, to talk about what they did?

Moore: ... It's a matter of tying these things in. Sometimes they are lesser-known works that we think should be better known, and we're including them in the hope that people might actually go out and pick up the original books. Sometimes we have characters who are greatly revered that we feel are perhaps too revered, and we would like to give a more accurate picture of them ... So, yes, it is a big literary game, but it is one that lets us touch upon a surprising amount of stuff that's in some way relevant to the contemporary world

Moore goes on to give examples from The Black Dossier' (the interim volume) of its deconstruction of various characters and literary relationships: the sadism and misogyny of James Bond (who appears in TBD as a brutal womanizer called "Jimmy"); the literary interconnections of the spy Kim Philby (nicknamed after Kipling's Kim and, as a friend of Graham Greene, quite possibly a model for The Third Man, Harry Lime); and the hostility between George Orwell and "Frank Richards" 2 over Billy Bunter books (see Orwell's essay, Boys' Weeklies, and Richards' reply - which is fairly embarrassing. Taken to task for depicting foreigners as figures of fun, Richards' reply is "I must shock Mr Orwell by telling him that foreigners are funny: they lack the sense of humour which is the special gift of our own chosen nation...").

A literary game maybe, but one that takes the reader down such intriguing byways is worth playing. For more on the mythos, see Jess Nevins' Black Dossier Annotations. While it obviously needs reading in juxtaposition with the graphic novel, it is quite readable in itself (a set of footnotes that have a life of their own) for the tasters and followable references to historical miscellanea and little-known works of fiction.

1. And if you want local interest, I didn't realise that Matthew Goode, who plays Ozymandias, is from Exeter (see City actor's sci-fi blockbuster role); he's the son of Jenny Goode, director of the Exeter Gilbert & Sullivan society St David's Players.
2. "Frank Richards" was the pseudonym of the fairly enigmatic author Charles Harold St John Hamilton (1876–1961), who is probably the most prolific English language writer of all time, having written "the equivalent of nearly a thousand full-length novels" (ODNB). Certainly this beats the 904 books of Mary Faulkner: see league table. See Billy Bunter and 'The Magnet' by Bill Nagelkerke for an analysis of the Bunter mythos in relation to the rather complex peronsality of its author.


1 comment:

  1. There is a deliciously nasty review of the movie in the current (Mar 9, 2009) issue of The New Yorker. Small sample:

    "Last and hugest is Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup), who is buff, buck naked, and blue, like a porn star left overnight in a meat locker."

    (For the essence of the review, skip to the next to last paragraph of the linked piece.)

    Before reading Ray's post, I knew absolutely nothing about the Watchmen, but I have enjoyed it -- and the slice-and-dice review. Good writing, both.