Amoeblog

Having A Movie Moment With Jon Longhi: Thor Ragnarok & The Outer Limits

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, May 27, 2018 06:51pm | Post a Comment

Having A Movie Moment

By Jon Longhi

Welcome to this month’s Having A Movie Moment with Jon Longhi, where I review recent Blu-ray releases. Both of these Blu-rays came out in the past three months.

Thor Ragnarok, Marvel Studios:
What a great movie! It's pure entertainment of the type that Marvel excels at. This movie works on manyThor Ragnarok levels; it's great science fiction, action, drama, and even comedy all simultaneously. It's got a great story, good acting and pacing, and wonderful sets, costumes, and special effects. Like every recent Marvel movie, the story feeds into the Avengers: Infinity War plot line, but it also succeeds quite well on its own. My daughter and I have been watching all the Marvel shows and movies and know how every related plot thread connects together, but my wife hasn't watched any of that stuff and she enjoyed this movie just as much as me when we watched it together. That's quite a feat, because the Marvel universe has gotten really complicated these days, so it takes great skill to make a new Marvel movie that doesn't need a guidebook for one to understand it.

This is the third Thor movie but it is almost equally a sequel and a prequel to the recent Avengers movies. It picks up with Thor wandering the universe performing his usual godlike deeds of heroism and searching for the Infinity Stones. He is imprisoned by the fire demon Surtur who tells him that his father Odin is no longer in his celestial home of Asgard and that the realm of the gods itself will soon be destroyed in a cosmic armaggedon known as Ragnarok. After dispatching Surtur and a really cool dragon, Thor returns home to find that his evil brother, Loki, has stolen the throne by disguising himself as Odin. After exposing Loki, Thor takes him to earth where they locate Odin with the help of Doctor Strange. Odin is dying, and his death releases his first born daughter, Hela, who destroys Thor's hammer, conquers Asgard, and casts Thor and Loki off into space. They land on a junkyard planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum who forces Thor to fight the Incredible Hulk in an area. Do Thor, the Hulk, and Loki escape? Is Asgard saved? I'm not going to give away any more spoilers, but let's just say that answering these two questions is tons of fun and pure Marvel entertainment.

Continue reading...

Only Superman Forgives: Man of Steel (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 1, 2013 12:50pm | Post a Comment

I was recently working my way through Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and it struck me how explicit the reference to the destruction of New York was made during the proceeding alien invasion storyline. Sue Storm (the super-mom of the group) demands that her fellow heroes move the battle with the invading Kree from the city's skyline to the ocean (why the ruler of the oceans, Prince Namor, has no problem with this is, I guess, because he's all googly eyed over Sue). And after the battle, the superheroes are shown helping rebuild the damaged city. This kind of real world destruction was so unimportant to superhero comics in the past that it became a central joke for a miniseries made back in the 80s called Damage Control about who actually does all the cleaning up. That's what the terrorists did to us, made it impossible to imagine a fantasy where real people aren't being hurt by collateral fallout from cataclysmic battles between superpowered beings.

Contrariwise, Slavoj Zizek has suggested 9/11 was a soporific, that it placed us in slumberland where American fantasies could take hold once again ("virtualization," he called it). The terrorists gave us real nefarious villains to which we could be safely opposed. The prominent media reaction, as he took it, like that of the typical superhero narrative, dehistoricized the attacks, setting them in the perpetual present of an endless comic book (or Hollywoodian virtual) world, where the action becomes one of pure villainy for villainy's sake, motivated by nothing but pure evil ("they hate our freedom," etc.). As Dan Hassler-Forest puts it in his book, Capitalist Superheroes:

Rather than experiencing the attacks as a sudden resurgence of the Real in an environment that had become increasingly virtual, reality instead came to be defined on the basis of fictional tropes. [p. 28]

And, as he points out, this view is rooted in an approach to postmodernity that many of its theorists share with Zizek, such as Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson and Jean Baudrillard. That is: 

[P]ostmodern (popular) culture serves first and foremost to sever the public's active connection with history by offering up continuous representations of events that are deliberately made unhistorical. [p. 33]

Despite referencing so many dialectical thinkers, Hassler-Forest applies only a half-assed dialectic approach to the modern superhero film. To him, the the genre only replaces the realistic structural problems with a fantasy of a subjective solution:

Superman is again a case in point, seemingly embodying utopian ideals of a better future for all mankind, while most Superman narratives fail to engage on any level with social or political realities. Instead, Superman and most other superheroes tend to fight the symptoms of crime and injustice while ignoring the causes. [p. 40]

Note that there's no contamination of the fantasy by reality (no "return of the repressed" as Robin Wood used to say of horror films). Despite how much Hassler-Forest emphasizes the importance of 9/11, he basically views it as having little effect on the explicit content of the superhero narrative. It becomes just another part of the Real that needs to be suppressed for the fantasy to function properly. As always, the genre's relation to reality is seen as a one-way street: the dream replaces reality. Hapless victims begin to see the world in superheroic terms, but never the genre on reality's terms -- pure escapism by reshaping historical reality. In other words:

For the superheroes depicted on the page or on the screen provide fantasies that offer the illusion of momentary escape from the powerless nature of the modern subject, but do so in ways that are deined by their fundamental removal from historical reality, and in forms that are grounded in capitalist processes of passive consumerism. [p. 42]

But isn't the current crop of superhero films more complicated than that? If these superpowered fantasies are dreamlike, they're more along the lines of lucid dreaming. The audience continues to walk around in the fantasy, enjoy the escape, but is constantly reminded of reality, namely that they are currently dreaming. Although many saw 9/11 as something along the lines of a Hollywood spectacle, there's also the fact that the spectacle is reflecting reality, bringing into question the hermetic virtuality of the fantasy that the above quoted commentary assumes.

[spoilers follow]

Consider the controversy over the new, more violent Superman in Zac Snyder's Man of Steel. Responding to an article on how producer and co-storyline creator Christopher Nolan disagreed with the finale that has Superman having to make a forced choice to kill General Zod, a commenter posed the following questions:

Why would you make a Superman movie where the villain ended up being right and the heroes ended up being wrong? Not only that but why would you make a Superman movie where earth would have been better off if Superman had never came here?

Those are the right ones to ask, I think. So, when a fanboy is quite clear on the film's subtext, where's the repression or even sublimation that's supposedly taking place in the postmodern/virtualization account? Maybe ... just maybe, films aren't really dreams or psychoanalytic fantasies. A popular purveyor of these fantasies, professional comic book writer Mark Waid also seems to be well aware of what the film was saying when he found the film's violence equally problematic for similar reasons:

The essential part of Superman that got lost in MAN OF STEEL, the fundamental break in trust between the movie and the audience, is that we don’t just want Superman to save us; we want him to protect us. He was okay at the former, but really, really lousy at the latter. 

How is this all a matter of virtualization or unconscious repression of the Real when the fanboy contingent is crying for a return to the good ole days of dehistoricized fantasy? These films of mass destruction are being consciously made and consciously received. There's nothing controlling us from the Freudian unconscious about 9/11. Here's Kyle Buchanan, a pop culture critic who needed neither postmodernism nor psychoanalysis to divine a trend in current action films: 

This weekend’s Man of Steel is only the latest film this year to exploit familiar 9/11 imagery in ways that are far more extreme and blatant than anything we’ve seen on the big screen before, as though Hollywood feels the need to out-9/11 itself. It’s lazy, it’s cheap, it’s deadening, and it needs to stop.

I'm kind of desensitized to cities being destroyed, too, but Man of Steel did finally offer the superpowered fisticuffs I'd been waiting from the filmic interpretation of the genre ever since Alan Moore and John Totleben attempted to portray a more realistic effect of godlike creatures duking it out in Miracleman 15:


Granted, Snyder and his effects team don't render the personalized effects of violence in as much loving detail as Totleben, but the film isn't like those awful action cartoons in the 80s, either, where someone is always shown escaping from the damage and guns don't fire bullets. (Fear of media effects in the 70s and 80s resulted in no one getting hurt by violence in G.I. Joe and other product placement cartoons.) Hundreds of thousands die in Metropolis alone, even if we don't see a river of blood. However, we rarely saw any blood in the reporting on 9/11 while still being made aware that there was death involved. My point is that the closer the movies get to Moore and Totleben's vision of hero worship, the better. Since our species is so inclined towards savior fantasies, I prefer mine with the bloodshed that inevitably follows in reality when people really believe in them. If the PG-13 rating doesn't allow for verisimilitudinous bloodletting, then at least be honest enough about the fantasy to not show people parachuting out of harm's way.

More tiresome than mass destruction is the analogizing of superheroes to religious myths, and Snyder unfortunately loads his film with this allegorical shit: Superman is 33 years old; he's depicted in a Christ pose in outer space; and, if that's not explicit enough, he visits a church to get advice from a priest. But, as Waid demonstrates, being a savior isn't good enough; the fanboy requires from his superheroes more than what he requires from his gods. Snyder's transgression was in making Superman merely Christ-like, a savior by proxy, the one who sets the example par excellence for moral behavior. No, Superman should do more; he's supposed to personally protect everyone on earth from themselves or evil Kryptonians. Max Landis, the screenwriter for Chronicle, says much the same thing as Waid. He wants superhero films to return "the hero" to the super. The point of the Jesus myth isn't that another shall decide for you, but that's pretty clearly the message in most superhero narratives since their inception. It's why so many critics call them fascistic. Platitudinous as it may be, if Snyder adds anything by forcing the Christian analogy, it's a bit of humility to generic expectations: Superman seeks help from one of Christ's representatives, rather than having all the answers.

Pace critics such as Chris Gavaler and the aforementioned Hassler-Forest who have difficulty not making a 9/11 reference when discussing just about any contemporary action film, isn't there always something of a perceptual analogy between any large scale cinematographic destruction set in a city and the one instance of destruction to a city we Americans experienced in reality (mostly through video on the TV)? Is the similarity on which the comparisons rest always ideological? To answer Buchanan's question if it's possible to make a Hollywood blockbuster without evoking 9/11, I'm thinking probably not -- not because everyone of these films is "really about" suppressing the causes of 9/11, or making it into a fantasy, but because the event has become our default source in the analogies we draw from these films. However, if something has significantly changed in the blockbuster, it's the level of the realism in depicting the violence and a bit more depth to the hero and villain's respective rationales, which can be seen in recent superhero films.

As a contrast, take an episode of Fleischer Studio's Superman called "The Bulleteers," in which the eponymous villains terrorize Metropolis with an airplane that turns into a bullet and smashes into skyscrapers, power plants and trains, killing thousands and thousands of people.



Kind of hard not to analogize that to 9/11, even though the cartoon is from 1942. The Bulleteers' rationale was to traumatize the good citizens of Metropolis until their governmental representatives handed over the loot. Stealing is not ideological in the way we now think of terrorism, which has some political goal to the killing, but the methodology is pretty similar: create widespread fear in the populace. The Fleischer cartoons are replete with such destruction, often without even the motive of greed. Thousands die just because the villain is evil. Nevertheless, there's always a happy ending, because Superman saves Lois Lane.

Surely, Man of Steel is a tad more thoughtful than that. Instead of stopping pure evil or an act of theft, Superman is faced with a zero-sum choice between mutually exclusive ways of life, Kryptonian versus human. As Gaveler points out, this is a genocidal battle. Because subjective violence is more emotionally resonant when it's individuals being threatened rather than a building (with who knows how many individuals within), Superman is shown having to kill Zod to prevent his murdering a family in the end. (Superman has killed in the comics, too, namely his battle with Doomsday resulted in both dying in the much promoted "Death of Superman" storyline.) The threat to the family is a way of making Superman's forced choice more personalized and intimate. Some have spun this as the film's ignoring all the mass death up to this one family being threatened (this is Waid's interpretation, and would be a fairly accurate summation of the Fleischer cartoons). But the scene functions as a reminder of Zod's death toll if you weren't dwelling on the inhabitants of the buildings destroyed during the mêlée. It's saying he's going to keep on with mass annihilation if he's not stopped. Hardly subtle, I see it as a stagey, dramatic culmination of Superman trying to stop him from killing humans, not the hero's sudden awareness that someone might die during the fights. (Having said that, as should be clear from above, I'm an advocate of always showing more violent effects in these fantasies, but no one's ever going to make a rated-R-for-blood Superman flick. This is as much realistic concern as the brandname will allow.)


I prefer deflationary approaches to my fantasies. They should say something about reality (which isn't the same as preferring realism). I'm glad that there's an element of doubt that's become more prominent in the heroic fantasy after 9/11, not just with the dependency of the central hero on real world representatives of the system, but in the way the supervillains are presented as being ideologically opposed to that system. Thoughts of terrorism has certainly made the villains more interesting in these films. The recent version of Star Trek's Kahn, like the The Dark Knight's Joker, is used to expose the structural violence on which cultural order rests. No matter what kind of pacifist utopia Roddenberg imagined the Federation to be, the exploratory ships contained photon torpedoes for a reason. Into the Darkness dramatizes the repression of this violence by putting Kahn into suspended animation, while keeping the torpedo technology (one of the movie posters symbolizes the violence surrounding Kahn its relation to the Federation). Internally, the society might be pacifist, but it's going to need weapons to prevent external threats to the utopia. It seems to me that the supervillain is less likely to be a purely evil Otherness nowadays and more likely to reveal questions regarding what the hero signifies when suppressing this threat..

So, although Landis is right, Man of Steel does demote the hero, I'm not seeing why that's a bad thing. If Man of Steel says that we can't trust saviors to save us, then that's surely one of best lessons from any film this year. After all, it's not Superman alone who saves the planet. Rather, it's the sacrifice of Dr. Emil Hamilton and a bunch of soldiers who fly another Kryptonian ship into General Zod's own that sends all his forces back into the Phantom Zone. Lois Lane was willing, too, but falls out of the ship. Once again, her rescue helps us not feel so bad about the final death toll. That Superman has to work with the humans in order to save them seems the intended post-9/11 message here. Something similar was suggested when a bunch of teamsters lined up cranes in The Amazing Spider-Man so that the injured hero could swing to his destination to beat the Lizard. Likewise, Batman proved incapable of defeating the menace of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises without the help of Gotham's finest.

Because of the nature of this help, these recent versions of Superman and Batman, at least, can be seen as agitprop for the military, police, national security forces or whatever else exists to maintain the order of things. The superheroic fantasy is displacing itself, following the media mythologizing of first-responders, with one about realworld heroes. But both characters have always been vigilante fantasies of a moral status quo. They are incorruptible standins for cops and military types, who are idealized as America's true heroes. Someone like Superman lets us imagine what if the agents of order always used violence for justice, i.e., if those with power actually used it for the commonweal. (Superheroes are rarely the opponents of the status quo, usually only if the diegetic order is dystopian to which they can be opposed as a sympathetic terrorist or radical, such as in Alan Moore's V for Vendetta or Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.) That there's some ugly inferences to be made from this fantasy has been explored in Neil Gaiman's take on Miracleman and, later, Warren Ellis' The Authority, where the superheroes as self-appointed saviors take many cherished enlightened liberal ideas and force them upon the world. In other words, the police state or martial law lurks behind most superhero fantasies.

I agree with the above critics that the superhero fantasies tend toward conservatism. How could they not? Unless being used as auto-critiques by Moore and the like, they offer fantastical support for people putting their trust in an authority figure to return a destabilized system to order. It's just that if you're going to make a conservative fantasy, don't repress what you're fantasizing about. And it does seem that there's less repression in these superhero films than there used to be in Hollywood blockbusters before 9/11. Who knows why the Crimson Jihad wanted to blow up the United States in True Lies? No way could it be a problem with Arnold or what he represents. Post-9/11, probably because it's not exactly a bunch of conservative ideologues who are making these conservative fantasies, Superman is shown to need the American military in the film in the same way he's taken by Hassler-Forest to represent American power. It might remain a fantasy of American superiority, but Man of Steel makes sure we acknowledge it. Like the weapons on which Tony Stark became so rich in Iron Man, the role of the hero has become part of the problematic in these blockbusters, the absolutism isn't as absolute, and we have the terrorists to thank for that.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The full title of Dan Hassler-Forest's book is Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age (2011) for Zero Books. 

Man of Steel poster by Mark Ansin for Mondo.

Note: rather irritatingly, the diacritics in 'Zizek' no longer work for the blog software, so normal Zs will have to do. I'm sure that all my previous references now look like shit. Oh well.

Masked Vengeance: Super (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 17, 2011 08:22pm | Post a Comment

In Dan Clowes' Death-Ray, the titular hero doesn't discover a greater sense of responsibility with his newfound powers (à la Peter Parker), only a fascistic resolve in settling petty grievances. James Gunn uses a similar approach in critiquing the superhero costume in Super. His heroes, The Crimson Bolt and Boltie, aren't super-powered, just a couple of individuals who wear masks and deliver vigilante justice -- in a word, sociopaths. Just like Batman, the mask is used to disguise a personal revenge motive: a drug dealer has wooed away The Bolt's wife not through some mind-control apparatus, but because the dealer is better looking and his life more enticing than the hero's secret identity as a fry cook. The film takes every right turn, mixing pathos and humor, demented fantasy and realistic violence, convention and critique into one of the best dark comedies about the depressing nature of fanboy fetishism we're likely to get. Much better than Suckerpunch.

Watchmen (2009): Some Arguments about Design

Posted by Charles Reece, March 14, 2009 11:32pm | Post a Comment

The Impotent God Snake

I love discussing issues of time in comics and film, so Zack Snyder's Watchmen makes for a good opportunity to reflect on its relation to both media. I'll be returning to this sometime in the future. For now, I'm going to stick to a few problems with Alan Moore's conception of Doc Manhattan that the movie doesn't do much to improve on. There is one improvement, though, namely the Mjölner-sized hammer he has hanging between his legs, befitting a puny scientist resurrected as a god. Dave Gibbons merely gave him the statistical average. The Doc can create anything from anything else -- perhaps ex nihilo, if you believe in miracles -- and exists in all points in time simultaneously. One can't get more virile than absolute mastery of matter. However, even though he can still sexually please his woman, he's ontologically impotent-- everything already existing as it was/is/will be, independent of his will. His control of matter is constrained by the deterministic course of the world. Thus, the fact that we never get to see the hammer of the gods raised on camera is a telling sign of his lot in existence (as well as the failure of our last, best chance to see expensive CGI-porn). While Doc's attending the Comedian's funeral, he's shown to exist in Vietnam, where the latter murders a girl who's pregnant with this child. The girl, like the Comedian, is already dead to Doc, so he stands by flaccidly and "lets" the murder occur. When Doc voices concern, he gets a moral lecture from the most nihilistic of the bunch:


The Comedian elaborates on why Doc's relationships all turn to shit, but there's a metaphysical problem here. For example, Doc is shown doing some sort of research when he's first introduced (in both the film and comic), but what exactly is the purpose of doing research when he already remembers what he's going to discover? This is the same old theological paradox that exists for the monotheists who believe in an omniscient god and free will: either everything's determined, because the deity knows what'll happen, or people can freely choose, meaning the deity isn't all-knowing. Some theologians have tried some hoo-hah to get out of this dilemma by suggesting God exists outside of time, but that's a verbal game. Besides, even if this circumlocution worked, it most clearly doesn't here, since Doc is shown to exist temporally. He didn't create everything, but exists within a creation not of his choosing.

Regardless of the ending (the film's or the comic's), Doc's simultaneity makes the possibility of his being fooled by Ozymandias' plan impossible. Tachyon particles might cause some interruption in his temporal perception during the period T1 to T2, but once in T3, Doc's perception is back -- meaning that he should be able to "remember" his thoughts in T3 before T1 begins. A possible out for this narrative dilemma that wasn't used is suggested by the scene above, as well as the one where Doc and Laurie are on Mars, and he tells her the course of the conversation they're about to have. That is, Doc is cosmologically inert, unable to affect the causal chain of events. All he can do is watch and interact as fate has already determined. As he says, he's a puppet who can see his strings. Had the story consistently depicted him as the self-aware puppet, philosophical nerds like me could've suspended disbelief by saying he goes along with Ozy's plan, knowing of it from the outset, because that's just the way things are to be in the Watchmen's deterministic world. I suspect the reason Moore didn't go this route is because he still wanted to hang on to free will within the book. While rendering Doc's agency impossible, Moore used some Star Trek gobbledy gook in order to keep the surprise of philosophical libertarianism in play.

Wait, No Did Mean Yes?

Snyder's film eroticizes the attempted rape scene, making Sally Jupiter's eventual consensual sex with the Comedian more logical, if more morally twisted. Moore and Gibbons' take was as follows:


For the most part, as he does throughout the film, Snyder slavishly follows Gibbons' panels as a storyboard, but he adds a shot of Sally bent over a pool table, looking at the camera as if there's a part of her that's kind of disappointed the Hooded Justice enters to stop the rape. Now, any fan of Go, Go, Second Time Virgin, Blind Beast or, even The Collector isn't going to have his or her envelope pushed too far by Snyder's little transgressive gesture, but it's a bit surprising when it appears in a $130 million dollar superhero adventure movie. On the other hand, Snyder's conservatism (cf. 300) comes through in the way he sets up the scene: the kino eye ogles Sally's half-naked body -- in an off-Hollywood, Bettie Page kind of way -- just before Comedian enters, as if asking the audience, "What would you do?" This doesn't mean the film justifies Comedian's assault, but it does smack of the scenarists trying to add scriptwriting 101's narrative justification to Moore's more psychologically believable characters -- that is, subsituting a fictional whole for the latter's understanding of sexual desire as nonrational.

An Abattoir of The Mentally Challenged

You'd have to go pretty low on the professional critic foodchain to get one as predictable as The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. If he didn't fancy himself high-brow and have his predecessor's gift at turning a phrase, he'd be about as exciting to read as The Rolling Stone's Peter Travers. Without a hint of irony, his views favor what then-critic François Truffaut long ago sliced and diced as the "tradition of quality" (in "A Certain Tendancy of the French Cinema”). Lane is, in other words, the perfect example of a snotty critic. Nothing wrong with snottiness, mind you, only when it's wrapped around middlebrow moralizing. Like with new money's taste in fashion, just because it's expensive doesn't make it worth wearing. Thus, if a film revels in its genre-ness, Lane isn't going to like it.  Such things aren't what people of imagined distinction are supposed to like.


Lane can't be bothered to think too hard about such obvious trash. Regarding Rorschach's line from the second panel above:

That line from the book may be meant as a punky retread of James Ellroy, but it sounds to me like a writer trying much, much too hard; either way, it makes it directly into the movie, as one of Rorschach’s voice-overs. (And still the adaptation won’t be slavish enough for some.) Amid these pompous grabs at horror, neither author nor director has much grasp of what genuine, unhyped suffering might be like, or what pity should attend it; they are too busy fussing over the fate of the human race—a sure sign of metaphysical vulgarity—to be bothered with lesser plights. In the end, with a gaping pit where New York used to be, most of the surviving Watchmen agree that the loss of the Eastern Seaboard was a small price to pay for global peace.

The only thing Lane manages to get right is that "abattoir of retarded children" was written by an author trying too hard. However, the author is the diegetic Rorschach, not the realworld Moore. The line is supposed to be overwrought and funny, not give the audience (well, the target audience) something to quote like it came from Commando. Rorschach's mental life is confabulation, concocted from the jejune conspiracies of Ayn Rand and far right journals:


Rather than acknowledging the drudgery of an always postponed apocalypse, these millenialist types want a good end to history, one that only comes in stories, mostly geared towards children. While no more religious than Rorschach, Rand subsitutes his and the more literally inclined monotheist's fable for reality: "Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong" (from here). There is always an end. To admit otherwise would be a slippery slope to Hell, or some equivalent, such as Continental philosophy. Kitschy, purple prose is nothing if not pretentious, so what else should those pretending to have the final answer to everything write like? (That's why modernized English versions of the Bible don't work: the style doesn't match the content's seriosity.) Rorschach's life is his own version of an old children's radio show about a masked vigilante. Of course, he tries too hard -- that's the point. Fanboy, all too fanboy.

Moore's "commentary" on the character is, I believe, summed up at the end of the book where Rorschach's last hope at getting "the truth" out there is with the nutjob journalists to whom he sent his journal. Unfortunately, the humor is botched in the film due to its leaving the newsstand interactions (depicted above) out. The viewer doesn't get the feel for just how nutty The New Frontiersman is by showing a slovenly fat, possibly liberal guy reaching for the stack where the journal is lying. Like all on the far right, the threat of violence is all Rorschach has to get his point across. With him dead, that's that.

Of course, stuff has to get left out (and the often off-panel fight scenes have to be beefed up to a commercially re-spectacle level), but the major problem with the film is that it doesn't re-interpret what it leaves in. Instead, its fidelity to the included makes the whole movie feel like the comic, but with pages cut out. The big reveal of Rorschach's face, for example, loses a lot in translation without the minor appearances of his conspiracist secret identity month to month.


It's these hacked out lacunae that result in the final third of the film feeling like it was tacked on. As Night Owl II and Rorschach are investigating the cancerous deaths of Manhattan's known associates, they discover Ozy's business has something to do with the victims. Upon flying to his arctic hideaway to ask him about it, he tells them something like, "by the way, I just murdered millions of New Yorkers."

Speaking of The End, It's Nigh Ludicrous as Ever

Along with Alan Moore's name, this is the other most noticeable present absence:


For the smartest guy on the planet, Ozy's not much more than a brutish utilitarian, using the hedonic calculus as if it were one of those bones at the beginning of 2001. Regardless of whether he's fooled the world into thinking his New York holocaust is the act of invading alien squids (comic), or Doc Manhattan's playing the God of Abraham (film), there's some obvious flaws in the plan. While the plan in the comic plays to the xenophobia that exists in all cultures, bringing them all together multilaterally against the Big Other, it fails to take into account that after, say, 10 years of no alien reappearing, societies will go back to fearing each other. This is something like black nationalists and white supremacists postponing their differences until they've together vanguished their common enemy, the Jews. A few years of peace from a war that wasn't definite hardly warrants (from an utilitarian perspective) the killing of millions. And while the film's continuing watchful eye of a present God does away with the need to continually kill more people to keep the danger imminent, it's a bit hard to swallow that Russia's forgotten that God's an American. I'd say the movie ending probably works better in terms of plausibility, but the comic's ending has more of connection (aesthetic, formal, ideological) with the superhero genre.

Ah well, the story is more about power than any particular philosophical position or the logic of the plot -- another point about the comic/film to which I'll hopefully return. But I'm tired, so I'm going to shut up now.

The Death of Old Time Radio

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 30, 2008 12:25am | Post a Comment

THE END OF THE GOLDEN AGE

On this day (September 30) in 1962 CBS radio broadcast the final episodes of Suspense and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and the Golden Age of Radio came to a close. 

 

RADIO'S BEGINNINGS 

Radio Drama (also frequently referred to as Old Time Radio or OTR) really began in the 1920s. Before that, there was audio theater which consisted of plays performed for radio broadcast. It wasn't until August 3, 1922 at the Schenectady, New York station WGY that the in-house actors, The WGY Players, broadcast a performance that augmented the drama with music and sound effects, creating a vivid aural tapestry. The result was a worldwide explosion in what was an instantly popular new art form. Within months there were radio dramas being produced across the USA, as well as in Canada, Ceylon, France, Germany, India, Japanand the UK.



RADIO DRAMA'S ADOLESCENCE 

In 1934, the anthology series Lights Out debuted and exploited many of radio's unique qualities to massive success. The program was penned by Wyllis Cooper and aired at midnight. Cooper employed stream of conscious monologues, multiple first-person narrators and internal monologues which were at odds with the characters' spoken dialog. It's most often remembered, however, for its gruesome and explicit sound effects which attempted to suggest joints being ripped from sockets, skin being eviscerated, heads being decapitated and other depictions of violence that would still be pushing the envelope, even on modern cable television programs.

  

Radio drama's most well-known moment came in 1938 when Orson Welles on the Mercury Theater of the Air broadcast War of the Worlds. Virtually everyone has heard tales about the mass panic that supposedly ensued. It turns out that this supposed reaction may've been invented by newspapers who were threatened by the radio news' growing dominance. Since there are no verifiable reports of nationwide panic, it seems that newspapers were attempting to create a moral panic to save their own skins. Indeed, how likely is it that a people used to  both radio dramas and the instantly recognizable voice of  radio drama mainstay Orson Welles would, for some reason, think that he was acting as a newsman covering a Martian invasion? If Kelsey Grammar was on TV reporting that Earth was being attacked by another planet, would you assume it was real and panic? If your answer is yes, then you are a dullard.

 


RADIO'S END

Radio drama began to lose ground in the 1950s for several reasons. Mainly, television (though around for some time) exploded in popularity and, with the novelty of a visual aspect, stole the dramatic thunder from radio (and film too), partially by dumbing down the writing and toning down the violence to broaden its audience. Many radio dramas attempted to make the transfer to television in order to survive. Often this necessitated re-casting key roles because, whilst a voice actor might've sounded the part, they didn't look it.

At the same time, music radio began to make a comeback. Forced by the 1940s writers strike to look elsewhere for music (rather than pay pop songwriters more), music radio popularized previously marginalized music forms like Hillbilly and Rhythm & Blues which grew in popularity and merged into Rock 'n' Roll. The dissemination of this electrifying new development in music was aided by a new recording format, the 45 rpm single. Now families could rock out or veg out on their own and radio rapidly lost ground before going the way of silent film and magic lantern shows.

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