Tuesday, March 28, 2006

V too, Schneider

I reread Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta for the dozenth time last week, and was as before both dazzled and disappointed. Dazzled by the richness of the world evoked, and the way Moore plays against (stereo)type in casting his hero; disappointed by the slack predictability of the ending, and the fact that V’s world ends not with a bang, but a whimper (No. 10 Downing St. notwithstanding). I shouldn't be surprised, of course, as superhero fiction seems to be, almost by definition, more about premise than conclusion. But still — if V exists as a practical criticism of English nationalism and the fascistic undercurrents it harbors, its “rip it up and start again” solution seems, well, depressingly glib.

But hey, it’s just a comic, right?

Besides, whatever problems I have with the comic are nothing compared to the problems I expect from the film. Not to pre-judge the thing, but the ads alone remind me of what it is I find so tedious about film versions of comics: The fight scenes.

In David Lloyd’s rendering, the fights are brief and decisive. When V goes to Westminster Abbey to attack Bishop Lilliman, his battle with the guards takes only a single page, and half is mere set-up. In the first frame, we see the startled face of a guard. In the next, we see V, running low, headed for the gate. The third frame echoes the first, giving us V’s implacable mask. Then, a picture from near ground level, with V’s running legs in the foreground while, not far in the background, the guards reach for their sidearms. Then a frame showing an automatic pistol being drawn, followed by an image of V, knives out and running. Next, one hand dropping a pistol. A different hand thrown up, its pistol flying free. Then, finally, the bodies of the guards on the pavement, as V’s cape trails out of sight.

If you ignore the text – which is Lilliman praying, the words placed for ironic affect — the page takes mere seconds to convey its information. It’s fast and brutal and conveys the ferocity of the attack, but because operates mainly through speed and suggestion, it neither lingers on nor wallows in the violence of V’s foray.

Judging from the ads, the cinematic V for Vengeance not only plays out the fights in real time, but fetishizes the inhuman speed and agility with which V dispatches his foes. Of course, that’s to be expected from the guys who gave us The Matrix, but the film not only glorifies the violence (by turning it into a sort of hyper-athletic spectator sport) but encourages the viewers to root for V.

Thing is, I’m not sure that rooting for V is what the story demands. Ultimately, V himself is a cipher – that’s part of the reason the ending works the way it does, with Evie imagining various faces underneath the mask — and one whose moral stature is, high-flown talk aside, deliberately ambiguous. Like Delia Surrage, the former Larkhill Prison doctor, we’re caught by his charisma and fascinated by what he can do, but those who end up admiring him probably aren’t getting the point of Moore’s story.

All of which makes it easy for me to understand why Moore would have insisted his name not be associated with the movie. There are some stories that remain best told in non-moving pictures, and V For Vendetta is one.

jesus god dale, why did you have to go and hide in canada for
my point is, you wouldn't know REAL music if it came and bit you in the ass.
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