Shower Before Viewing Sin City

The gap between this entry and the last one ought to tell you how much work I’ve had to do over the last couple of weeks. Saturday I celebrated my 29th birthday, aware that this will be the last year of my twenties. Good riddance to the twenties, youth is highly overrated. The only nice thing about being young is the good health, and even that can go at anytime. This Wednesday I will be attending a memorial service for someone I used to go to church with who I don’t believe ever reached 30. My attitude will always be that I am surprised, pleased and amused that I lived another year, not disappointed that I’m no longer a girlish twenty-three.

My birthday party was a trip to the Valley 6 drive-in, newly opened for the warmer months. The feature was this week’s number one box office hit, Sin City. I read Frank Miller’s original Sin City graphic novel when I was in college after I found it on the floor of the apartment I shared with Sequential Art major Sarah. It was one of the most disturbing comics I’ve ever read, the kind with imagery that isn’t forgotten easily. Cannibalism, dismemberings, gruesome violence and the electric chair for the main character Marv are the stuff that comes back to mind in the early morning hours. It was prominent on my mind as I considered whether or not I would go to the film version, and if it hadn’t been made in chiaroscuro so true to Miller’s artistry I would have skipped it altogether. As soon as the opening sequence ended on a silhouette animation of white on black, I said, “This is going to be quite a movie.” And I was right.

Not only is the plot of several novels only slightly modified to flow on film, but most of the dialogue is lifted directly from the books. But even viewers unfamiliar with the Sin City series will notice that many scenes look like comic panels. Characters fall into poses as the light and shadows wrap them in a way that is clearly planned and strangely captured in time, making the entire film an experience I can’t compare to anything else but reading the actual books. Stand-outs might be Kevin (Elijah Wood) sitting on the farmhouse porch reading a Bible with a white cross and eyes hidden under white lenses, Wendy’s curling golden hair blurring out her skin by comparison, or Miho’s brief suspended animation as she hangs in the air over her victims. I was looking forward to seeing Marv come to life and Mickey Rourke didn’t disappoint; he was a hulking, grinning 800-pound gorilla.

Get beyond the way the movie looks and there’s room for disappointment. Whatever convoluted message Miller is trying to get across about power and corruption takes such a backseat to the violent pageantry it becomes childlike, seeming to have no more depth than a dopehead teenager in line for a Phish concert telling everyone “It’s all a crock, man.” My parents went over the weekend before I had the chance to warn them, and they described it as “horrific.” Sin City is horrific. It has more in common with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre than any serious desconstruction of religion, there are certainly enough limbs coming off. If the movie were in color, I would have needed a shower afterwards. But it was also, in its way, brilliant. For a discussion of the comic, see this article by comics friend Bill Morse.

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