April 14, 2005

Sin City. Sin World. Sin Life.

Mickey Rourke as 'Marv' (Sin City)

The world of Basin City seems to exist inside a brutal extremist universe, chock full of skeletons of old pulp stereotypes which creator Frank Miller has pushed to psychopathic extremes. Frank Miller's graphic novel Sin City takes the gritty, pulp novel style of film noir and writers like Raymond Chandler, and hard-boils the values down from gritty greys to basic black and white.

In the classic detective novel "The Big Sleep", Raymond Chandler depicted a suspicious, loner gumshoe detective, lying, vindictive women and loathsome greedy criminals. Miller gleefully pumps this genre up a violent notch or ten. In his world, single-mindedly violent male anti-heroes protect or avenge scantily-clad, slutty-looking females. Horrible violence is done to innocent victims and the response of the avenger is similarly horrible. Vigilante thugs hunt down psychopathic cannibals, an idealistic, fatalist, loner cop takes on a serial rapist and a community of Rambo-style prostitutes defend their neighbourhood against the city's corrupt cops and politicians.

I read somewhere that Frank Miller grew up in Hell's Kitchen, New York, a tough place to live from the rumours I've heard. During his time writing/drawing Daredevil for Marvel, Daredevil was based in Hell's Kitchen too. I can only assume that this place has a big influence on Miller's work.

Sin City is a world in which both crime and punishment are violent and bloody. There's no trial, jury, lawyers or media. Just the vicious act, and the equally vicious vengeance.

I really like the visual, technical style of the Sin City movie, and have a great respect for Miller as an artist. From what I've seen, the Sin City graphic novel is an amazing and striking piece of work. I accepted the world of the Sin City movie while I was watching it, accepting the stereotypes, the hard core violence, the impossibly tough male heroes, and the insanely, beautifully gritty and visceral visual style of the movie. I accepted and enjoyed all of that in terms of the world Miller and Rodriguez were presenting. I think it's an ambitious and original take on violent crime drama, like Pulp Fiction's gritter, more hard core cousin. But after the lights came up and I thought about the underlying themes of it, I started to get a rather sour taste in my mouth.

In my home city of Vancouver, BC, over 60 women have gone missing from the downtown east-side since police investigations began in earnest in 2002. Physical and DNA evidence has linked over a dozen of the deaths to a pig farm owned by William Pickton. The investigation and discovery of evidence is still ongoing. This case is one of the most gruesome and infamous murder investigations in Canadian history.

In Sin City, a psychotic young male serial killer who lives on an old farm, kills, dismembers and consumes multiple female victims. This reminded me too much of what is simply referred to as "the missing women investigation" or "the Pickton case" up here in British Columbia. Our cops were picking pieces of DNA evidence out of the ground for over a year. The similarity between this movie and what has happened within 20 kilometers of my own neighbourhood might seem surface and coincidental, but I found myself feeling very pissed off when the words "murdered women" and "farm" crossed my ears in the movie theatre. The thing is, most of the women in "Sin City" are prostitutes. That one-dimensional characterization of women as either defenseless victims or prostitutes seems shallow and pathetic at best.

I totally get that this is the genre that Miller is using. I'm a huge fan of James Bond creator, Ian Fleming, and his 50's style of Anglo sexism and racism is part of his own culture and steeps into the world of his characters. I still disagree with it personally, but accept it as part of the makeup of the creator's outlook or intended message.

Many of the women who have gone missing from Vancouver, I think the ones whose DNA was found on the Pickton pig farm, were also prostitutes. The fate of at least 15 women were discovered this way. Local public opinion has said that the investigation of the missing women case would have progressed further and faster if the victims had not been sex workers. So, Miller's scuzzy, depraved-looking vision of the role of women in Sin City resonates in my gut as a painfully negative image.

The Clown Prince...

Miller's ground-breaking 1991 graphic novel, "The Dark Knight Returns" brought Batman, Robin and The Joker back to life in another gritty world where an aging and out-of-touch Batman must take on the tactics of his villians in order to defeat (or at least outlive) them, and reclaim his identity as Gotham's resident anti-hero.

Resembling Batman's arch-nemesis more and more, that white-skinned, red-lipped media freakshow known in the U.K. as "Jacko", has now gone from being the self-proclaimed King of Pop to become our collective Clown Prince of Pedophilia. I so badly want to spit in Jackson's fake face the same way The Dark Knight's Batman spat in the Joker's face after the villian died in their last encounter.

Is our collective interest in (and seeming approval of) violent anti-heros an appropriate reaction to the violence of the real world? I don't have an answer for this, but it's the closest thing I can think of for rationalization. All I know is I still feel kind of pissed off, and Sin City, although beautiful, just made me madder.

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