Archive for Watchmen

I Watched the Watchmen (Notes on Rorschach)

Posted in Cinema with tags , on March 30, 2009 by davehurwitz

My chiropractor likes to chat while he is manipulating my spine.  Whether he does this out of a natural garrulousness or to distract me from the wrenching and popping sensations I have never been quite sure.  Usually, he tells jokes.  Most recently, however, he mentioned that he had seen the Watchmen movie.  Having never read the graphic novel, he found the story overly

Haley as Rorschach

Haley as Rorschach

long and drawn out.  To me, coming from the opposite perspective, certain parts of the film (mostly notably the section dealing with Rorschach’s origin) seemed needlessly truncated.  Without my having even brought him up, my chiropractor singled out Jackie Earle Haley (who he remembered as a child star) as exceptional.  While Haley’s Rorschach was as good as I had hoped it would be, certain aspects of his performance, and the directorial decisions behind it, gave me pause.

Rorschach as drawn is a largely emotionless figure.  His voice is described as a creepy monotone.  Even during the psychiatric interview sections, his unmasked face remains unchanging and expressionless.  While Moore’s Rorschach is capable of humor (see his prison confrontation with Big Figure, reproduced almost exactly in the film) and even a certain lyricism, his face and his body language remain void of affect for much of the graphic novel.  This makes his rare displays of fury and anguish, at his unmasking and at his death, even more disturbing.

Moore's Rorschach

Moore’s Rorschach

Haley’s Rorschach is not emotionless.  There is a scene in which he holds his masked face in his hands, despairing over Veidt’s betrayal, something Moore’s character would never do.  In fact, Haley’s whole performance conveys a sense of barely suppressed emotion.  His Rorschach shrugs and twitches.  He fidgets and paces the floor.  When Haley’s Rorschach hacks child molester Gerald Grice to death with the meat cleaver–rather than simply leaving him to burn, as in the original–the moment owes more to Jim Thompson or Andrew Vachss than it does to Alan Moore.  Far from being a cipher, this Rorschach is simply a man whose eyes have been forcibly opened to the brutality and meaninglessness of existence.  He’s a man with impossible standards confronting an imperfect world.  A noir hero, in other words.  While this interpretation can be read into the graphic novel, it is not, in my opinion at least, the complete picture.

It’s also worth remembering that Moore’s Rorschach is not an entirely original creation.  All of the characters in Watchmen are loosely based on the heroes of Charlton Comics, which had been acquired by DC in 1983.  More specifically, Rorschach is based on The Question, a faceless vigilante created in 1967 by legendary comics artist Steve Ditko.  While I am not directly familiar

Ditko's The Question

Ditko’s The Question

with Charlton’s Question, I was a big fan of the DC reboot, which ran for thirty-six issues between 1987 and 1990.  Drawn by Denys Cowan and scripted by Dennis O’Neil, the series (along with the concurrent Green Arrow reboot) became a soap box for the writer’s twin obsessions, Zen mysticism and martial practice as a path to enlightenment.  O’Neil’s Question fights to master himself as well as to defeat evil.  In truth, I owe Dennis O’Neil a lot.  My interest in archery, my introduction to the works of Eugen Herrigel, my years of tai chi.  All these things began with The Question.

Like The Question, Rorschach’s mask has no human features.  When we look at them, we see ourselves more than we see what lies behind.  Jackie Earle Haley and director Zach Snyder saw a fiercely moral man at war with an amoral world.  Dennis O’Neil saw man in search of himself.  Alan Moore saw nothing more or less than a man who had stared evil in the face too hard and too long.  What do you see?  What kind of man are you?  That is the real question.  And no one knows the answer but you.

Dave Hurwitz

The Question reboot

The Question reboot

Alan Moore Curses Watchmen Movie

Posted in Cinema, Random Weirdness with tags , on March 1, 2009 by davehurwitz
Watchmen Graphic Novel

Watchmen Graphic Novel

I caught a student reading Watchmen at the back of my class.  Don’t worry, I didn’t bust him for it.  After all, it is an English class, and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from reading one of the greatest graphic novels of all time, even if they choose to do so while I’m trying to explain sentence fragments.  I used to do the same thing myself in high school.  (I may even have done it with Watchmen.)  I just wasn’t smart enough to hide in the back of the room.  Whether because of my poor eyesight or my extreme nerdiness, I always sat right up front, in plain view of my teachers.  Luckily, I’ve always been capable of focusing on more than one thing at a time.  I remember astounding my Spanish teacher, a retired Colombian bodybuilder who was clearly not a man to be fucked with, by answering his rather pointed questions in passable Español, my head still firmly buried in a John Varley novel.  But I digress.

I talked a bit with my student during the break, eyeing his shiny new edition with the slick paper and restored colors.  A friend of his, presumably a comix geek, had insisted that he read the original before seeing movie.

I too am excited about the upcoming Watchmen movie in large part because director Zach Snyder (who also brought Frank Miller’s 300 to the screen) has promised as faithful an adaptation as the 150-minute running time allows.  There are also a couple of genius bits of casting.  Jeffrey Dean Morgan (John Winchester on TV’s Supernatural) has already demonstrated that he can dredge up the tortured cynicism necessary to play The Comedian.  And anyone who has seen Jackie Earle Haley as a paroled sex offender in Little Children (a film recommended by no less an authority than Stephen King) cannot doubt his ability to portray the fascist vigilante Rorschach.  His line reading in the trailer alone is enough to give me chills.

The Watchmen Cast

The Watchmen Cast

The only thing marring my anticipation is the sadly predicable behavior of the notoriously misanthropic Alan Moore, the snake-worshiping Englishmen who wrote and co-created Watchmen along with artist Dave Gibbons.  Every time I read an interview with Moore (usually in the back pages of Jess Nevins’ annotations to Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) he cannot refrain from slagging Hollywood moviemakers, the American comix industry, and (by implication) anyone who enjoys their products.  Granted, Moore does have legitimate grievances against certain people and publishers here in the U.S., but his tedious ire never seems to wane.  Moore has refused to have anything to do with the Watchmen movie, even to the point of turning his residuals over to Gibbons, who has been on set with Snyder as a consultant.  Laughing about the film’s legal troubles in a recent interview with L.A. Times blogger-in-residence, Geoff Boucher, Moore jokingly claimed to have cursed the movie with his wizard powers.  I find his childish attitude disappointing, especially as both Snyder and Gibbons are trying to stay true to the spirit of the original.

Regardless, I took my boys to ComicKaze the other day.  (We were seeking Ben Templesmith’s Doctor Who one-shot, The Whispering Gallery.)  I saw the Watchmen action figures, and had to fight off the almost irresistible urge to open several packages and twist a bunch of Ozymandius figures into contorted poses.  A pile of Watchmen reissues sat on a table like a load of colorful bricks.  I remembered the last time I saw stack like that, in a cramped comic shop on El Cajon Boulevard, in 1987.  I still have my first edition compilation.  It sits on my shelf even now, battered and faded, alongside Moore’s recent work.  I’ve carried it from place to place since before my boys were born, before I got married, before I graduated high school or learned to drive.  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read it over all those years.  Yes, I will see the Watchmen movie.  But like it or hate it, it will not diminish my admiration for the graphic novel.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore

And then there’s my student.  If it weren’t for the upcoming film, he might never have read Watchmen at all.  Maybe Alan Moore should bear that in mind.

Dave Hurwitz

Strap on your cardboard party hat and get ready for cupcakes.  The Weekly Rot is officially one year old.  So take a swing at the Cthulhu piñata.  Pin the butcher knife on Janet Leigh.  Try the punch.  I’m pretty sure the eyeballs in there are rubber.  If you’re feeling nostalgic, take a stroll through the archives, and check out some of our early posts.  Just try not to wake Mad Mary.

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