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A Trip to Sin City PDF Print E-mail
Written by Written by Mike Watt   
Aug 13, 2005 at 02:00 AM
Even though I’m not that big a Frank Miller fan, I couldn’t wait to see Sin City. I was intentionally avoiding spoilers, wanting to go in fresh, but it’s hard to do that in this day and age, particularly if you make your living in the entertainment industry and you’re constantly bombarded with press releases and sound bites.

I knew that director Robert Rodriguez wanted to make the most faithful comic book adaptation of all time, mainly as he was a Miller fan. I knew that he had to browbeat Miller into letting him do it, going so far as to pirating a sequence from one of the later graphic novels and shooting it with Josh Hartnett to convince the artist. Cool. Then I heard that he later quite the Director’s Guild so that Miller could get equal director credit (I found out even later that he also did so in order that “guest director” Quentin Tarantino could get his equal share of the fame). When the movie was just a few weeks from release, the news came down that Rodriguez frequently superimposed frames from the graphic novel over the monitor so that shots could be lined up exactly.

That’s when I knew, without a doubt, that Rodriguez is one of the last “big time Hollywood” directors working in the industry today with any shred of integrity. He may have gotten the reserves of the quality that the rest of the “auteurs” had lost.

Most people have mixed opinions about Rodriguez. A lot of folks—particuarly the faceless message-board monkeys you come across so often—call him a hack, a “Tarantino wannabe”. When he released Once Upon a Time In Mexico, people seemed to either love it or hate it, depending on how much they liked Desperado. I was personally blown away by that one and looked forward to seeing more. Okay, “more” wound up being Spy Kids 3, which was a disappointment to just about everyone. Still…

Sin City was released and about half-way through I wanted to go out and see it again. It’s a real mind-blower of a movie, with visuals no one has seen before and possibly, if I can make a near blasphemous statement, an improvement over the graphic novels themselves. It’s a perfect noir film, filled to the brim with archetypical characters who could not exist outside of the film’s titular city. It’s a land populated by nothing but scumbags, murderers, hookers and thieves. No one else would want to live there, and, in all actuality, couldn’t live there. Virtuous characters are nearly non-existent, and the one that does live and breathe, Bruce Willis’ “Hardigan”, is altruistic to a fault. Black and white is the moral tone as well as the color scheme, with little dots of color to light the path for the situational ethics that everyone has adopted.

I liked that Rodriguez stayed true to the violence and nudity rife through the novels, flying in the politically correct face of current timid Hollywood mores. I liked that blood was white at times, mirroring the way it appeared in the drawings. I liked its unapologetic tone, its use of voice-over, even some of the very clunky overly-stylized dialogue that reads better than it sounds.

But above all, I liked that Rodriguez made the movie he wanted to make, which was a shot-for-shot recreation of Miller’s works. He did it for less money than most Hollywood productions spend on craft services (to invoke another cliché). And for that, his detractors are lambasting him.

Some of these critics would have attacked him no matter what, convinced in their own righteous opinions. They didn’t like what they perceive as rampant sexism (this opinion evoked most by males, not surprisingly), the voice-over, the color scheme, the casting, the this, the that.

The only argument I could actually agree with is that he was possibly limiting himself by staying so close to the source. It marginalized his ability to cut, to hone and create the stories. But, on the other hand, if he was using the graphic novels as storyboards already, he knew what the story was going to be, what the pacing was, etc. And he still had to get creative. Graphic novels are vertical beings, movies are horizontal. To get a certain type of movement, he had to think in all three dimensions, even when his source was two-dimensional. And to achieve the look he wanted, everyone had to be creative. To get the Yellow Bastard to look yellow, KNB had to paint him blue. And they had to know that ahead of time.

Personally, I find it very inspiring that Rodriguez is on what has been called “a one-man crusade to revolutionize the film industry” through his advocacy of high definition video. I like that he sticks to his guns and hires the cast he wants over studio recommendations. I like the fact that he so wanted to make Sin City that he had to convince the creator he could do it and do it right. I liked that he resigned the DGA rather than absorb the credit for what he saw was a group effort. And above all, I wish there were more people out there like him.

Rodriguez gets to do what he wants because he does what he wants. And while he can afford the state-of-the-art equipment and studio, he isn’t doing things too differently from the legions of other indie filmmakers out there. We all have our little mini studios—cameras firewired to PCs and Macs, running Premiere and/or Final Cut and After Effects simultaneously, teaching ourselves to be self-sufficient out of necessity as much as ego. And if we could, we’d all have our own little greenscreen rooms to shoot the practical parts of our dreams. It’s becoming easier by the day, actually, to do just that.

So to the detractors out there, your criticisms ultimately mean as much to him as my praise. He’s doing what he wants and cares little whether we like it or hate it. He’s making the movies that he wants to make, and he thoroughly understands the language of his art form. And if we all study hard, he tells us, and work hard and bust our asses the same way, we can all make the movies we want to make. Maybe that’s not precisely true, but it’s a good philosophy to operate under. It’s the formula for the filmmaker’s “American dream”. For the most part, that’s all we want. To tell the stories we want to tell in the way we want to tell them. And if you’re on the right track, and you know that you are, it’s best to stick by your guns.


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