Sin City

Eye-catching but conventional comic book adaptation that may disappoint.

By Henry K Miller

In one of his regular laments for the seventh art, David Thomson recently took aim at CGI. ‘There is actually less and less film material that is pure live action, and more and more that has undergone the kind of non-photographic processes that were once called animation’. Sin City will not be an encouraging sign for Thomson. Abandoning the distinction between ‘live action’ and animation, director Robert Rodriguez has aimed to reproduce the look of Frank Miller’s comic-book stories, with manic misplaced fidelity.

In bygone days, Thomson imagines, ‘the sheer wonder of the lifelike moving image was sufficient to entertain audiences… the camera was trusted to record the action organised in front of it’. Sin City belongs firmly in the post-photographic era: the concept of the ‘camera’, with ‘action’ taking place ‘in front’ of it is obsolete here. For sure, some elements of what’s finally up on screen were captured, at some early stage of production, by a camera or something like it. But these elements were just that – elements – and took their place alongside others, screwed and chopped, in the final edit.

For Thomson, what is at stake here is ‘the loss of real time, real space and real expression, which make the worlds of Jean Renoir, Orson Welles and Max Ophuls so meaningful’. But none of these qualities, if qualities they be, depend on traditional photographic means, and what Thomson calls the ‘simply photographic or representational’ never existed – certainly not in the films of Orson Welles. The photographic process was never simple or representational. In the end, Sin City will only amplify the ‘end of cinema’ chorus, but for the wrong reasons: this film’s failings have little to do with the eye-catching but ultimately ephemeral use of CGI.

Indeed, more inventive use would have been welcome: although Rodriguez succeeds in mimicking frames from the comic books, he doesn’t capture the graphic medium’s sense of movement and fragmentation. While the sparing use of colour is striking, in general the film feels pretty conventional.

And that’s because the film is pretty conventional, transgressive only in a Vice magazine kind of way. Time was you just had to slice someone’s ear off to get people’s attention, and only total feebs would object. By making every scene an ear – or, more accurately, cock – slicing scene, Sin City has taken things up a notch. One character even gets castrated twice. but while this emphasis on revenge may sound old testament, it’s taken for granted that every plot is a MacGuffin and every character a cipher, and even that this blankness is a virtue. What gets challenged is not conventional morality but conventional taste.

In this respect, Sin City is profoundly ’90s, born of the dispiriting non-conviction that movies are, when all’s said and done, a bit of fun. It’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, because Sin City ends up being just that and not much more. I it’s not the end of cinema, neither is it a passport to the next one.
Contributors retain the copyright to their own contributions. Everything else is copyright © Spannered 2015.
Please do not copy whole articles: instead, copy a bit and link to the rest. Thanks!