Tag Archives: Batman

Savage Knight at the Opera

by Chris Randle

When the title character first appears in The Dark Knight Rises, staggering rather than triumphantly leaping, it’s as a distorted reflection. The film’s other intimations of ambiguity prove to be far less memorable. Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman charms me in spite of its shambolic flaws, because the disparate elements – Anton Furst’s anachronistic production design, the parallel Prince/Elfman soundtracks, Michael Keaton’s wry resignation, Jack Nicholson’s lascivious camp – achieve a certain idiosyncrasy, flecked through operatic pulp that’s aware of how ridiculous either lineage can be. If a John Waters character gave up on scandalizing the norms and resolved to just slaughter them instead, it might sound like Nicholson’s Joker: “Now comes the part where I relieve you, the little people, of the burden of your failed and useless lives.” When the “homicidal artist” spares a Francis Bacon painting from his henchman, recognizing a kindred blemish, I still laugh, partly because the moment seems ever more alien from the current wave of superhero movies. Velázquez reinterpretations, gas that makes you laugh yourself to death – neither interests a director like Christopher Nolan.

This film makes it increasingly clear that Heath Ledger’s own brilliant invocation of the character was an aberration within Nolan’s Batman trilogy – within the same movie, really, given that The Dark Knight eventually reveals his climactic plan to be moral parable rather than flamboyant spectacle. Before that tedious business with the twin ships, however, he’s the man shorn from context amidst a convoluted mythos, who delights in improvising his origins. Ledger successfully wriggled out from under Nolan’s boy-intellectual compulsion to imbue every line and action with solemn significance. Grant Morrison often writes the Joker as “super-sane,” suggesting that no one adapts to the capitalist metropolis better than a mercurial sociopath. He also thrives in any screenplay where conversation otherwise involves people exchanging aphorisms and maxims. Without that autocritical incongruity, watching The Dark Knight Rises sometimes feels like being held at mounted-cannon-point by a party’s biggest bore.

As when forced through entire backstories next to the salsa, there are distractions. The plot follows the same techno-espionage mode as Batman Begins – influenced by Denny O’Neil, who co-created the integral Ra’s al Ghul character – but eschews its unbelievable contrivances and ludicrous doomsday weapon (I did hear Carl giggling at the casual “this is now a nuclear bomb” announcement). When he’s not making habitually frenzied cuts, Nolan produces a few striking images: explosions blooming across Gotham City; Batman flickering through darkness towards a mercenary; Jonathan “Scarecrow” Crane settling into his metier as the new regime’s show-trial judge, cheerfully dispensing aribitrary executions from the summit of an unhinged, paper-heaped bureaucracy. There is also, depending on one’s tastes, the rival spectacle of Anne Hathaway’s fickle, witty Catwoman and Tom Hardy’s supermassive Bane (rewriting the etymology of “tank top”), though Nolan invariably consigns the few women to chocolate bar roles (© Margaux Williamson, 2012).

(Can we talk about how fucked up it is that Catwoman, after gulling and robbing various rich men in a quasi-romantic partnership with her female accomplice/companion, suddenly gains a new reverence for property rights + desire to date Bruce Wayne upon stumbling across this photo of a nice blonde family in their ransacked home? And how I’m not sure Nolan consciously intended any of those implications, because he understands sexuality or women or general human behaviour in similar terms as that guy who asks permission to “play devil’s advocate” at every college seminar?)

Of course, the film’s grim politics hardly end there. The Dark Knight Rises is not a direct critique or allegory of Occupy Wall Street: the script was written a year before that movement erupted, and Bane’s rhetoric, a melange of economic populism and unsubtle George W. Bush quotations, is an admitted ploy. He wants to annihilate Gotham City, not collectivize it. Yet this disingenuousness only makes the resulting scenes more reactionary, a Reign of Terror that plays out like a slasher movie – just replace the gleeful schadenfreude with dour admonishment. The citizen uprising against corrupt oligarchs descends into venal, murderous rancor immediately, as if Gotham is full of would-be Berias; later, we’re invited to cheer on a long column of cops (or, given the director’s tendencies, nod gravely) while they charge towards the revolutionaries. Nolan is too cowardly to show any of those working people who used to be redistributing fur coats among them, but it still felt appallingly fascistic. The cringing deputy commissioner even rediscovers his sense of Man-Purpose by firing wildly into a mob, at last crumpling upon the snow as some Haymarket pieta.

You could always listen to the villain instead. Heath Ledger’s voice was central to his Joker, skipping along in harlequin steps (“you’re a freak…like me!”) before clenching with terrifying fury. The original Bane is a smart brute, hulking yet calculating, and Tom Hardy magnifies that one good idea by giving him tones marvelously jaunty and genteel. His threats glint inside oblique mockery. (The film’s one politically astute line comes from Hardy’s hidden mouth: told mid-attack that the Gotham Stock Exchange holds no money, he sneers, “Then why are you here?” Invisible capital!) Along with the voice, there are moments of unnerving gentleness, as when Bane strokes his erstwhile employer’s shoulder, about to brush him from existence. Would I misread to wonder if Dark Knight Rises, a film very much in the paramilitary mode of 21st-century superhero adaptations, presents this costumed tenderness as another sign of evil? Why does Nolan think that a reactivated urban-assault prototype (formerly the Batplane) hovering overhead is a more comforting sight? Standing outside the theatre afterwards, Carl groused: “I don’t go to a Batman movie to watch people dodging missiles.”

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Little Boxes #102: Bat-Cow

(from Batman Incorporated #1 (vol II), script by Grant Morrison and art by Chris Burnham, 2012)

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Tea With Chris: Holy Halo, Batman

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: In a week that felt at once slow and frantic, I found this montage of Robin’s “Holy ____ ” exclamations from the campy 1960s Batman series a kind of giggly meditation vehicle – with a poetic rhythm that reminded me of Allen Ginsberg’s “America” (“America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?”) or more directly of this passage in Howl: “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy! Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!” Or at least, in this case, Batman is.

The sinister silliness of America and of Toronto this week were best encapsulated, among many commentaries, in a Toronto Standard piece by Ivor Tossell that suggested a perfect name for the style of political sabotage both the Republicans in Congress and the Rob Ford administration here at home are indulging right now: Uncompetence.

Most of Erroll Morris’s films are distinguished, among the documentary field, by not striving for of-the-moment relevance, for what journalists call a “peg,” but taking up subjects that are slightly out of time and have an inherent gravity, an intrinsic fascination. Still, he has to have been tickled, as the Murdoch scandal-sheet empire was going up in flames, for this to be the week that he was releasing a movie called Tabloid.

But is silliness always sinister? Ann Powers on the NPR music blog kicked off a debate this week, not so much about whether the widespread resentment of the Black-Eyed Peas is warranted, but why it is so virulent and out of proportion to the seriousness of the offence. There were a lot of responses but the most thoughtful to me was this one by Chris Burlingame: “When you dismiss a type of music because it doesn’t appeal to people exactly like you, you can resent it more when you find out just how many people out there that aren’t like you (hint: it’s a lot).”

And sometimes of course silliness is sublime. Check out this early, failed pilot by Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Robbie Coltrane and friends (you can skip the prefatory verbiage if you prefer), which manages to send up sci-fi movies, popular science-history TV magazine shows and dystopian fears – with a serious undercurrent about the dangers of genetic engineering. If only I could go back in time through the Crystal Cube – and get more episodes.

Chris: I love this anecdote unreservedly: “The swords were taken down and the desk was in mid-move when Patton flung open the door and walked in. His rage was instant and fearful. He screamed at the top of his voice, ‘What do you think you’re doing, you unspeakable Hollywood bastards!’ This was only the beginning of a flow of invective of which Blackbeard the Pirate would have been proud. George [Cukor] sighed deeply with resignation. He was not at all frightened. Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo—he had dealt with tantrums all his life. He walked over to the general, who was now nearing the fortissimo apex of his wrath, and put his arm around the shoulder with the four stars on it. ‘Now, General,’ he said, soft-voiced and persuasive, ‘are we going to be silly about this?’”

Inspired literary remix no. 1: a scientist named Dan Warren carefully edited the audio version of Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father to create narration for a made-up creation myth.

Inspired literary remix no. 2: Brian Joseph Davis’ Consumed Guide, a long prose poem distilled from 13090 record reviews by Robert Christgau. Like their source and their surgeon, the seven thousand negative words are often scathingly funny, but there’s another pleasure here too: the vivid tactility of Xgau’s descriptions, an overdose of style and verse.

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Little Boxes #52

(from Batman #404, script by Frank Miller and art by David Mazzucchelli, 1987)

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10 Things I Liked in 2010 (Singles, Supervillains, Socialism)

by Chris Randle

[I totally lifted this concept from Greil Marcus as well. My list is unranked and impulsive to the point of randomness; I avoided writing about anything I’ve already touched on at B2TW. And now, all hedges and caveats aside…]

1. Yeahhhhhhh

John Seroff’s epic Singles Jukebox blurb is a beautiful consideration of “Whip My Hair,” but to me the clip below embodies this ultra-processed, aggressively silly song. What’s more absurd, more galvanic in its absurdity, than a weak-voiced nine-year-old touting their “swag” and finally managing to convince? A parrot dancing to the same track! I can only assume that the lone Youtube user who clicked “dislike” here is even now teetering atop Mt. Crumpit with a sleigh full of stolen presents.

 

2. Damascus, Palestine, Texaco

A cut from Jean-Luc Godard’s maddening, cryptographic and sometimes very funny Film Socialisme:

 

3. “I’mma start rocking gold teeth and fangs” (Nicki Minaj’s 32 feral bars)

Still waiting on the music video, which promises lots of squicky necrophiliac imagery (I was hoping for a colony of bats nesting in Rick Ross’ giant beard), but “Monster” already has a storyline: it’s the track where Nicki Minaj reduces the world’s two most famous rappers to afterthoughts.

Her feat is less impressive than it appears on a tracklist; wheezing Grizzly Bear fan Jay-Z sounds like an awkward fogey here, and while Kanye acquits himself well enough, even pulling off a good punchline for once rather than a stupid non-sequitur (“Have you ever had sex with a pharaohhhhhh / I put the pussy in a sarcophagus”), he still strains as an MC. His other guest doesn’t. Nicki’s virtuosic verse mutates new flows, accents and personae at rapid speed: “Pink wig / Thick ass / Give ’em whiplash / I think big / Get cash / Make ’em blink fast.” She shares Kanye’s monstrous ambition, but not his self-pitying insecurity. Her climactic “AAAAAAH” modulates a scream queen’s cry with sharpened glee: suck in breath, grope around on the floor for your male gaze.

 

4. Light the Pentagram-Signal: Doctor Hurt in Batman & Robin

This one requires some nerdy backstory. Five years ago, DC Comics made Scottish weirdo Grant Morrison the writer of its main Batman series. (His anarchic 1990s head trip The Invisibles influenced my teenage self to a degree that is almost embarrassing.) A characteristically metafictional conceit of Morrison’s early issues was that all the Bat-archetypes from 75 years of publication history – the original pulp vigilante, the bizarre ’50s version who wore zebra suits and inspired Adam West, etc. – were his actual memories, and the stress of keeping these disparate personalities straight was driving Bruce Wayne insane.

The process was accelerated by Morrison’s new villain Dr. Hurt, a mysterious psychiatrist who claimed to be Bruce Wayne’s newly-undead father Thomas and then distributed evidence revealing that the orphaned hero’s parents were not saintly philanthropists but a locus of corrupt decadence. Eventually, in a crossover called Batman R.I.P., he put on a camp opera outfit, injected Bruce Wayne full of drugs and dumped him on the street to subsist as a disturbed homeless person. Then our protagonist made a new costume out of rags, regained his bearings with the help of fifth-dimensional imp Bat-Mite (seriously) and they had a big fight. But Dr. Hurt returned in 2010 for a final storyline that Morrison called “Batman R.I.P. repeated as farce.” It began, context-free, with this scene:

It’s a perverse inversion of the most familiar origin story in comics, one so famous that Morrison and artist Frazer Irving can go minimalist and rely upon iconic visual elements (the pearls that always scatter, the eternally recurring Zorro marquee). Dr. Hurt’s masturbatory fantasy comes complete with the sort of infernally opulent yet faintly ludicrous sex club that only exists in Radley Metzger movies. Remember the sight gag at the end of Rosemary’s Baby, where an upside-down cross is repurposed as crib ornament? The longed-for Black Mass emphasizes Hurt’s unusual nature as a foil: he thinks that merely killing his foe is so dull. “I will be Batman in my great black car, preying on the weak, in Gotham’s endless night.”

The conventional idea of an obsessive super-nemesis is strange enough already; imagine one who yearns to expose every certainty in your life as a pathetic, comforting lie. He could be a jilted fanboy. Even after discovering that the bad Doctor was neither Thomas Wayne nor the devil, just (in his creator’s words) “this gibbering idiot with a very comic-booky origin,” his anti-prologue retains some Satanic allure. In a storyarc that also featured Shavian villain Professor Pyg raving about “the multitudes of the mother goat,” it was the creepiest moment of all, a flourish of satirical geek-blasphemy.

 

5. The moral responsibility of the blowjob artist: How Should a Person Be?

The second novel by friend of the blog Sheila Heti was, as they say, a long time coming. (There was an impatient Facebook group, even.) It still doesn’t have an American publisher, and a new article in the New York Observer speculates why: Too much cribbing from reality? Too many graphic descriptions of blowjobs? I would add another factor, one that took me by surprise despite my membership in that social-media cheer squad: the extreme depths of black comedy that Sheila reaches. There are lantern-faced fish swimming alongside some of these jokes. How Should a Person Be? is about struggling to live the good life, whatever that is, and Sheila the character’s earnest, agonized desire to become a great artist (or at least a famous one) is played for many painful laughs.

A later chapter, for example, ends with this passage: “I hadn’t realized until this week that in [Moses’] youth he killed a man, an Egyptian, and buried him under some sand…I used to worry that I wasn’t enough like Jesus, but yesterday I remembered who was my king; a man who, when God addressed him and told him to lead the people out of Egypt, said, ‘But I’m not a good talker! Couldn’t you ask my brother instead?’ So it should not be so hard to come at this life with a bit of honesty. I don’t need to be great like the leader of the Christian people. I can be a bumbling, murderous coward like the King of the Jews.”

As a blond gentile with an Old Norse surname – some drunk girl once asked me, “Did you steal your eyes from a dead Nazi?” – I felt a little uncomfortable just reading that. (The sexual interludes, not so much, perhaps because they’re specific to a particular situation.) I can see why publishers might shy away from it. But all the mordant humour extracted from her protagonist’s indulgent delusions and artistic crises has a point, and a pertinent one: What does it mean to be a writer or painter in a world where niche-level, D-list celebrity is radically accessible?

As for that “fact or fiction” question, a parlour game without the fun, let me cite Harry Mathews, whose last novel My Life in CIA explored similarly muddy waters: “Henry James once said that the Venetian painter Tintoretto never drew an immoral line. That seems madness, because Tintoretto was squiggling all over the place. I came to the conclusion that what James meant was that the moral responsibility of the artist is to make something real happen, whatever it takes. And for me, that is the moral responsibility of a writer: to make something real happen on the page. Its relation to fact is irrelevant. “

 

6. One word uttered forever

Toronto’s Double Double Land hosts an occasional series called Talking Songs, where lecturers play various pieces of music for the audience before discussing them. Carl’s spoken there before; I have too. At the event’s return a few months ago, one of the performers was York University professor Marcus Boon, who gave a talk called “Chopping and Screwing: From Terry Riley to DJ Screw.” I don’t really remember anything he said. What I do remember is that he finished by playing a single 25-minute-long drone and asking us to listen.

Erik Satie’s avant-garde endurance test Vexations, 34 dissonant chords typically performed 840 times in a row, is often said to have quasi-hallucinogenic effects on audiences. Palpable heat, like the kind inside DDL – it’s perched above a Portuguese bakery – must only intensify that. While Boon’s drone pulsed, time collapsed inwards before stretching out as if it might snap; most eyes stayed shut out of reverence or boredom, but sometimes I cheated and caught others fluttering open, sexy in their languour. After the noise spent itself, Boon very quietly asked how it made us feel. I still don’t know what my answer is.

 

7. The image world: Picture This, by Lynda Barry

Picture This asks the big question on its cover: “Do you wish you could draw?” Barry’s manner is the best Grade 3 teacher any kid/adult could hope for, supportive and pedagogical yet utterly free of condescension, and it comes through in her cartooning. Like Sean Rogers notes, this is an activity book featuring such activities as “collect blue.” Barry argues that we’re encouraged to trace and doodle as children only to be dissauded while we grow up, and her attempts to liberate your inner scribbler echo the open-ended tone of John Cage’s motto: “Get yourself out of whatever cage you find yourself in.”

One of Barry’s strips, “Chicken Attack,” was written by a five-year-old boy named Jack. He was sitting next to her on an airplane. While Mom dozed, he came up with a script: “One morning, the chicken was eaten by a man. The man went to work. His stomach started to feel funny. He went to the port-a-let, and then he went. The chicken came out. The man was surprised. The chicken was also surprised. The chicken ran from the port-a-let to the construction site. They put the chicken in charge, and from then on, the chicken was boss.” Lynda Barry is also pretty boss.

 

8. Continue: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, by Bryan Lee O’Malley

The movie was fun, partly because its doomed marketing showed Torontonians that our shitty lives could be the basis for a fantastical mythos too. But it wasn’t first to do so, and in other ways I preferred Bryan Lee O’Malley’s print finale. It begins with depressed Scott Pilgrim acting like a skeezy jerk, hitting on his teenage ex: “So…uh…what’s it like to no longer be a child in the eyes of the law?” It gives another ex, Envy Adams (Chaotic Neutral), a costume that says “Legend of Zelda boss as worn by Lady Gaga.” And its unconstrained space allows for many pages where people just sit around and talk.

In that sense, the supporting cast was especially hard done by during the adaptation process; a lot of secondary characters got compressed to a single note or joke where they had originally existed in a broader context, one the self-absorbed hero didn’t always notice. As Mike Barthel wrote, “that sense of outward focus and of ladies existing without reference to dudes (or dudes without reference to ladies, honestly) absolutely vanishes [in the film].” I lament this both as someone who wants more movies to pass the Bechdel Test and as someone who thought Alison Pill was cute, which is probably to say, a confused someone.

Finest Hour‘s luxury of sprawl also benefits the villainous Gideon Graves. (That’s him above. In the movie he’s played by Jason Schwartzman, which is perfect casting if you dislike the public persona of Jason Schwartzman.) Gideon is a disquieting portrait of the smart, arty kid who becomes a grasping and covetous adult. A grimly funny, comics-only detail marks him as the only character in their thirties – indeed, he shares an age with his (happily married!) creator. The evilest ex is emotionally controlling on a megalomaniacal scale: Instead of stalking “the ones who got away” on Facebook, he captures them inside an elaborate machine borrowed from some Final Fantasy boss.

When O’Malley launched the series’ final volume last summer, my life was a bit like a Scott Pilgrim book – the bantering romantic scenes, not the epic battles, though they often bleed into each other. I didn’t strap somebody into a…device so I could siphon their vitality. But there were moments that resembled a flashback in Finest Hour, where the younger, less-evil Gideon watches pixie pugilist Ramona Flowers literally disappear from his life; moments that were one long uncomprehending “Whyyyyyyyy?” (Then, to fizzling teleportation residue: “But I thought it was going so well…”) This was maladroit and thoughtless for various reasons, as I probably would’ve figured out anyway, but the literary synchronicity led to a pre-emptive realization: Why would you ever want to act like a bitter, stunted asshole while blaming it on someone lovely? So call this comic a cautionary tale, as well as a damn entertaining one.

 

9. Torontopia time machine: Wavelength 500

I doubt that I could describe this event any better than Carl already did – or Michael Barclay, for that matter. The 10th anniversary of Toronto’s integral PWYC music series ended with a reunion of the Barcelona Pavilion (who broke up when I was still in high school) and a surprise set by Owen Pallett (who debuted his solo project at a 2004 Wavelength before going all those places). The BP were raucous and baldly conceptual again, even in the ways they scorned misty local eyes; their encore was an iPod singalong as it played Mag & The Suspects’ “Thousands Dead.” Whether or not nostalgia is misplaced, they certainly merited some.

Kids on TV followed, and then Owen, and then the 2003 iteration of the Hidden Cameras briefly swept aside layers of antipathy to play “I Believe in the Good of Life,” along with the half of the crowd that joined them onstage. There’s no visual record of it. (Never mind: Colin Medley popped up in comments to link his video!) I have to give you this clip instead, Owen and Steve Kado teaming up to cover “Independence Is No Solution.” It’s a great song about everything you believe in turning to shit: “Babies want to have publicists / Because better babies make best-of lists.” (No publicists contacted B2TW while we threw these together.) In that room, though, on that night, it felt more like shoving a crowbar in the coffin than a nail.

 

10. Thrash this mess around: Four Corners, at Steelworkers Hall, July 23

The concept for this show was simple enough. Four bands, all of them loud and scuzzy, manned the corners of a large room inside venerable Steelworkers Hall. We were in the centre. When the available light changed to a given colour, we streamed towards that corner for a few songs’ worth of ritual abuse. The beauty was in the details, and not just because the bill included Anagram, one of my favourite local bands.

Wandering through the cavernous Steelworkers Hall, with its tributes to industrial unionism and lefty agit-kitsch, I thought the venue could almost be a museum for older models of independent music. Meanwhile, the spastic colour cycles appropriated the structural logic of video games. But underneath those lurid lights, radical politics no longer seemed anachronistic, and the moshing reminded me that cathartic fake violence has its own history. To echo one of Carl’s entries, it was a new way of living. If you’re the resolution-making type, I hope you find a few of them.

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Yesterday’s Tomorrow: Metropolis, by Fritz Lang (1927/2010)

by Chris Randle

Last week, I watched the almost-fully-restored new print of Metropolis. It was my first exposure to Fritz Lang’s monumental spectacle, but in truth I had seen large chunks of the film already, filtered through the homages, reinterpretations and outright swipes of eight decades. If you can sample people, these are sampled images.

The sinuously designed, poorly named Machine-Man, iconic after five minutes of screentime; a vast cityscape filling the sky while machines churn below; the precise clockwork movements of those hellbound proles, both anticipating music-video choreography and recalling Marx’s words: “It is not the workman that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the workman.” Even the final showdown atop a cathedral seemed familiar, because Tim Burton borrowed it for Batman. As we left the theatre, my friend Catherine said: “That movie had everything!”

Squint for meticulous order in a horn of plenty and you’ll be disappointed. Those aforementioned workers, for example, are shown toiling on one machine with a massive wall of dials and no apparent purpose. For its ludicrous dream that enough coaxing could move labour and capital to literally shake hands and make peace, Metropolis is sometimes called proto-fascist, but it’s hard to picture Mussolini bellowing Lang’s epigram: “The mediator between brain and hands must be the heart.” The film wedges religious allegory and industrial-relations homilies into the structure of a fairy tale, rebellious heir and all; I’m grateful for what little coherence it has.

Some of the politics are so confused that it begins to seem intentional. Brigitte Helm, just 18 years old during filming, plays both saintly Maria (champion of the downtrodden, love interest) and her android doppelganger. The plutocrat Joh Fredersen has the former’s likeness grafted onto the latter, scheming to incite a rebellious prole-frenzy with her jerky gyrations. (When the sexy psy-ops plan actually works, he sends in the security forces does nothing.)

The movie’s juxtaposition of demure protector and Evil Robot Slut is not subtle. But Helm is so obviously delighted by the sheer carnality of her character, vamping it up in Babylonian drag, that I started to think of the original as “False Maria.” She urges the revolution to devour its children with lip-smacking glee. No wonder that android keeps winking.

The new restoration job is impressive – the print’s only missing one major scene. I can’t imagine how earlier versions hung together, though I still have a perverse desire to see the Giorgio Moroder/Freddie Mercury/Pat Benatar cut. The new/old footage is projected at a smaller scale than the rest, and its flickering scratches are a humbling reminder that even radical modernist artworks can become worn and fragile.

Much of the rescued material involves various subplots. One features Fredersen’s creepily fastidious underling, the Thin Man, his face as sharp and toothy as a shark’s. Another fleshes out the mad scientist Rotwang, explaining why he plots to betray his hated master (there was a girl). I was struck by the fact that, in a city split between heavenly towers and industrial caverns, his lair seems far older than either, a snug little church for your next black mass. If the film has a great sight gag, it’s the shot of him fidgeting in a tuxedo at False Maria’s debauched unveiling. Rotwang is on neither side of the class struggle; maybe that’s why he turns out to be the real villain? (In this and other ways, he reminds me of a more oblique Bat-parallel: “I am the hole in things, the piece that can never fit.”)

After nearly a century of allusive references and unconscious transmission, Metropolis retains a strange power. Restored or not, the film can still inspire longing; Owen Hatherley once argued that its soaring skywalks are an example of the better tomorrow we’ve been denied. Though there are minor consolations. On the walk home post-screening I realized that my first glimpse of the movie wasn’t its famous expressionist poster, or a particular filmmaker’s tribute, or even some knockoff robot – it was this animated GIF. (Scions of capital all like to watch, apparently.) I’m not sure the monocled Mr. Lang would approve, but it’s the future we got.

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Little Boxes #19

(from The Killing Joke, script by Alan Moore and art by Brian Bolland, 1988)

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