Where You Least Expect It

by clarencecarter
March 23, 2006 5:43 AM
  • |

For those of you out there who loved Brokeback Mountain but wished Ang Lee’s gay-friendly opus had featured a bit more butt kicking than butt ramming, and who felt the stifling period atmospherics of Good Night and Good Luck’s First Amendment defense could have been enlivened with a dash more future-goth posing and David Strathairn speaking truth to power from behind a Guy Fawkes mask, then, finally, at long last, ye olde Reverseblog has a film for you:

V for Vendetta had all the makings of an LOLocaust along the likes of which the world had never seen: a shorn Natalie Portman (snigger), the aforementioned ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask (chuckle), graphic novel source material (heh heh), and worst of all, an effete swashbuckling hero with killer bangs, who peppers his speech with quotations from Shakespeare and words that start with the letter “V” and inhabits an art-filled tower hideout in which a rotation of classic torch songs and anonymous chick-folk stream from a classic jukebox (Oh dear god, make it stop…)—this looked a promising contender to knock the eye rape that was Ultraviolet off its perch as my worst of ’06 thus far. V for Vendetta couldn’t be good, right?

And, cheesy as it is, it may not be, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t get more than a little bit swept up in the agit-prop fervor of the work, one whose good intentions far outweigh and surpass its execution. This is not to say that V for Vendetta is poorly made—on the contrary, James McTeigue’s direction is, refreshingly, a far cry less flashy than one would expect from a Wachowski brother protégé, hewing closely as it does to a scope of action delineated by actual corporeality that avoids wading too deeply into the waters of bullet-time or extensive CGI work. It’s rather that, given the politics the film endorses, and how surprising their appearance in a blockbuster was, I left wishing that V for Vendetta might have been just a few notches more ingenious. Though, given the relative paucity of free-speech and pro-gay-mongering found in the majority of high-budget action movies, I suppose beggars can’t be choosers. I hate to burden ostensible popcorn entertainment with the mantle of "relevance," but well....V for Vendetta may be among the most openly pro-gay blockbusters ever.

I’ll go out on a limb: packaging this kind of rhetoric in with a rip-roaring (or close to it) actioner is a more important and valuable gesture than the sum of Brokeback Mountain and Good Night and Good Luck. Are those films better? We can leave that up to personal preference (for my part: yes to Brokeback, possibly to GN&GL). But I think that the dissemination of the ideals that these films share may stand a better chance at long term success in the places where they really need to be heard when not worn so openly on the sleeve. Radical polemic is important (though none of these films really are that), but there’s something to be said for the subtle, gradual absorption of unfamiliar ideals engendered by the lulling confines of a blockbuster narrative. As duly noted in the only salvageable sequence of Thank You For Smoking, Hollywood images have power over their audiences: There’s a reason why this shit works, and I dare any homophobe out there to sit down with V and not feel a twinge of outrage in the face of the neo-Fascist government’s persecution of homosexuals—the way this is framed in the narrative, against the backdrop of an unexpected, sun-dappled coming out tale parked three-quarters of the way in allows no other response. They say classical Hollywood manipulates, and well if these are the ends, the means might well be justified.

Joe Arkansas wasn’t buying a ticket to Brokeback no matter how many awards it won, how much money it made. But he might buy a ticket for V for Vendetta and end up confronting some ingrained assumptions—perhaps the, admittedly over-baked, combination of a Fascistic government, societal suppression and the castigation of minority groups might be eye-opening. Perhaps not. It’s all so obvious that part of me did chuckle at V for Vendetta until I stopped to think just how long it’s taken people to come around and realize how fucked we actually are under Bush II. Call me a Northeastern, elitist liberal, but when history weighs in with its assessment of this presidency, I’ll wager a twenty that I get the last laugh. Still a few steps away from the full-on superhomo outing that would have upended the apple cart entirely, V for Vendetta is, nevertheless, surprisingly watchable idea-porn that’ll square well with the lefty set (who among those this administration has alienated doesn’t occasionally wish for a lone hero wearing a Leon Czolgosz mask to enter stage right and correct society’s wrongs?), but I wonder if its effects might not be more widespread. Not quite the head-on confrontation with Conservativism that Brokeback was, though never seemed to really want to be, we may all look back on V with the benefit of hindsight and find it to be the more indicative of, and influential on its time.


  • mjr | April 1, 2006 8:50 AMReply

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I meant Michael Moore, not Alan Moore.

  • jimmyjames | April 1, 2006 7:09 AMReply

    forgive my late posting:
    "This is the same major problem of Moore's work -- the spectator is never meant to feel his or her own personal responsibility as a citizen of the capitalist-imperialist-militarist empire -- for that, the film would actually have to critique its own status"===alan moore, an actual anarchist, and an incredibly intelligent (catch the alliteration, this is "V for Vendetta" we're discussing) has disowned any involvement with the film you should know. don't implicate him in your critique. if anything his works address directly that which you criticize.
    Further: "Maybe some young, graphic novel collecting goth will begin working for MoveOn.org after watching the film" Yes, a whole mode of art must be reduced toa cliche. and by the by, most of moore's works were comic books, not simply "graphic novels" but they're only read by teenage goths anyways. alan moore is far more intelligent and incisive into the contemporary world than most filmmakers discussed on these pages but, hell, he's only a cartoonist.

  • johnny neill | March 26, 2006 4:42 AMReply

    All this political spectralizing is well and good and everything, but the movie was still bad. He wore a cheesy Eyes Wide Shut mask through the whole thing. The middle section, with Natalie Portman's incarceration, was pretty good and got me involved, but the rest of it was just trash. I would call it a faux action movie, or an inaction movie, or just ridiculously dull. And so let me get this straight, he liberated the country by convincing everyone to dress alike, like him? I expected to really like this movie and agree with the writer here who asked why the critics would give such an unsatisfying movie a free ride. Ooooh, Spoiler Alert! He even gets himself killed in the last act. How 14 year old boy is that? I read Roger Ebert's review, and he didn't even have anything good to say about it but still gave it three stars and two thumbs up.

  • mjr | March 25, 2006 12:01 AMReply

    To Clarence -- it seemed to me that the film's anti-homophobia was so embarrassingly blatant that anyone harboring prejudice against gays and lesbians would just outright reject it, regardless of the fact that the villain he's supposed to hate is a fundamentalist homophobe.

    As for your statement "Sometimes it IS just about electing Kerry and beating Bush, and I think we have to take these small victories and actively build upon them for incremental changes, rather than steadfastly demanding the ideological coup d’etat which I think we both know isn’t in the offing." Basically, this goes back to something you said before about the ends justifying the means. I don't subscribe to this line of thought because, well, it can lead in dangerous directions, both in political arena and the cinematic one.

    To EV -- Actually, everything you cited is warmed-over liberalism. Comparisons of Bush to Hitler; the outcries over his administration's connections to the Christian right; Fox News' out in the open support of the Republican cause; the rising awareness that government policies have not only generated terrorism but are also fighting terrorism in the wrong places, e.g. the Iraq War; all of these have been liberal talking points for a while now and they have found their way into popular entertainment without making so much as a dent in the public consciousness. V has surely brought together all these bullet points under one razzle dazzle big top -- it's sad that we're expected to be so contented with the faint awareness Hollywood has taken nearly five years to express when most people who don't need to be manipulated to form opinions were onto the bullshit on 9/12. Anyway, the effect of the film will be slight. And I believe this because I disagree that the film makes "dystopia recognizable." For example, the film's use of the Holocaust imagery Spielberg made appropriate and sterilized for mass spectatorship in the torture and concentration camp scenes bears no relationship to the real-life cruelties of Guantanomo and Abu Ghraib (and significantly, there is not a single Muslim in the film -- still too risky a representation to undertake in a blockbuster, it seems) and will not be able to jostle or raise righteous indignation in a contemporary mainstream audience that is, let's face it, awfully jaded in its response to onscreen violence. And anyway, what's it to react to when dystopic allegory (I wouldn't call it a metaphor) has been buried deep into the ground by its reactionary leanings (the messianism, the unilluminated fascism of the "narcotized mass of noddling nitwits" -- what audience wants to relate to a film that panders AND condescends to it in such a way? -- all the recuperations I mentioned in earlier responses). The film doesn't make our own government seem alien because its portrayal in the film is so hyperbolic and standard-issue totalitarian movie regime that it has nothing to do with the much more subtle machinations of capitalist empire that form the true foundation for Bush's "mandate."

    Oh, by the way, V is being distributed by Warner Bros., a branch of Time Warner. TW until recently owned Hughes Electronics Corporation, which, in a merger with Raytheon forms Raytheon Industries, a prime manufacturer of missiles for the United States Army. God knows what Warner Bros. is connected to now, but just thought people should know that the minds behind the The Matrix were part of a conglomerate responsible for blowing up Afghani homes, at the very least. I don't mean to be nasty about this, I really do think it should serve as a reminder that the major studios are in league with major business interests, which often take part in the business of war.

  • clarencecarter | March 24, 2006 4:44 AMReply

    That piece of language you cite was actually wholly intentional. From my perspective, I like the idea of a movie that might precipitate an unexpected ideological queasiness that could engender confusion, and eventually the crisis that I think we both want. We’re looking for the same ends, just different means. V FOR VENDETTA may be a movie about “things” as you say, but at least its not about “(no)things.”

    I should have noted that I’m especially thinking of this effect in light of the film’s handling of homosexuals, much less so in its anti-establishment poses. By singling out homosexuals as the one “deviant” group actively oppressed and punished by the John Hurt regime, I think the film cleverly plays off the binary between (yes, simplistic) good/evil that Hollywood convention relies on. The film just doesn’t allow Joe A. homophobe the opportunity to sit in his seat and think to himself, “Well, this government is pretty bad, and I support its downfall because I align myself with the hero, but I do agree with their position on taking the gays, rounding ‘em up and using them for horrible experiments.” Joe may not even consciously realize what’s happened to him (movie magic!), whereas I guarantee he stayed away from BROKEBACK exactly because he was expecting a conversion call. That’s where I think the potential value of V lies, and I’ll freely admit that I’m perhaps being a tad optimistic.

    And let’s not underestimate the power of ubiquity. (Perceived ubiquity, after all, is one of the last few threads that allows the myth of the conservative majority to continue propagating). Of course I’d prefer a host of truly politically complicated works to steam their way through theatres across the country changing minds from coast to coast, but the odds are stacked far against that happening any time soon. Sometimes it IS just about electing Kerry and beating Bush, and I think we have to take these small victories and actively build upon them for incremental changes, rather than steadfastly demanding the ideological coup d’etat which I think we both know isn’t in the offing.

    I’d even go so far as to say that given the film sparked the dialogue that we’re having right here—one I think is wholly necessary—and that folks will read it and consider the issues at stake it’s already done a fair bit of good, at least in our little corner of the blogosphere.

  • StayPuft | March 23, 2006 10:31 AMReply

    I concur, Clarence. Good film. Relevant popcorn films are exactly what we need right now...

  • Brian | March 23, 2006 6:39 AMReply

    I was surprised by how blunt the writers of V For Vendetta were. I happened to watch Farenheit 911 that day and was definitely moved by the message of V. That being said, I was incredibly disappointed with the pacing and tone (mostly due to the dialogue) of the film. I just didn't find it to be entertaining. Now, Batman Begins was great... had a message and was a kick-ass film