The Spirit: Showcased by Frank Miller

“Hollywood breeds very many male actors and very few… men.” Frank Miller, commenting on his choice of Gabriel Macht for the lead role.

Contrasting dramatically with the polished wooden delivery of the film company’s marketeers, Frank Miller’s passion for his project is equalled only by his dry humour – and by his anecdotal respect for his own Spirit, that of writer Will Eisner, who penned the original comic in 1940.

Whether it’s faith, fear or homage, the 40s feel is woven through the film. In Miller’s hands, it’s been fused with his ‘Sin City’ style cinematography to make his lead character an icon of the past in a story of the future. You expect him to wear a raincoat and communicate by matchbook; you expect him to encounter a dazzling array of gorgeous damsels and femmes fatales – you don’t expect his bloodslash tie, his urban parkour, or his – erm – footwear.

The trailer is a jumble of black, white and red, of sex and violence, drama and desperation; it’s oddly formulaic. Only after Miller lifts the screen and allows us to glance underneath it does its dark magic manifest.

He tells us the story, illuminating crucial points with crucial footage. The ‘love scene’ is dark, outrageously sexual, with an unexpected narrative twist that has more impact than a naked Eva Mendes. The ‘showdown scene’ is deliciously violent, vicious, shocking – but very comic book, and very funny.

The past-and-future, blend-and-contrast though, is iconised by the ‘clone scene’. It’s fantastical, the clones evocative of the goons in early Adam West ‘Batman’. Scarlett Johanssen’s breasts provide a fascinating backdrop to the Octopus’ latest experiment; it manages to be conventional, controversial, futuristic, humorous, creepy and sexy… all without losing the theme and integrity of the film.

It’s lighter than either ‘Sin City’ or ‘300’; a bubbling brew of seduction, violence and genetic experimentation that Miller subtly stirs with his speech. He’d opened by commenting that he and Eisner creatively disagreed for 25 years; he closes with an impression of his inspiration and mentor – the man he’d always felt was looking over his shoulder. ‘It’s too modern’ he grumbles, his body hunched under his hat, ‘And where’s all the colour?’

It may be too modern for Will Eisner – and perhaps too ‘Dick Tracy’ for fans of ‘Robocop’ – but The Spirit has rather haunted me. Sold by Frank Miller by his love of his project, his inspiration and his city – seeing the film through the eyes of the Director is a way to see it in its finest form.

Roll on, January 2009!

2 thoughts on “The Spirit: Showcased by Frank Miller

  1. You always get people who love a comic or a book who’re convinced it ‘shouldn’t be made’ – because somehow their vision of it is sacrosanct. Look at the LOTR snobs who got the arse about the changes to the story – or the current anti-Watchmen backlash.Listening to Frank, it was obvious how much he loved Eisner’s vision and wanted to develop it – bring it into the modern age, but keep it true to its roots.From the excerpts he showed, he’s done a really find job, as well. Things change, language and vision develop, we adapt – isn’t that kind of the point of ‘art’?

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