Tuesday, November 13, 2012

novel theatrics

I was struck in particular by one passage in the novel:

"Inspector Colin Clarke has worked for the Finger since it was formed in 1992. Six years ago. Before that he was a soldier. He had to cope with worse than this on his training courses. Much worse. He can make it. He knows he can. After all, eighteen inches is a lot of room. If it was on the ground you wouldn't think twice about it. He takes a step. He takes another step, again, again. 

There is the man. There is the ledge. There is the dismal drone of the wind. The uncaring glimmer of the distant stars. Beyond that there is only slapstick. He takes a step... Slapstick. Things like that never occur to you."

Passages like these made "V for Vendetta." Its preoccupation with theatrics, with substitution, with inversion of power (Ryan for Colin, in this particular case), with YOU. Well--sort of. I was so moved by the novel and not moved at all by the film. I try to imagine how a moment like this one could possible be translated to live-action. Why they are so powerful. Take the shifting of the voice, for example. In the beginning it sounds as though Colin Clarke is narrating himself through the ledge, giving himself a very uncynical version of the pep talk he's just given his victim moments before him. We are inside his head (he can make it. he knows he can). Then we're in the rhetoric that he uses in public spaces (after all, eighteen inches is a lot of room). Then we're disembodied, but still watching (he takes a step).

And then completely: There is the man... the uncaring glimmer of the distant stars. He slips on a banana peel-- a farce. Meant to remove a mask of sorts-- call into question the tone of the narrator, of the story itself. "Things like that never occur to you," it reads, and we watch Colin Clarke fall, victim to... what? We don't see him slip-- this is the power of the comic strip, I suppose: delivery. The ability to place text atop an image and, without any sort of labeling or indication of its change, completely alter its meaning, its speaker. Change its you, and thus be inducted into it.

Delivery. This is why I am disappointed in the film--it didn't impress me when I saw it a few years ago but after reading the novel it feels like a square-peg-round-hole situation. Something about the content of V's message--the way YOU encounter it--changes so fundamentally in live-action. It's paced all wrong. Its conflations and omissions happen in the wrong places. It's not so much that I am bothered by the factual differences in plot--the changes to Gordon's storyline, say. It's things like the bizarre choice to change V's message to the people from "you'll be fired if you don't join" to one of friendship and unity in spite of all humanity's cowardice. In other words: why is it, exactly, that the film chooses to end on an image of REVEAL... of the crowd of rioters removing their masks, showing themselves as individuals and dissembling the collective that gave them power, power intact? Why do we have to watch parliament blown up witnessed by hordes of nascent patriots, all V?

What is the difference between this film ending-- wherein we see the dead resurrected as a network manifest, something with power, a faceless and yet, unlike V, face-possessing group.... and the ending of the novel, wherein Evey takes on V's disguise and... that last page, the faces, their expressions, even V's, laid over in green, all similar in their EXPRESSIONS and GESTURES rather than their locations-- evey and creely and v all transfuse because of their postures, here, does this make sense? not because they converged on the same spot at the same time.

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