Exhibit 17.7

I hate to do another movie post, but Alex Carnevale's great review of Watchmen here got me thinking about the movie and the book and why I felt so nonplussed by the entire thing.

(Quick follow up on yesterday's post: While I was feeling embarrassed and lamenting my quasi-homonym error in my comment and grammatical error in my header, Dave was going all Seymour Hersh and learned the following things: 1) You can stream the movie in question on Netflix. I suggest you do this exactly as vehemently as I suggest you don't do this; and 2) the Crazygirls are an actual show at the Riviera. Basically this means we watched a two-hour infomercial, but it was an infomercial with a guy called The Bombmaker. I'm okay with this. The Shamwow could learn something).

Simply put, I think I get nailed not only as a viewer of Watchmen but a reader, too, when Alex writes about the movie, "For all the critics who bash Watchmen, they’re missing the point. To them Alan Moore is just another superhero creator, with the same old origin stories colliding into a happy-ish ending. But for those of us whose brainflow was reversed by the complexity of Watchmen, this translation is our version of the good old days."

As a person without a wake of predictable and stagnant comics to look back upon, I read Watchmen as an entertaining but not particularly interesting graphic novel with at least as many cliches as complexities. I realize that at least some, if not most, of this is due to the book being internalized by the culture at large, its newness worn away and co-opted long before I picked it up more than 20 years after its publication. This certainly isn't the book's fault, I'm just one of many bad readers for it. In a lot of ways, my thoughts on Watchmen were similar to my thoughts on Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim: entertaining, dated, not a revelation for me like it might have been for others but a book I wouldn't argue against.

But in my conversations about the comic and the upcoming movie, I found the niceness of my initial response--done, strangely, at the same time as Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping--fading and replaced with something closer to contempt. When I heard someone mention that the ending was changed, I thought, You mean the inter-dimensional squid thing? Thank god. When I'd read an article about how the director wanted to make the film as true to the material as possible, I could already imagine myself sitting in the theater squirming during another scene of Dr. Manhattan showing us how disconnected he is in the most obvious way possible while I wished the theater hadn't switched to Pepsi and wondering if I should run and get some Junior Mints anyway.

This wasn't my experience, not exactly, but it also wasn't so far off. Mostly, I felt more certain than ever that Watchmen is not the book graphic novel fans should be exalting (and surely many aren't). I'm the worst possible person to make this judgment, but there it is anyway. The movie--a solid B on the whole--suffered all of the same momentary concerns and preoccupations as the book and, in a world so greatly changed from the Cold War, just didn't seem to have much to offer other than slightly turned super hero antics. That's something, too, but it's not much of a legacy.

This (finally) is why I loved Alex's review as his explanation of why Watchmen is relevant is almost exactly at odds with my own viewing. I'm sure he's right--can I mention again how poor a judge of Watchmen's value I am?--and it got me thinking about the novel I would hold up as the most similar, non-graphical example of this view of history: The Public Burning. I don't know, maybe it's just the shared Nixon, the Uncle Sam/Dr. Manhattan parallels, or the mostly off-screen but always prevalent public rage, but I think Coover's novel is similarly concerned with the violence and control we'll feel pressured to exert in order to maintain our country. Now, they're still very different books and I just happen to prefer one to the other (and this is in no way to suggest Alex [who I don't know] prefers one to the other or that anyone should prefer one to the other), but I at least feel like I get why Watchmen should be part of the conversation a little more now than I did while cringing through the "Hallelujah" scene.

Mercifully, I'll end with this caveat/confession: Despite not really being taken in by Watchmen and its giant psychic squid monster thing, I have no doubt that there are comics that represent the best of anything published in a year, decade, century, whatever. That I don't know these books is my failing first, the literary establishment's (if there is such a thing) a distant second, and, well, no one else's. I have no idea why I love so much other innovative and cross-genre work yet sort of hate graphic novels (even though I pretend I don't), but I'm going to try to educate myself. Thankfully, I think I'm in year five of having a borrowed copy of Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.

This does not mean that I don't hate [other forms of literature that I hate]. I still do. A lot.


carlinthemarlin said...

Thank god someone else thought that giant-psychic-squid-thing ending was stupid. I genuinely liked the book, but in the way that I genuinely liked the show Jericho: it's not mind blowing or all that original, but it's likeable and it does what it does well enough. And enough shit blows up at the right time to somewhat make up for the incredibly tedious exoposition strewn throughout.

Oh, and Rorshach's mask is basically the best super hero mask ever. For whatever that's worth.

Dusty said...

Have you read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, or do you hate good books?

Mathias Svalina said...

Did Kingsley Amis have a hairless blue schlong?

Or was that Norman Mailer's parasitic twin?