Monthly Archives: January 2010

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

I’ve held off on posting a review of Watchmen because I’d been hoping to see the movie first, which is available on HBO On Demand right now, but the Writer wants to see it too and our schedules have prevented us from finding the couple hours necessary.

The main reason I want to see the movie is to see how they handled some pretty unlikable characters – The Comedian is a US army shill who tried to rape a fellow hero, Rorschach has the morality of Scott Roeder – able to justify vicious crimes by his uncompromising sense of morality, Doctor Manhattan has all but lost his humanity.  I appreciated the sensitivity with which Silk Spectre’s affair with Nite Owl II was handled – while not middle-aged myself, I enjoy seeing a love story between adults who have pasts.  I’m not sure if I was supposed to see Nite Owl as slightly pathetic – he really did look owlish, and not particularly heroic, in costume.

The other element that would seem difficult to translate to the screen is the layering, not only of each character’s arcs and flashbacks to earlier days of glory, as well as faux documents interleaved into the books, but also the framing and commentary provided by the pirate comic books being read by a young man sitting at a news stall.  It’s occasionally a bit too on the nose, using “voiceover” in the pirate story to comment quite directly on the moral quandaries facing would-be heroes.

Ultimately, I am glad I read Watchmen, but I’m not sure I was entertained by it.  The lack of sympathetic characters, the unrelenting negativity (it’s a Cold War work, focusing on Russians, the bomb, the economy, gang violence) – I enjoyed looking for all the literary allusions (the Gordian Knot lock company and so on) and was repaid with them being significant to the plot, but I really just wanted a happy ending.

Advertisements

The Passive-Aggressive Conductor

We’ve all had him and today on the N, he was especially peevish.  From 34th Street to 14th – five times, and from 14th to Canal – 9 times, we heard: “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not hold car doors open while the train is in the station.”  And then one rendition of “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not block the doors while the train is in the station.”  I guess someone at 34th held a door for the 4,000th time and the conductor just cracked.  Luckily, fourteen or fifteen repetitions was enough, and we continued on to Atlantic in peace.

The Collector by John Fowles

Frederick Clegg is a shy and awkward man raised by aunts, a collector of butterflies and a forefather of Buffalo Bill (of Silence of the Lambs) and countless other twisted men whose heads novelists put us inside.  Frederick’s interest in young Miranda is harmless until he wins a major lottery prize and decides to collect this beautiful specimen.  His justifications are almost sympathetic – he knows she would never notice him otherwise.  Frederick’s fantasy is not primarily sexual either, his greatest fantasy is that Miranda will come to love him.  However, as Miranda repeatedly attempts escape, he comes to despair of this scenario and instead forces her to pose for salacious photos.  Just as their conflict is building to a head, however, the narrative re-starts, now through the lens of the diary Miranda keeps during her captivity.

Fowles masterfully manipulates his readers – even as you know how this scenario must turn out, you are lulled by the descriptions of Miranda’s attempts to civilize Frederick (who tells her his name is Ferdinand, but whom she calls Caliban).  She believes that if she can find some kernel of fellow feeling in him, she can convince him to let her go.  This is not merely a conflict between a deeply damaged man and a smart young woman; Fowles makes quite clear it’s also a conflict between bourgeois middle-class desires to control, and thus deaden, the world and idealism, hope and most of all art.  The novel was published in 1963, and certainly reflects conflicts of that era, but I kept thinking it was from the 1920s, mostly because the blatant class consciousness was so alien to me.  While belief in the transcendant power of art feels a little dated now, the psychology of The Collector holds up well, and in eschewing the  stomach-churning acts of The Silence of the Lambs, permits a sickening degree of identification with and understanding of Frederick.

What’s Next?

Over the holidays, reading Byron in Love confirmed that I shouldn’t pick my own books.  It was highly recommended in a review I can’t find now.  All the ones Google pulls up confirm my assessment that it’s deeply unbalanced, providing way too little of Byron’s literary merits or even the non-sexual components of his relationships to flesh out the catalog of sexual perversity.

Santa, on the other hand, enabled me in my favorite rut, stuffing Edvard Radzinsky’s The Rasputin File in my stocking.  Odd reading on a Belizean beach, but deeply satisfying and it provides an intriguing reinterpretation of Rasputin’s murder.  The only thing I would have added would be more photos and reproductions of contemporary photos and news stories, since the contemporary publicity of Rasputin’s exploits was a significant factor in undermining the Russian people’s faith in their rulers and helped open them to the idea of Communist revolution.

Yesterday, I finished The Collector on the way to work, but everyone on the N Train was on a Blackberry or PSP, so it wasn’t until the ride home I was able to find a new book.  The first person I sat next to was a woman about my age with a huge book spread open on her knees.  I sighed a bit, since the long ones slow down my posting schedule, but a glance at the top of the page showed it to be Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth!  Saved, I turned to The New Yorker (highly recommend last week’s review of a book arguing van Gogh didn’t cut off his own ear) and forgot to look for a new book until I’d switched to the R in Brooklyn, where a scruffy guy had a bright yellow book in hand.  It turned out to be The Watchmen graphic novel, with the bleeding smiley cover obviating the need to see the title.  The Writer happens to own the original printing of the comics in book form (as well as the original comics, but I wouldn’t dream of touching those), so for once, no need to wait on the NYPL.