Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Have you ever been on the bus at six in the morning or at the bar at Denny's at three in the morning and had a guy next to you who talks and talks with no regard for whether you have the slightest interest in what he's saying?

That's the way Frank Miller came across in the documentary "Miller on Miller" on the DVD of his movie The Spirit. His ideas all sound second hand. Even his recollections of his own experience ring of a re-telling of a re-telling rather than something pulled from living memory.

Mind you, I've read the interviews with Miller in The Comics Journal Library: Frank Miller. I've read the long discussion in Eisner/Miller. I've heard the commentary for Sin City. I know Miller is capable of seeming alive, engaged, thinking about life and ideas, so it's a shame he doesn't there.

I mention this because that's how the feature itself came across to me.

I won't get into the discussion of its lack of anything more than a casual surface resemblance to Will Eisner's The Spirit. I don't know if I feel capable of assessing whether Miller failed to achieve his stated goal of recreating Eisner's comics or outright lied when he stated that was his goal. I'm inclined toward the latter, as this would be an epic fail.

On its own merits, it's less an epic fail and more a "What the fuck?" fail.

The Spirit is dripping with "I've wanted to make a movie for twenty years and I'm going to squeeze everything I've ever thought would be cool in a movie into this one!"

So, I hate to jump on the hate-wagon to heartily against a movie that's so clearly a creative person throwing their guts against the wall. This is the exact kind of failure I'd like to see more of.

But that's not to say it's anything but a failure on every level.

Well, Gabriel Macht seems to have read some Eisner and does, on occasion, nail the feel of Denny Colt perfectly. With a solid script and better direction, I imagine he'd have been amazing.

I won't join the bandwagon of "Keep Miller in comics!"/"Don't let him make another movie!"

I'd like to see him make more movies. I'd just put the reins on him for a while.

I wouldn't let him adapt another comic, not even his own. He needs to start by thinking in movie terms rather than comic book terms.

But he also needs someone to knock back and forth with. A co-writer/co-creator or a supportive producer, who is able to provide productive notes and feedback, and boundaries. Without that, he's flailing. Not without interesting ideas, but too often relying on "things that give Frank Miller a boner" rather than developing a whole unified whole that works.

I think this would be positive, and bring out the best in what he has, while he continues to learn the language of movies.

Or maybe he's just the crazy guy who talks to me on the bus now, and there's no hope. I like to hope that's not true.


bill r. said...

I imagine I'll be seeing this shortly, though without an ounce of optimism that it will be legitimately good. I fully expect to think, "Holy Christ, why didn't they shut down production on this thing?"

Since I expect it to be bad, my only real worry is that it will be tedious. Bad I can handle. Tedium I can't.

Also, Neil, as someone who liked Sin City (did you, by the way), I have to say that I don't believe Miller has any future in movies. You say you want him to think in movie terms, but my gut tells me that he's incapable of that.

Neil Sarver said...

I would say, if you can handle bad, then tedious is something it rarely is. Which isn't to say it's one of those constantly entertaining for staring-at-a-trainwreck purposes.

I did like Sin City indeed. I'll agree that I think from a moviemaking perspective, it works because of Rodriguez, however. I mean, he's helped by the original comics... because he does struggle as a writer of stories for grown-ups.

Miller's potential as a moviemaker? I agree, probably low. I suspect he's too used to thinking in comics terms. I also suspect he's too used to being the 800-pound gorilla who gets what he wants. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn't in comics. I suspect it won't work out that he'll go back to having the humility to be willing to learn a new craft. But I'd love to be wrong.

And, as I've said before, I'd much rather see things that are bad from trying to be something more or different than are just mediocre because that's all they were shooting for.

bill r. said...

And, as I've said before, I'd much rather see things that are bad from trying to be something more or different than are just mediocre because that's all they were shooting for...But from the trailers for The Spirit, it looks like Miller is just trying to do Sin City again. It looks exactly the same.

Neil Sarver said...

There's some of that. It certainly shares an emphasis on recreating the look of Miller's drawing style.

I do think he was trying to do something else here. Maybe I'm reading too much into, though. I've probably done that a time or two.

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