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Josh Chafetz worries about the soul of America, having watched Sin City: "I think what bothered me most was that some people leaving the theater clearly did enjoy the movie. I worry about the state of their souls as individuals, and about the state of a society that produces people so inured to violence and gore." Like Matt Singer, I can't help but note the irony of a leading apostle of messianic military humanism being shocked -- shocked! -- at the prospect of people embracing violence. But I honestly think this is off-base. As with, say, The Passion of the Christ I found myself periodically wincing, unable to watch some of the more horrific acts of violence portrayed even though Sin City is much more stylized than Passion's realism.

I think the problem here is that Josh is assuming that anyone who liked the movie also found it easy to watch. That seems wrong to me. I saw In The Company of Men a little while back which, though not gorey, certainly isn't a "goes down smooth" kind of thing. That didn't make it a bad movie. On the contrary. Some things should be hard to watch. Elements of Sin City, like elements of Passion, are like that on the violence-and-gore front. What troubles me are movies that portray violent acts -- people hitting each other, people shooting each other -- but that don't show the element of carnage and gore. The sort of bubble gum action flicks where people just seem to kind of collapse after being whacked on the head or shot. Films that err in the other direction with stylized violence, profuse bleeding, and an obsession with gore seem to me to be appropriately edifying. They indulge the fascination with violence without sugar-coating it. You don't leave Sin City thinking, "hey that's neat -- I wish I were one of those guys!" The technical virtuosity is serves to portray a world of horrifying violence as, well, horrifying.

April 2, 2005 | Permalink


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» Sin City: The Darkest Noir from Cobb
It's populated hot dames with nefarious brains, real hips and curled lips. It's so American that it sweats red dresses, whitewall tires and blue saxophones. [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 3, 2005 2:47:17 PM

» Bum Ticker from Provisionally Titled
...However, while Yglesias tries to defend the blood and gore on the grounds of the film actually showing the results of violence rather than obscuring it as so many other films do, I think that's off base... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 4, 2005 12:10:50 AM

» Sin City from A&W
In Sin City, there is more than mood. Noir is not just a setting; noir is a message, a feeling, a completely different universe where all the rules are different (moral and meteorological -- does anyone else love that it's always raining?). [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2005 7:14:18 PM


I've long suspected that Matt's soul is totally fucked, and he enjoyed the movie, so that proves it.

Let's rerun the Pulp Fiction thread of about a year ago.

Posted by: John Emerson | Apr 2, 2005 2:22:05 PM

Ok, so about violence in movies: IT ISN'T REAL! It's the real violence - torture and war - for example, that makes me worry about our society.

Posted by: eric | Apr 2, 2005 2:30:57 PM

Thoroughly awful and unnecessary film, but I like you Matt.

Posted by: Jennifer | Apr 2, 2005 2:33:17 PM

What’s the problem? The violence isn’t real, its just one step above the coyote getting hit with a large anvil. I would agree that if people walked out of a movie like Saving Private Ryan talking about how cool and enjoyable the first 15 minutes were then we might have a bit of a problem. But um’, this is just a comic book brought to the screen where a character can take multiple shots to the torso and get run over twice in the span of a couple of minutes, and then get up and walk to his car and drive away like nothing happened.

Posted by: Lord Fluffy | Apr 2, 2005 2:38:38 PM

I think the problem here is that Josh is assuming that anyone who liked the movie also found it easy to watch.

I guess my soul is really fucked then 'cause I found the movie real easy to watch. The scene when the henchman gets an arrow stuck through him: comedy gold.

Posted by: WillieStyle | Apr 2, 2005 2:43:28 PM

Violence okay if directed at ragheads, other assorted brown folk, and Jesusman saving us from damnation.

Posted by: Snarkasaurus Rex | Apr 2, 2005 2:49:24 PM

And I would rather differ with Mr. Chafetz accusation that “Sin City depicts violence for its own sake”. That’s just wrong. In all the three stories violence was depicted as a method that the protagonists used to fight “evil”. It was exercised to avenge a lost love and was targeted towards scumbags ranging from street level punks to the vile cannibalistic clergy that employed them. It was exercised against corrupt cops and the mafia for the purpose of protecting women from being made into sex slaves living in a perpetual hell, and lastly it was exercised against a raging pedophile that claimed he had rapped and killed dozens of little girl. Out of all the people I really would expect Mr. Chafetz to approve of using violence to overthrow these evil tyrants and their oppressive hierarchy (all of the villains in the movie were either members or protected by the political elite), and applaud the brave hero’s putting their lives on the line, and sometimes sacrificing them for the greater good.

Posted by: Lord Fluffy | Apr 2, 2005 2:50:59 PM

I have not yet seen the movie, but the discussion leads me to believe Sin City might promote vigilantism, disrespect for the law and duly consituted authority, and contempt for laborious processs in correcting injustice. To see that these are dangerous ideas we need only look at the Terry Schiavo phenomenon.

Rodriguez has often approached a proto-anarchism in his Desperado movies, with few admirable authority figures. I will have study the Spy Kids series to adequately judge how subversive and corrupting his Weltenschaung may be.

OTOH, the arrow sounds neat, and it has Alba.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 2, 2005 3:22:27 PM

Oh, and a fun thread can be had with a discussion of In the Company of Men. Love that movie, along with the rest of LaBute's work.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 2, 2005 3:24:59 PM

Somebody needs to sit Mr Chavetz on their knee and remind him, gently, that It's a movie.

Posted by: Fcb | Apr 2, 2005 3:49:23 PM


A Savage and Sexy City of Pulp Fiction Regulars

There are eight million stories in the naked city and almost as many crammed into "Sin City." Based on the comic book series of the same name by Frank Miller, who directed the film with Robert Rodriguez, this slavishly faithful screen adaptation tracks the ups and downs (mostly downs) of tough guys and dolls recycled from the lower depths and bottom shelves of pulp fiction. Instead of Raymond Chandler, though, with his weary allusions to Shakespeare and Keats, these hard-boiled tales owe a debt to the American primitivism of Mickey Spillane and comic book legends like William Gaines.

Set in a nowhere metropolis, the film opens with a gaspingly beautiful image of a woman staring into the night. Dressed in a shimmering gown the color of newly spilled blood, she stands with her back to the camera, oblivious. That gives us time to register that this red is the only color in a landscape exclusively painted hot white, bottomless black and silvery gray. It also gives the narrator (Josh Hartnett) time to creep up on her. Soon, the man offers the woman a cigarette and takes something far more precious from her in return. With a few short sentences and an act of violence, the filmmakers telescope the death and desire to follow, as well as the underlying brutality of their world.

"Sin City" unfolds in a permanent midnight with only an intermittent splash of color to brighten the dark. In this shadowland, the men wear trench coats and chips on their shoulders, while the women wear next to nothing at all. Aesthetically speaking, the filmmakers have a thing for pneumatic breasts and bondage wear, and the women in "Sin City" are conceived along the same fetishistic lines as many comic strip heroines. Dressed in push-up bras and even a pair of chaps, they all look as if they could be on the stroll in Pigalle, including a parole officer, who likes to ramble around in thong panties and heels. It is a vision of women so comically retro you half expect the 1950's pinup Bettie Page to swing by for some fun.

Like "Pulp Fiction," which clearly influences its structure, "Sin City" turns on three tales lifted out of Mr. Miller's original. The first involves a detective with a bad ticker, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who intersects with a sex fiend (Nick Stahl) and an 11-year-old (Makenzie Vega), who grows up to become an exotic dancer (Jessica Alba) with an undulating belly and a nice way with a lasso. Little girls apparently do not enjoy a whole lot of career choices in Sin City. Except for that parole officer (Carla Gugino) and a waitress (Brittany Murphy), all the other women in this burg are prostitutes, members of a snarling sisterhood bound together by greed, kink, self-interest and numerous lethal weapons....

Posted by: Jennifer | Apr 2, 2005 4:12:00 PM

When in Rome

Liked it so much on re-reading that I crossposted it from Ezra.

"Sweating and swearing I crawled from the manger
The highway appeared to take me from danger
Is there anyone here who would pick up a stranger?
Oh I wish you could.
Then someone replied "would you like a ride?"
"Come in" he said.
We drove for a while, he gave me a smile and a piece of bread
The hammer was hard in the chrome of the car as I cracked his head
Then we took off in a spin
Oh I smashed his skull again
Oh thank you my good friend,
I feel so good.
And all the high-born ladies
So lovely and so true,
Have been handed to the soldiers
When in Rome do as the Romans do."

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 2, 2005 4:23:02 PM

Not that Phil Och's very abstract comparison of 60's America to Imperial Rome has any resonance for our current circumstances. Nor that my own extension of Och's mixed metaphors to a comparison of Colosseum pleasures to violent movies is anything but absurd. I mean, the Romans had little plotlines like "The Rape of the Sabine Women" with 100 live slave girls and rapists, and gladiators dressed as Romans entering to kill the rapists, so, like an edifying message and all that.

Not that, as I channel-surf looking for vampire movies I think that Chafetz might have a shred of a point.

Not that I give a damn.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 2, 2005 4:59:18 PM

I hear Quentin Tarantino's next movie, WOLFOWITZ!, will make Sin City look tame. It will be a musical...

Posted by: monkyboy | Apr 2, 2005 5:00:22 PM

American culture really is super. Let's have more stuff that celebrates the slick beauty of ultra-violence and that makes a fetish of girl-children. Just so long as everyone remembers that "it's only a movie", What other bad effects could there possibly be?

Posted by: Rented Mule | Apr 2, 2005 5:23:05 PM

"...makes a fetish of girl-children."

You can immediately tell the people who've actually read the books and seen the movie from those that haven't. Hmmm.

Posted by: Uncle Mike | Apr 2, 2005 6:05:38 PM

As long as we keep killing and maiming kids, for real, in Iraq, and ignoring Darfur, it is all OK.

Posted by: Al | Apr 2, 2005 6:11:07 PM

Jessica Alba, Alexis Bledel, Devon Aoki.

Posted by: Rented Mule | Apr 2, 2005 6:12:26 PM

I often watch late night tv while doing homework and it was pretty funny how they were all selling Sin City as a "graphic novel"

the spectacle of gore and hammy dialogue is a given. gore specifically is the gimmick of the moment that they learned from their beloved asian b movies. "oh no, look away. ewww". it's like slime on nickelodean. I'd only really be worried if the action was second rate (aka actor who studied kung fu for five minutes syndrome)

(remember that people can't get enough of Dave Chapelle who is 90% feces and masturbation jokes)

Posted by: Shai | Apr 2, 2005 6:26:42 PM

So I just saw Sin City, and it's violence is indeed ultra, however, the cartoon noir setting allows just enough distance from the killing--laughter allows the audience an emotional escape, as does the cartoon setting.

Just because people were laughing and 'enjoying' the violence, I didn't get the feeling that I was in a room of psychopaths. Just like after 'In the Company of Men,' when I didn't feel the urge to do bad things to women, I left this movie without any desire to go on a killing rampage, nor did the rest of my fellow moviegoers appear to be lusting for blood after the lights came up.

While this movie probably isn't the best thing to show your kids, to say it's going to drive somebody to violence is b.s. There will always be people who are messed up mentally, but the trigger can be so many things--meanwhile, I've grown up with Ozzy and AC/DC, read books on witchcraft, listened to the Devil's music, and i've never felt the urge to kill anybody else, or myself.

It really does come back to kids and their parents--growing up without nurturing and socialization is what leads to psychopathic behavior, and if anybody kills after watching this movie, it's because of what happened to them growing up, or a chemical imbalance in their brain, not because of a movie.

Also, anybody who's seen real death will say that it's a messy, visceral experience, not some ballet with a samurai sword--there's a world of difference between reacting to what's on a movie screen, and the real thing!

Posted by: David W | Apr 2, 2005 7:24:41 PM

"...makes a fetish of girl-children."

But it's the villains who've got the fetish, and they're all punished horribly for it. I'd say if there's any moral, it's not to do that. (I also think it's interesting that the one protagonist to live is the one who doesn't know a Perfect Woman. Like, idealizing women will seriously harm your chances of survival. Fun.)

Posted by: Rachel | Apr 2, 2005 7:27:13 PM

Never mind Chafetz -- let's see what Eugene Volokh thinks of all the vengeful violence in the movie.

Posted by: DonBoy | Apr 2, 2005 7:59:20 PM

I just found the movie boring after a while. It just seemed like another Tarantino suped up comic strip violence infested cartoonish flick about revenge (beheadings, cannibalism, and of course, castration), no matter how one squares it.

Posted by: KC | Apr 2, 2005 8:32:33 PM

"to say it's going to drive somebody to violence is b.s."

An empire doesn't need its civilians to commit violence, just to watch it impassively or turn away. At least they bothered to put Vietnam on television.

I had this long thing going on the cultural changes since the sixties, but my browser ate it.
Screw it. Decadence that doesn't even recognize itself as decadence is way past reaching with arguments about taste & morality. Besides losing its ability to thrill. Plan on the watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead without any hope its creators had a clue as to the point of the original.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Apr 2, 2005 8:53:15 PM

OK, that's enough time wasted on talking about a movie - until some nutbag decides that the movie should be censored because - well, for any reason - or until some psycho tries to use it as a poster child for attacking regular Americans who don't share their religious psychoses. It was an excellent movie, intriguing and compelling. I'll probably see it again. Matt is right, Josh is wrong. 'nuff said.

Posted by: TR | Apr 2, 2005 8:57:16 PM

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