Remember, Remember

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Re-watching V FOR VENDETTA to get in the mood for Government Detonation Day. My, the dialogue is worse than I remember it. I haven’t seen a London as unconvincing as this since LIFEFORCE, which the movie somehow resembles. An odd thing — while Americans say the word “bollocks” quite charmingly, with just a hint of becoming self-consciousness, and British actors generally say it quite effectively, when American writers put “bollocks” into British mouths, it doesn’t come out right.

So for the first hour I was kind of wondering why I’d given this film kind of a pass at the time. True, its heart is in the right place, more or less — it’s still probably the most gay-friendly blockbuster, big movies generally lagging far behind comic books and the rest of the culture when it comes to these issues. And there are good shots, a few decent action scenes and montages. But that weird fake London thing comes back to haunt it — we get used to Hugo Weaving’s mask after one scene, but never get used to Natalie Portman’s accent. And the filmmakers (James McTeague and the Wachowskis) compound the awkwardness by casting Stephen Rea as the other major British character. He does OK, but a whole level of unease could have been stripped away by casting a Brit.

Alan Moore objected to the changes made to his comic (“All I’m saying is, just give me the deal you were happy to give [Superman creators] Siegel and Schuster for decades: don’t mention my name and don’t pay me any money”) but I think tying the film’s fascists into the real-world neo-cons was a brave and admirable move — had the film proved a hit, we could be enjoying more political blockbusters. The bigger betrayal was cutting all the talk of anarchy. The other biggest change is trading an atomic war backstory, which barely worked in the eighties original, for a biological terrorist attack — this is OK in itself, but leads to a lot of time being spent on the 9/11 truther conspiracy plot (which never made sense to me — the human experiments preceded the rise of fascism?), exposited through wooden verbiage and wedging out more piquant material, like the mean, DR PHIBES details of V’s vendetta — in the comic he kills a pedophile priest with a poisoned communion wafer, thus disproving the miracle of transubstantiation. And does the Wachowskis’ love of kink lead them to make slightly too much of Natalie P in her little girl costume? Possibly.

The rhythms of the film are also odd — to deal with the overwritten dialogue, the actors all underplay and talk fast, both of which are approaches I like but in particular the fast talking sits oddly with the standard action movie portentousness, It’s like the pompous self-importance doesn’t have room to breathe. Arguably a good thing, but it doesn’t quite play.

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But it gets better — first with Sinead Cusack’s cameo — bring on the great actors and things generally get better — again the dialogue is sometimes unsayable but she sells it. And then in my favourite chapter from the comic, the Valerie sequence, the most faithfully adapted part of the movie, thank God, Natasha Wightman’s voice-over does just what it needs to. I always find this bit very moving in comic and film.

At the same time, as she moves from doubt to anguish, Portman finds her dramatic footing and simultaneously limbers up for GOYA’S GHOSTS, part of her Trilogy of Torture which has either yet to be concluded or climaxed with YOUR HIGHNESS which tortured the audience.

And I still feel a thrill at the Houses of Parliament going up at the end. “It’s a shame, though — it’s a nice building,” said Fiona after we saw this on release.

“Yeah, but, can’t make an omelette…”

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Of course, the film’s lasting significance is the face it gave to Occupy, that anti-political political movement (whose spokesman is surely Russell Brand). Alan Moore was amused by the irony of a piece of Warner Brothers marketing being commandeered by an anti-corporate movement — every mask sold adding dollars to the WB coffers. But he was also a little touched, I think.

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25 Responses to “Remember, Remember”

  1. It’s a prime example of Hollywood being drawn to something which it then can’t possibly get its arms around; Moore’s argument of anarchy vs. fascism was never going provide the ringing endorsement of democracy presumably called for. I actually quite liked the look (Adrian Biddle’s last film), and the Marianelli music, especially the bit that still crops up on tv shows. But the biggest surprise was indeed that the Valerie monologue survived more or less intact. Its dismissal it as a “ludicrous lesbian subplot” by the newspaper critic most likely to be appalled was less of a shock.

  2. It’s certainly not a subplot, nor is there anything ludicrous about it since it exactly replicates the real experiences of gay people during the Holocaust. It makes sense that the Wachowskis would embrace that part of the story — The Matrix films increasingly look like something of a diversion from their true concerns (though there’s some continuity even there) as filmmakers primarily interested in sexual identity.

    It’s debatable whether V for Vendetta says anything in favour of democracy — it just doesn’t manage to say anything in favour of anarchy, or any other political belief. Which makes it perfect for the Occupy generation, who know what they DON’T like but, like Russell Brand in his recent interview, are touchingly unsure about what they actually want to see in place of the status quo.

  3. I quite enjoyed V For Vendetta as I do all Wachowski films. They’re pop filmmakers — not seers. But as they have a way of capturing the zeitgeist there’s a level of “completely serious” beneath the surface of this neo-Fantomas jape. That “Occupy” and “Anonymous” have taken up the mask is more than merely “telling.” It’s a “Fashion Statement” turned into a political protest too.

    Natalie Portman may be “miscast” in “realist” terms, but not in movie star terms. She’s marvelous as is the ever-reliable Stephen Fry — who has become in recent years an actor-turn-political-protester well in advance of the unjustly maligned Russell Brand.

  4. And speaking of Russell –

    Note that Paxman says voting confers “Authority” on citizens — which is the Biggest Fucking Lie Going. Voting is a sham , providing the powerless with the illusion of actual political power in a system that has been rigged to ignore them when not attacking them.

    That Russell is an “imperfect” conveyor of this message doesn’t dismiss it in any way.

  5. Here’s Stephen Fry at work:

  6. As for the Wachowski’s sexual politics you’ll find the beating heart of it here:

  7. I think Brand conveys the message perfectly (he’s astonishingly articulate), it’s just that the message is not yet complete.

    Voting is kind of like buying a lottery ticket — one act confers the feeling that you can change the world, the other that you can change your life. Both feelings in theory COULD be realised but are actually rather unlikely.

  8. The lottery ticket is a lot more valid. You could win. But your vote means diddly-squat.

  9. You could win, but the odds against it are so high that they would not be materially affected if you decided not to buy a ticket…

  10. Due to low Democratic turnout in the 2010 elections, a number of states (and not just bright red ones) are currently run by GOP Christianist extremists. One result: the right to contraception, not to mention abortion, is in danger of becoming a dead letter in large parts of the country. Another: union-busting. So even if your own vote is worth diddly, it appears that other people’s votes are worth a lot. In that context, I regard voting as at worst a form of contraception in itself. Properly applied, it can prevent unwanted fascism.

    Another result of wackadoodle dominance: state GOP attempts to deny voting rights to all but a racially and ideologically vetted minority. The GOP hasn’t gotten Russell Brand’s memo, which means we’re useful idiots if we accept it.

    Brand writes even better than he talks; his obit for Amy Winehouse changed my view of him much for the better. But man, his manifesto sure did trail off when he got to the “revolution” part.

  11. You make a good point. I believe in “Don’t vote, it just encourages ‘em,” except that not voting leaves the way clear for other votes to carry the day. I will find it very hard to vote Labour again though, since they conducted an invasion on false pretenses. I hate the Conservatives far more, but could I lend my support to warmongers? And if I vote for anyone else at present, I’m still helping one of those two parties get in.

  12. We have a “choice” between those who would harm us actively and those who would harm us passively.

  13. And I wouldn’t even mind that so much but when they’re hurting other people in my name it gets morally very difficult to take part at all.

  14. I’ve probably said this before, but I found V FOR VENDETTA abhorrent for much the same reason I found THE MATRIX abhorrent. There’s a “terrorism, fuck yeah!” element to it that seemed utterly juvenile. Then again, I’m finally getting caught up with Bunuel, and he doesn’t let anyone off the hook, including himself. I suppose living through an actual fascist takeover clears the mind. Although maybe Fritz Lang is a better comparison for the Wachowskis, since he started out with similar big budget spectacles.

  15. The comic at least does put forward an alternative ideology to potentially replace fascism, and draws a distinction between the social chaos produced when the older order starts to break down, and the stable anarchy which is supposed to somehow result. I think the movie at some point *intended* to clarify that, but never got round to it / cut it because it “slowed down the action.”

  16. By removing the criminal subplot and political infighting the movie lost a huge amount of what made the comic’s police state so believable, replacing it with John Hurt’s giant head. (Similarly I would have preferred Moore’s more pathetic dictator, kissing his surveillance goodnight, convinced he’s loved.) Now I think of it, there are three potentially excellent roles for women in V. It’s a shame the movie only included Evie. But, yes, we also have Valerie. Like the Dr. Manhattan monologue in Watchmen – in fact exactly like it – Moore’s story-telling is allowed its five minutes’ island in the mess, and it turns you inside out. And you think “Well if you realised it was this good, why make the rest so phoney?” Also I completely agree with you about “bollocks”.

  17. *This* is how you adapt Moore:

  18. I think that version gets closer that the Zack Snyder. His version proves you can be quite faithful to the letter and still get the spirit completely wrong. God I hate the Watchmen film. If I recall correctly I couldn’t even bring myself to write about it.

    It would be interesting to ask Don Murphy what the heck was up with his Moore adaptations since he is apparently a comics buff. From Hell is… amazingly wrong. In every way. Much more amazing that LOEG simply being noisy and awful.

  19. I’ve only every seen Watchmen without the soundtrack, over somebody’s shoulder on an airplane, and it was actually kind of interesting that way. I think Gravity would also be pretty interesting as a silent film.

  20. Watchmen is visually very slick. It’s just obviously the film of a talented dumb person. I honestly believe the makers of the clip above had a better sense of what the comic was about. But the lack of intellect would be partially abated by seeing it without dialogue and Philip Glass and Ride of the Valkyries.

  21. I agree. It’s a great clip. Meanwhile the Brand thing rages on. Apparently he was just talking about a “cultural” revolution, which is admirable, but cheating.

  22. He obviously WASN’T, though… how do you segue from “voting is useless” to “we need a cultural revolution”? And if you do, you’re admitting that despair is the only possible response to the present political situation…

  23. Regardless of if they conveyed any of Moore’s true intent, I thought this movie quite effective. It relays a host of unpopular subjects and forces you to at least be aware of them.

    The “Ulcered Sphincter of Asserica” as it was called, in 2005 or so when thus cane out? Was almost in the same fascist state as the Britain shown here.

    This film quite adequately reflects the oppressive time it was made, and it wasn’t just in the “Ulcered of A” the whole world groaned for those years.

    Moore raised the same kind of stench for Watchmen, which translates his story to film with almost 100% accuracy, really there was only one thing changed, the “Threat” of a fake alien invasion was replaced with Dr Manhattan.

    Other, better writers also hate their words being changed, Harlan Ellison for one, and last I saw he had at least five more Hugo awards than Moore. Yet Ellison has had his work dramatized on TV and Film starting with “Demon with a Glass Hand”. I think Moore is his own worst enemy and he has restricted himself into a corner. Really, he created some incredible graphic novels in the 80s, I’ve got hardcover versions of most of them.

    What I liked about V for Vendetta was mostly the imagery: Religious Extremists have created a new order, and I fear this is how it will look if that ever happens in our world governments- and the Tea Party, with all of their pronouncements of creating jobs, has only succeeded in true obstructionism.

    V for V is a harsh reminder, that this could happen. It’s V for Vigilance.

  24. Alan Moore is his own worst enemy. Harlan Ellison has at least five more Hugo awards, and the same complaint about being rewritten, but that never stops him from working, he does it cos that’s what a writer is supposed to do.

    V for Vendetta quite successfully illustrates a possible future of where, lets say the Tea Party gets their way.

    Now, some might be ok with that possibility, but I am not, and this movie comes to mind when I consider it.

    When I saw this in 2005? I did not realize that the same thing was brewing in MY government, and it became apparent in 2008 and again in 2013. What really frightened me was it almost happened.

    Maybe the “WhatYouSee” ‘brothers’ are prophetic in that sense, but if so, Alan Moore is even more so. But in reality, to make me aware of thus threat, it tool Alan to write it and the WhatYouSees to make it into a movie.

    Regardless of the complaints about this film, it impacted me greatly, just like Cloud Atlas impacted me this year. It is because the WhatYouSees have a Graphic Novel STyle of filmmaking, and if anything you can agree that the imagery in this film is creative.

    For me, it’s “V for Vigilance” – this movie scared me that much.

  25. Sorry your comments didn’t appear until cleared, which means we now have two variants.

    Moore seems quite happy in his corner — he just wants the films to not bother him, which is his right. He’s done a little filmmaking himself recently, but I only saw one webisode.

    The irony of Watchmen is that it’s largely faithful to the plot but misses the point of the characters. For example: Nite Owl and Silk Specter aren’t supposed to be murderous thugs. Viewers who hadn’t read the comic assume all the costumed crime-fighters in the movie have super-powers, since they all seem indestructable. In fact, Only Dr Manhattan does. It’s actually a worse travesty that LOEG or From Hell because it’s close enough to the plot of the original to taint it by association.

    Startling to hear Prothero the fascist mouthpiece in V mention the Tea Party in his opening monologue. It has other resonances now.

    Perhaps the reason V didn’t seem as compelling this time is that since then, Children of Men slammed the state with much more cinematic confidence.

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