After being frustrated in our plans last weekend, when her employer pencilled her in for a Sunday shift, Melanie and I had the opportunity to see Watchmen over the weekend.
I thought the film was excellent, without being perfect. The infamous sex scene was not nearly as cringe-inducing as I had been led to expect, and critics who have disparaged the film for undue reverence to the source material have, I think, missed the point.
As a fan of the original graphic novel, I was fond of telling anyone who made the mistake of listening that the key to the movie's success was going to be Rorschach's character, as it was his journal and his voice that seemed to resonate most with the paranoid and claustrophobic universe Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons had created.
Well, Jackie Earle Haley was a motherfucker as Rorschach. He was tremendous, as hard and as uncompromising and as insane as Moore had envisioned his vigilante character, and the pathos at his end was as a result just as poignant.
Snyder scrambled the story a bit at the end, streamlined it, and though for a while, I thought the director was gonna wimp out and back down from the climactic tragedy, he didn't, and by the end, I thought the tale was told as well as it might have been despite the changes to the endgame.
One of my beefs with the production was expected: I'd known the production had axed the Tales of The Black Freighter sequences early on for reasons of space. Watching the movie, however, re-emphasized how important that parallel and contrapuntal commentary on the main plotline had been to the comic.
The second beef I had is what makes the movie's mention relevant here: its music. Moore had layered his story with loads of cultural references, lots of music, and Zack Snyder incorporated a lot of those references into his film.
Sometimes to its detriment, too. It's the one time when I might agree with the critics who found fault in the movie's faithfulness.
As you read the comic, it becomes quickly clear that Moore is a Dylan fan. He references a Dylan tune no less than three times during the course of the graphic novel. So when Snyder chose to run the opening credits over "The Times They Are A-Changing," it made perfect sense, especially considering 1) the historical montage that was running behind those credits and 2) that Moore had himself namechecked the song in Chapter XI.
But what possessed Snyder to use "The Sounds of Silence" over images of The Comedian's funeral? It's a good example of how inexpert music selection can confuse the viewer. Melanie actually thought the sequence was a flashback. And the thing is, not only was the use of the song anachronistic for the film, it also breaks the viewer's suspension of disbelief. Here you are watching a movie about comic heroes, and suddenly you have Dustin Hoffman in your head. . . . Cinematically, "The Sounds of Silence" in all its non-ironic uses will forever and irrevocably be associated with The Graduate, and The Graduate only. How come it's only Zack Snyder who doesn't know this?
Big Mistake, there, and for no real reason, either: Moore or Gibbons never mention Simon and Garfunkel at all.
Another big mistake in soundtrack selection was the use of Jimi Hendrix' version of "All Along The Watchtower" as Rorschach and the Nite Owl fly into Veidt's compound. Moore had appropriated the lyrics from Dylan's song when he titled Chapter X "Two Riders Were Approaching," and Snyder's editors managed to sync the line with an appropriate image of the two masked men tromping through the snow in the shadow of Ozymandias' Antipodean castle.
But a competent editing job does not a wise choice make. I will take issue with using Hendrix' much more well-known version, because of all the hippie/Woodstock baggage it carries that is quite irrelevant to the film, but the plain fact of the matter is, no matter whose version you use, when Moore quotes lyrics in print, the effect is much more subtle than the one you get when you play the music.
The '60's still have a long shadow and the cultural overtones to the use of either Hendrix or Dylan music are too powerful for the movie to overcome. The movie's overriding moods are of paranoia and claustrophobia and nervousness. No discredit to Dylan or Hendrix, but their songs do not invoke these feelings. It was a movie best adorned by "Psycho Killer" or something from Fear of Music. The Electric Ladyland stuff is not working.
The movie was set in an alternate version of the mid-'80's, and most, if not all, of the music used in the film should have been of, around, or influenced by that time. I was never a big fan on Nena's "99 Luftballons," but its use in the film (and of course, the comic) is absolutely appropriate, even apart from the song's nuclear symbolism.
And I know even less about My Chemical Romance than I do about Nena, but I will say that their cover of Dylan's "Desolation Row" as the first half of the closing credits rolled was well executed. Snyder managed to get another Dylan reference in, and the band managed to sound not like one of the late oughts' hitmakers, but rather like one of the Reagan Punk bands.
Although I guess you'd have to say Nixon Punk, right?
Melanie thought the use of Leonard Cohen's music an inspired choice, a depressing poet and songwriter for a depressing universe obsessed with its own doom, but my own insight on Cohen is limited, so I'll leave it at that.
But in the end, my biggest response to the music in the film is disappointment that the soundtrack didn't include Iggy Pop's "Neighborhood Threat," when Moore gives the lyrics a marquee quotation on page 10 of chapter I, as Dan Dreiberg walks home, soon to find the absolutist lunatic Rorschach in his kitchen.
The song is a paranoiac classic, suitable for Travis Bickle and Rorschach both, and deserved to have been carried over into the movie as much as any song, as much as any plot device, as much as any character.
I understand that the DVD version of the film is going to include an animated version of The Tales of the Black Freighter. Maybe there's a little room for "Neighborhood Threat?"
Iggy Pop - Lust for Life - 8 - Neighborhood Threat.mp3
160kbps mp3, up for 6 weeks (Right click and save as target, I'm hosting this file now)
File under: Market Consolidation Moves from Psychotic Punk-Rockers