The Bush of Goats

Marc Williams, writer & designer: 'Life's too short for empty slog ans'

The Watchmen made me watch them.

One of my best books ever is Watchmen.

As I’ve said previously, I think the context for a novel is paramount, and Watchmen and me were made for each other: I was at art college, doing student politics, loving the indie disco and developing a keen interest in recreational doorways; It was a multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego, armageddon and the monoculture in a comic. We hung out.

I saw Watchmen the movie when it came out and I was sorely disappointed. I watched it again last week and, without the cloud of PR hype distracting from the actual thing, I thought I would right down what I thought of it.

This has been said elsewhere, but if you’ve read Watchmen, the first half hour of the movie version will make you believe you are about to see the greatest screen adaptation ever. Unfortunately, as the extended multi-layered musing on the fallibility of ego-cum-title sequence gives way to the ‘film proper’, it stops being that and becomes just another movie franchise. Don’t bother hoping it’ll improve; it doesn’t.

Watchmen the graphic novel is about a great many things, but it takes as a start point the idea that the comic books of the 50s gave rise to a masked vigilante craze: a strangely dramatised version of cops and robbers wherein committed citizens would chase down the good old fashioned criminals (the burglars, the bank robbers) and rough them up a bit before dumping them off at Police Headquarters. Some off-duty cops joined in. It was a bit like WWF.
But then an accident at a nuclear research facility creates the first actual super-human.

Dr Manhattan is a blue man with pure white eyes and no discernible penis. On the plus side, he is able to travel through time via dimensions unknown to regular people, decide to be 60ft tall (or just to be a 60ft tall penis with white eyes) and of making people explode USING THE POWER OF HIS MINDE IF HE FEELS LIKE IT. I guess that’s probably a ‘win’, overall.

What actually happens in Watchmen is I think less important than being in its world. It is a written world you can lose yourself in, but one that also comes with pictures. Instinctively, you expect this to intrude on the mind’s own theatre, but amazingly, they don’t: there are pages and pages of  effectively empty scenes, often with the fractured lapsed thought bubbles of Rorshach (the blotter-faced psycopathic PI) as a bleak semi-relevant narrative. Labouriously repeated frames of rain puddles scattered by hurrying feet that slowly simmer back down to the blank reflection. Shadows arcing across walls as cars drive by, out of sight.

These sparse frames are jazz and rainy; paintings of Blade Runner, from a paused videotape. They are a there-not-there backdrop to your mind as it wanders through the possibilities and the likely implications of the most recent twist of the plot. And echo in their form the themes of the good blue Dr. as he lives in different dimensions and does stuff both before and after it has happened .

Unsurprisingly, this comic book reinterpretation of one of film’s structural components doesn’t make it back into the film adaptation.

What the film does decide to do is elevate the largely irrelevant love story that pootles along within the book to the status of main theme. Honestly, it feels like it was edited together on the basis of a Google Keyword search. The love theme ends up providing what feels like several hours of unscripted theatre drama for actors who want to improvise their way out of a bad divorce.

In fact, the more I think about it, the idea of a google word search editing policy seems to make more sense. The fanboys (me included, I guess) are going to watch this regardless of whether it’s good or not, but if the studio can get it highly matched with ‘date movie’, then they’ll tap into an even bigger market. Who cares about the integrity of the project. This is Hollywood, numb nuts!

Furthermore, there are a couple of moments of ultra (ultra) violence that I found entirely without purpose, which I think are recreated exactly as they appear in the book (I only think this, as I can’t check: I lent my copy of Watchmen to an Italian AD who subsequently disappeared from my life, taking my original copy of the book with him. I am an idiot.). Anyhoo, the moments of violence follow on from the extended relationship improv scenes and made me inextricably angry. I felt like I was being clumsily manipulated and I still cannot for the life of me understand why these moments of inconsequential brutality are included.

I suppose one of the insurmountable problems with Watchmen the movie are also those that Hollywood itself might yet fail to overcome: an inability to recognise and translate our growing sophistication with our understanding and expectations of time into things we’ll want to do to for pleasure and for relaxation.

More and more I watch films now where I think, this would have been a better game. The things you could do with time in a game about Watchmen might be better suited to uncovering and amplifying the themes of the book and letting players drift in spaces that might somehow reveal  the deeper meaning of what you’re being asked to pursue.

Linkses:

Watchmen, the Graphic Novel.

Watchmen, the film

Saturday morning Watchmen (this is a brilliant parody: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Warner execs who greenlighted the movie thought this was what Watchmen was all about. However, if you haven’t read the book or seen the film, it’ll probably just confuse things. Mum.)

Filed under: Noticing, Uncategorized

Away from my desk

Hi!

Some of you might remember me from such advertising agencies as ‘Mook’, ‘Work Club’ and ‘Start’ and also from such publicly-funded broadcasters as ‘BBC’. I have however, been away from my desk for some time now.

In that time since I last wrote anything down here, the first anniversary of our Move Out Of Town has happened, green shoots have been spotted and I have learnt a great many things on a great many subjects. Some may prove useful in the coming years (toilet roll tubes make excellent slug barriers for new young plants) and others I hope ( such as ‘factory nightshifts’ and ‘jobseekers interview’) can be consigned to the dustbin of inconsequence.

Anyway, I am making an effort to get back on with the blogging by changing something back to how it was and seeing if that makes a difference. Carry on. Proper new thing soon.

Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s my birthday today

I’m 39 today, which is nice.

These people were also born on this day, at various points through history: Auguste Rodin, Roland Barthes, Grace Kelly, Neil Young, Naomi Wolf Mariella Frostrup and Charles Manson. You will no doubt have your own opinion as to which of those is the most pertinent of coincidences.

There are also a couple of events which really stand out:

On the 12th November, 1980 Tim Berners Lee submitted his first proposal for what would come to be the World Wide Web.

But better *even* than that, I recently learned that my all-time favourite internet meme took place on the same day that I exploded onto the world.

Thank you, Oregon State Highway Division. I can think of no more fitting event.

Read all about it:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_whale


Filed under: Uncategorized

Where The Road leads

I haven’t read that many books lately. In between searching out ways to pay the mortgage (Factory work? Male escort? Decisions, decisions) renovating the house, the kids and my new found love of gardening, losing myself in a book seems, if not downright selfish, at the very least, a bit impractical. So, it’s a good few months since I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.

For me, reading a book has always had as much to do with the context in which it’s read as the words on the page. Perhaps Phillip Roth’s recent claim that reading novels will be a cultic entertainment within 25 years hints at this: that the linearity, the one-dimensional attention required to fully engage with one writer’s view of a world they have created is not something we’re interested in – or even capable of doing – anymore. There are too many other distractions; we’re too keen to see it interpreted as a movie, or a theme park or a pencil tin to care about what one measly author had to say about one measly slice of the universe.

So the context for this was perfect: we were leaving London and arriving in a semi-derelict rambling pile in the countryside. We were shedding a civilisation, as the man and the boy (the nameless characters at the heart of the book), walked through a devastated world. As I mentioned, it is months since I finished it and I’ve only now come round to writing about it as I didn’t want any immediate context to colour my judgement. But it’s been 6 months and it still comes back to me. I might have already read the greatest book I will ever read. And if I have, that’s OK.

It’s one of those which makes you want to write a book, and at the same time, is so comprehensively, gobsmackingly brilliant that it makes all other writing irrelevant. It’s heart-rendingly bleak, impossibly tender, desperate, hopeful, horrifying, mundane, delightful and dreadful. It is both just a simple story and yet utterly post-modern. It is a science fiction novel you can’t divorce your reality from.

So, it was with very mixed feelings I heard they were making a film of it. I’m generally fine with films of books (apart from Watchmen) as it’s interesting to see what the scriptwriter thought was the theme, then what the director did with that. But for me, the written version of this particular story has already transcended any other possible interpretation in its post modern abandonment of its native form. Mostly, it’s because there’s no punctuation and the leads characters have no names, but the prose is so taught, so lean, that it renders form obsolete. It is a story told around a fire, a spoken word piece that, as extinction threatens all mankind, had to be written down to be remembered.

So in this context, the very idea of something as convoluted and elaborate as a film seems ridiculous. And unlike the novel, I don’t think film-making as an art is mature enough to destroy itself and rework the fragments in two hours.

But who knows? Maybe the film will do something incredible to audiences: maybe the multiplexes will be ripped apart and rebuilt on the outskirts of primitive villages as shrines to half-remembered deities.

The book on Amazon

Movie trailer on YouTube

Filed under: Uncategorized

Future memories’ hexagonal doorway

I read a great story over Christmas, (cribbed from here) and it reminded of a thing I wrote back in 2004 when I was at Mook (RIP). And seeing as I dug it out, I thought I’d stick it on Slideshare. And seeing as I did that, I thought I’d mention it here.

The News in 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized, Writing

Photosynth

I recently waded through the process of partitioning my MacBook and installing Windows Vista alongside OS X. So now I can boot up as a Mac or a PC.
They look fairly similar on a superficial level, although they’re guided by different structural prinicples, but there is one thing Macs doesn’t have that Windows does is. PhotoSynth.
Gasp.
This truly is an amazing bit of software. What Photosynth does is take images you upload to it and reconstruct the scene in 3D, allowing you to navigate through the scene and get a different perspective on a scene or location. What’s it like? You know that bit in Blade Runner, where Decker asks the computer to go behind the pillar and essentially make stuff up? It’s a bit like that – or rather, you can see how we might get to that with Photosynth as a start point. One more portion of science fiction being redelivered as science fact.
What most interests me about Photosynth is its potential for constructing stories and for playing with time. It could be great for leading people through an event as it evolves, or for hiding treats and treasures for those who look in the right areas of a scene; for guiding people to specific points of interest. But I suspect it’s real potential will be revealed by an event observed by a mass of people, who all upload their shots to a single ‘synth’ (I even love the jargon) and create multiple viewpoints of an event. In fact, imagine being able to do that automatically. A ‘synth’ button on cameras that automatically adds the shot you’ve just taken to those of other users who have previously been in the same place.
Below is a synth I made, exploring some of these ideas: can you find the passageway into another scene?

Fishcombe Cove, Devon

UPDATE:
So, the big thing happened – Obama’s Inauguration gathered together the photos of lots of different people and now you can see it on a Mac, using ‘Silverlight’: you should just be offered the chance to install it by clicking the synth above.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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