"All books are either dreams or swords,/You can cut, or you can drug, with words." - Amy Lowell, 'Sword Blades and Poppy Seed'

Friday, July 29, 2011

Film Friday: Sin City

Miller, Frank. Sin City. Vol. 1: The Hard Goodbye. Milwauke, OR: Dark Horse, 2005.

A Woman named Goldie takes pity on an unattractive and unstable man named Marv, and when she's murdered in bed with him, he sets out to not only discover who framed him, but to get revenge for one of the few women to ever show him kindness.  His quest for answers leads him to a tangle of political deceit centered around a man with somewhat...unusual appetites. But all of this is just business as usual in the crime-riddled Basin City.

Book Rating: **** (out of five)
Movie Rating: **** (out of five)

  • Drawings. Frank Miller's drawing style is dark and evocative.  In this particular story, there's no color, just pure black and white.  Miller switches between detailed images and outlines and shadows, which creates a feeling very much like film noir.
  • Plot. The story is dark and disturbing (not kidding, corruption and cannibalism, for beginners) but it sucks you in.  Marv exemplifies the "anti" in anti-hero, and in spite of his issues,  he is a sympathetic character.
  • Sex and Violence. This book is a graphic novel, in more ways than one.  Murder, hookers, and did I mention cannibalism earlier? Yeah...  Razor wire, and sawing off limbs, and, oh yeah, corrupt clergy who are covering up the murder of prostitutes.  Stay away if such things offend you.
 The Hard Goodbye is the first of Frank Miller's Sin City stories, and it sets up much of the dynamic of the universe.  In Sin City, violence is always the answer, and even the prostitutes have significant skills outside the bedroom.  Miller's drawings raise the level of the stories from pure hedonistic camp. Miller writes pure escapism in the old hard-boiled noir style.  The black and white drawings underline the stark contrasts of Miller's inspirations while contrasting nicely with the moral ambiguity of many of the characters.

The main character of The Hard Goodbye is Marv, and in spite of all his problems, it's hard not to sympathize with him.  His methods of finding out who killed one of the few people to ever be kind to him might be a bit...extreme, but so are the methods of the people he's fighting against. As long as you can recognize that Miller is not suggesting Sin City as a model for how the world should run, it's easy to see the book as good, dirty fun, with a ground-breaking style all its own.

The Film:
Movie based on comic books and graphic novels, in my experience, have tended to be hit or miss.  Given the distinctive style of Miller's Sin City novels, there was a great potential of failure in translating it to the screen.  The movie, which brings together three of the novels (The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard) and one short story ("The Customer Is Always Right"), succeeds beautifully.  This may be because of the collaboration of director Robert Rodriguez with Miller.  The movie is shot in black and white, with a few moments of distinct color (a technique of Miller's that appears in later stories), and the plots of the stories closely follow those of the novels, with many scenes bearing striking resemblances to panels from the books.

Interweaving the various stories works well because Miller's characters are shared among his stories, for example,  the prostitutes of Old Town that play a small role in The Hard Goodbye are prominent in The Big Fat Kill. Not for the squeamish,  but I know from the experience of family members that even people who are not usually into graphically violent movies will appreciate Sin City for its style.  And I think fans of the books will appreciate it for its faithfulness to both the letter and the spirit of Miller's originals.

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