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David Poland

By David Poland

More On Sin City

I wrote about Sin City in The Hot Button today

I had a couple more thoughts that I thought I’d add here…

I got an argument from a very smart guy this morning who believes that this film will be the most influential film of this decade. And what that got me thinking about was, “Have smart people started believing that the medium is the message?” Part of the argument, which is at the core of all but a sliver of Sin City support is… “It is unlike anything you’ve seen.” But is that in any way important?

Are we fetishizing filmmaking tools instead of drama?

I really have no argument with having made Sin City. It is not evil. It is not a waste of money… it will be profitable. It is not going to melt the brains of small children.

But it finally hit me… Sin City is the male response to the McG/Barrymore Charlie’s Angels films. It aspires to even less as a social statement. But since the C&A films failed to actually offer “girl power,” in the end the answers are the same. Harsh violence vs. cutesy violence, more male objectification vs self-objectification, hyper frame-loading vs. hyper editing.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Frontal was unlike anything we had ever seen. And to be fair, so was Romeo + Juliet/Moulin Rouge… again, using many of the same tools.

On the flip side, there was nothing in Pulp Fiction we hadn’t seen before. We just hadn’t seen it for, depending on the part of the film, a decade or two or three or four.

The other analogy that I meant to point out was Lucas’ recent run of Star Wars films. Those films were also CG, CG, CG… and the films are not given anywhere near enough credit, because of critical response, with breaking new ground in the technology. There are many arguments within the argument… I recently had a discussion with someone about how Lucas always made the cheapest decision instead of the best one… but big picture, Star Wars I-III made Sin City possible.

Meanwhile, MirrorMask is even more “you’ve never seen anything like it” than Sin City, but won’t get the embrace because it doesn’t pander to the geek thirst for sex and violence. (It also makes even less narrative sense and has even less emotionally connective characters, for the most part.)

The future of cinema is storytelling, not technology. When technology supports the storytelling, God bless… we all win. There will be better Sky Capatins and Sin Citys, using the technological opportunity to make real magic. Maybe it will be the Sin City sequel that is being talked about with QT as a full collaborator. I still argue that the 2 hour (aka, cut to the right length) Kill Bill might have been a masterpiece. QT understands character in a way that Rodriguez just doesn’t. And Rodriguez has visual skills that QT does not. I remain hopeful.

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13 Responses to “More On Sin City”

  1. L&Db says:

    Glad you brought up Lucas Poland since so many
    critics want to exclude him from this digital
    revolution. When I saw the hype for Sky Captain.
    I kept asking myself; “Did these people totally
    forget Lucas has been doing this since 97?” It just
    shows us all the pithy and dicky side of all critics.
    Youve got to love a profession that can become so
    biased towards someone and their art, that they will
    totally ignore any innovations said person brings
    to that art.
    And anyone who believes Lucas choose digital because
    it is cheap. Apparently has choosen to ignore
    what Lucas has been saying for the last 8 years! How on
    earth people justify their warped opinions about
    Lucas’ work absolutely baffles me. Lucas uses a
    medium that lets his mind’s eye run free. God forbid
    an artist has a chance to create art the way he
    wants to.
    The most disappointing thing about Sin City will
    probably be, outside of it’s shitty action figure
    line, must be the Soundtrack. The ad campaign uses
    this great song by The Servant titled Cells. Yet
    outside of the main theme the soundtrack itself
    comes across like a bad Ornette Coleman impersonation.

  2. Spam Dooley says:

    I am not a very smart person clearly but I saw Sin City with Quentin and it is soooo much better than Kill Bill I cannot even begin to understand your point of view.

  3. jeffrey boam's doctor says:

    I have zero interest in seeing this hunk of eye candy – Rodriguez can not make a great film. Period. It’s like seeing the new Dick Tracy on a high-res monitor with the colour off. Whooopee!
    The main reason I won’t be lining up with thousands of goateed virgins, is simply that I don’t masturbate to action figures, call myself a geek or frequent comic book stores. SIN CITY is hyper TV crapola – it’s HD-noir with its soul trapped in FOUR ROOMS. Who cares? Give me some real drama anyday. This attention deficit sector of the public is clogging up screens. Were movies always targeted at slightly retarded 12yr olds?

  4. Joe Leydon says:

    DAVID: “Are we fetishizing filmmaking tools instead of drama?”
    Yes. Don’t get me wrong — I want see “Sin City” anyway. But this much-vaunted “digital revolution” is, at best, a mixed blessing.
    JEFF: “Were movies always targeted at slightly retarded 12yr olds?”
    At the risk of sounding like an old fogie — no, an ANCIENT fogie — I am reminded of a throwaway comment by a NYT writer a couple of years ago in a piece on “The Rat Pack” — The Sixties were the last time that adults set the pop culture agenda.

  5. sm says:

    Remember Blade Runner? During its original 1982 release, it was generally dimissed for its flawed storytelling. Only in retrospect has it grown in stature after it became clear how the film’s look and attitude not just influenced many films that came after but also other aspects of popular culture such as the cyberpunk movement.
    I’m not saying Sin City is the next Blade Runner, but I can buy the argument that Sin City could be influential despite its dramatic sins.

  6. Martin says:

    The Blade Runner effect on culture is extremely overrated. Which is not to say that it is not a great film… but it really didn’t make much of a mark on films afterward.
    As far as Sin City, it will make a ton of money and probably have a couple sequels. I’m happy that Rodriguez is paving the way for digital filmmaking, and perhaps moving it into the mainstream. On the other hand, i’ve never considering Rodriguez to be a talented writer, or an exceptional director. He does many things, and has many cool visual ideas, but is he a great talent? Is he making truly great films? I don’t think so. But maybe one day. Maybe not this time around.

  7. Don says:

    I’m interested in seeing SIN CITY because I’m a fan of the books, but I can already tell it’s gonna feel like a great big “so what” when I walk out of the theater. I absolutely LOVE Rodriguez’s ideas and passion for making great looking films on the cheap. BUT, his writing is God awful (as Martin and David alluded to). He’s like a little kid doing a puppet show or playing with action figures. As long as it looks cool and solicits an audience laugh or gasp, it satisfies him. I mean, “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” was utterly forgettable for the same reason I just mentioned.

  8. KamikazeCamel says:

    “The main reason I won’t be lining up with thousands of goateed virgins, is simply that I don’t masturbate to action figures, call myself a geek or frequent comic book stores.”
    1. I can’t wait to see Sin City!
    2. I don’t have a goatee
    3. I’m not a virgin
    4. I don’t call myself a geek (a movie geek, perhaps)
    5. I don’t masturbate to action figures (I own all of 0 action figures)
    6. I never go to comic book stores
    I don’t really know what movie’s you’re watching but, umm, there’s PLENTY of movies around with your beloved “drama” in them, just don’t expect it from every major action movie filmed on bluescreens based on a graphic novel.
    …I’m sure there’s a Russian impressionist film about turtle doves screening somewhere that is FILLED with drama.

  9. salmon says:

    I find myself in agreement with Poland. It’s always interesting to see respectable critics fall over themselves to praise shallow, stylised, fantasy extreme violence movies like Kill Bill and Sin City.
    Yet when it comes to more substantive movies like Tony Scott’s Man On Fire, that deal with extreme violence in a “real world context” and actually contains large swathes of human emotion and complexity and an actual exploration of important issues, these films are derided as trash, designed to corrupt our fragile moral fabric.
    I guess the message is: Extreme Violence, graphic scenes of bloodshed and vigilantism are perfectly acceptable. As long as it’s in a cartoon. The critics will hail your “bravery”. Try any of that stuff in the real world, and you get dismissed as a Charles Bronson movie.

  10. David Poland says:

    The thing that is bizarre about the argument is that it does often come down to that “there’s PLENTY of movies around with your beloved “drama” in them, just don’t expect it from every major action movie filmed on bluescreens based on a graphic novel” attitude.
    Drama is not a seperate genre. There is incredible drama in the pages of Frank Miller’s Sin City. And the grit, via this filmmaker, doesn’t quite make the transfer… at least in my critical eyes… even if Spam Dooley thinks it will change the world.

  11. Jon S says:

    I have to disagree with you, Dave. Since narrative drama has been roughly the same since, what, the ancient Greeks? it’s a little beside the point to talk vast influential new modes within drama.
    To make a dichotomy between technology and drama is also a bit of a false argument. The dichotomy within mainstream film has always been between narrative and the visual/aural elements. Put simply, film isn’t just drama, it’s a huge image on a huge screen (if you see it where you’re supposed to.) Not all films have narrative (Koyaanisqatsi, Warhol’s Empire), but all films have an image. In that sense, Sin City may well be very influential since visual art does change pretty radically over time (or is Keith Harring the same as August Renoir?). Hell, Sin City might even bring back black and white in a big way (then again, it could be the next Dark City and go nowhere.)

  12. Martin says:

    Well “movies” are a narrative medium. Once you let the narrative take a back seat to the visuals, you are going into short film or museum territory. No one wants to sit through 2 hours of great visuals that are telling a dull story (or none at all). This is why stuff like 3D and Imax has yet to really catch on in the major multiplexes. People don’t go there for the technology, they go there for the stories. There are many magnificent films out there, like Koyaanisqatsi, which very few people will ever have interest in seeing because they are visuals at the expense of a compelling “story”. Audiences don’t care if its film, if it’s digital, if its 3d or 2d, they just care if it’s something they can relate to, and be entertained by.

  13. benji says:

    what i think is funny, is that anyone who would read this many responses to this movie post either loved it or was completely unmoved.
    personally, the movie made me feel yuckie inside and wish i could have back the two hours stolen from my life. every movie i watch, i ask myself one question, “why?” (why did they make this? why do i care?) the only answer i came up with was pornography for violence geeks. if that’s your thing, you’ll really love this movie.
    but what really confuses me is how many people have posted about not liking sin city but really enjoying kill bill? i was utterly bored by one and didn’t even finish two. all tarantino does is cut and paste scenes from his favorite genre films. if i wanted to watch a vj i’d go to mtv spring break.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon