V.F.D. For Vendetta

Thursday, 17 March 2005 — 7:21pm | Adaptations, Comics, Film, Literature, Michael Chabon

One of the films I will mention in my forthcoming mega-post on the films to watch out for in 2005 – when it comes – is the adaptation of the graphic novel V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. If you have never read the original work, I highly recommend that you do so. While it’s no Watchmen – and let’s be honest, what comic book is? – it’s definitely a cut above the norm, and deviates enough from the typical Orwellian future-fascist clichés to be interesting. It has, with good reason, inspired many a serious academic study of its aesthetic and literary content – here, for instance, or here.

As much of a neat little gimmick as it is to target the release of the film for the weekend of Guy Fawkes Day (“Remember, remember the Fifth of November”), I do wonder if it is really that wise an idea to rush the production schedule to meet it. It has a lineup to dream of, with Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond and James McTeigue in the director’s chair. McTeigue is untried, but given his background as an Assistant Director under both the Wachowskis in The Matrix and George Lucas in the Prequels, I have faith in the guy, so long as he doesn’t let too many Wachowski fingerprints get all over his work. That is appropriate for some dystopian movies about post-apocalyptic fascists that rule over a complacent populace, but it would not necessarily be a good fit here.

My big concern – and the major question mark that hovers over the otherwise perfect casting of Natalie Portman – is that the film may lose some of the Britishness of the original source, which I think needs to be retained. Alan Moore is arguably the best living scriptwriter in the comics business, and his work is long overdue for some cinematic respect, especially after the disaster that was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Hopefully the film captures some of the more ingenious motifs, both visual and poetic, that lie in Moore’s book. The commodification of Fate and Justice as artificial feminine personifications that cheat on society and the powers that be is of particular note, as is the marvelous sequence in the third act when V, the anarchistic Guy Fawkes figure around whom the story revolves, conducts the destruction of the fascist regime’s power structures to the cannon-fire of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. As Robert Rodriguez will hopefully demonstrate with Sin City, which looks incredible, why reinvent the wheel when the original comic has already provided so much in the way of aesthetic guidance?

On the other side of the literary world lies Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which is an almost entirely linguistic experience aside from the great Helquist illustrations and the tag that follows every book offering clues as to the next one. I have now finished all eleven published books, and the series is due to conclude in the thirteenth volume. My original impression after reading the first three, if you will recollect, was that this was a series that dropped plot and story in favour of being very clever about the telling thereof. Well, that changes quite significantly as one progresses, and from about the fifth or sixth volume onwards, it becomes masterful episodic fiction in the serial tradition, with each successive adventure posing riddles that are answered with even more baffling oddities in the next one, capitalizing on everything that has come before. Even given how the author continues to unify each book with a set of idioms or literary devices that he deconstructs with scalpel precision, the series has shifted to the point where the unanswered mysteries in the plot are what generate anticipation for the next entry to come.

I must also admit a total agreement with the axis of good and evil that emerges as the series progresses. Every book has a library motif, and one of the characters in The Slippery Slope (whose identity I will not reveal) comes right out and says that well-read individuals are bound to be the good guys. All the decent people in the books respect knowledge, and amidst all the sobering melancholy in the series, one that explicitly deals with terrible things happening to undeserving innocent children, we see the promotion of what I think is a critical, yet oft-ignored value.

The antithesis of the printed page, and the mark of the enemy, is fire. When the villains employ fire, the tragic loss is always not so much material as it is a loss of knowledge. It’s an axis of conflict you don’t see every day, and certainly not in something promoted as children’s fiction.

Fiction is created, marketed and sold in a way that is completely different from the movie business. Book launches, Harry Potter aside, don’t have anything approaching the opening-weekend culture of movies that saw a revival after The Phantom Menace and reached its peak in the summer of 2001. It should really come as no surprise, then, that my most anticipated works of fiction to be published this calendar year are almost entirely sequels. Couple that with the fact that I have enough classic literature from years past to discover, and this list pales in comparison to what I can say about movies.

With that said, I want to make special mention of the four books coming out in 2005 that I intend to buy the moment they hit stores. Book the Twelfth of the Lemony Snicket series is one. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, which arrives 3 May, is another; I much enjoyed the first three, and this one promises to build on the dangling threads of the second whilst balancing them with the bittersweet ending of the third. Then there’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and its inclusion here should be obvious.

Not so obvious is the one non-sequel I already have marked down on my calendar, even considering that it does not have a hard release date beyond a vague promise of delivery in October (though its Amazon.co.uk entry now indicates a delay until 6 March, 2006). This would be Michael Chabon’s next novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, his first big piece since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay after having taken a break with the children’s baseball fantasy Summerland and the Sherlock Holmes tribute The Final Solution.

Chabon, as longtime devotees of this journal should be aware, is a literary wunderkind and one of my favourite novelists of all time. Not only does he write prose that can only be described as beautiful, he somehow never manages to let it overpower the stories underneath; and oh, what amazing stories he tells. All I know about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is that it is apparently an alternate-history novel about a Jewish state established in what we know as Alaska, and I’m already dying to see where he goes with this.

I will finish this post with yet another empty promise of a detailed, extended orgasmic reaction to the new footage of Revenge of the Sith, and pop in an unrelated link or two. The first is an excellent Jim Hill feature article on Eric Idle’s new Broadway production, Spamalot. The second is an obscure, but surreal recording that fittingly, you can only order on the Internet; you know the sort. Or do you? I speak, after all, of The Rap Canterbury Tales. Its inclusion in one of my classes today made that particular course (English 300, “Social and Cultural History of the English Language”) all the more fun in a strange, delightful way. It is, after all, the same course where a recommended reading for an upcoming paper is Going Nucular, a book by Geoff Nunberg of Language Log fame.

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