The Cinema of the Four
I suppose that past a certain age, we are all destined to be haunted by our past.
These days, however, the past often seems to come at us in waves. In the 1980s, a mutant named Wolverine was leading a new wave in the comic book industry, a wave of dark tales featuring grim, serious heroes. Batman shook off his Adam West silliness and started putting the fear of the bat into criminals again in a Frank Miller tale called “The Dark Knight.” A backup Charlton character named “the Question” went philosphical and took on the most corrupt city in America. And somewhere in between, a British writer named Alan Moore created a character called Rorschach, who started looking into the death of a fellow superhero in a series of twelve comic books called “Watchmen.” (They were still called “comic books” back then, before the term “graphic novel” came around to put a verbal tuxedo on them for dress-up occasions.)
This particular weekend, Rorschach and all his cohorts made their move from comics to the big screen in a pretty faithful adaptation of “Watchmen.” It’s grim stuff, set in a world on the edge of Soviet/U.S. mutual nuclear destruction, a darker time that reminds us that a mere economic recession isn’t the worst that can happen to us. By contrast, Rorschach, who was a very dark disturbing character back in the 1980s, seems almost at home on a modern movie screen.
“Watchmen” is full of sex, violence, and as movie inspector Lestrade put it, “enough blue radioactive penises for one lifetime.” (One of the superheroes, Dr. Manhattan, has the habit of walking around nude as much as possible.) It makes very few allowances for modern audiences, and as “Watchmen” was ahead of its time back in the 1980s, why not?
As fate would have it, Dr Watson IV and I had tickets the following day to a live theater production of “Xanadu” in Chicago. Like “Watchmen,” the original “Xanadu” was a product of another eighties entertainment wave – movie musicals, rather than grim comic books. But rather than adapt with reverence, as “Watchmen” was taken from comics to movies, “Xanadu” goes from cult 1980’s movie musical (in other words, it had more fan enthusiasm than box office dollars) to stage musical as a send-up of all things eighties.
And as the non-musical parts of the movie “Xanadu” were a lame second to its great music, an energetic rewrite that kept all the songs didn’t hurt matters at all. While “Watchmen” bring back the 1980s in all grim and serious tones, “Xanadu” on stage reminded this movie investigator that happy and silly has a way of coming back too. What will a new generation think of all these retreads? That is for them to say.
For those of us past a certain age, we just get to enjoyed the hauntings.
What great-grandfather Sherlock might have said, quoting a fellow from his own past:
Past 2009 Reviews