One of the most overlooked facets of the comic form is its ability to educate. From Scott McCloud all the way to Darryl Cunningham, there are many creators out there who are keen to take advantage of the unique cognitive abilities of words and images in the name of learning. Similarly, Edward Ross' Filmish is a treasure trove for film fans everywhere, uniting movie snobs and slobs alike with his thoughtful, accessible yet academic analysis of the silver screen.
Contrarians that we are, we thought we'd ask the movie-loving creator exactly what he doesn't like about flicks. Oh what wicked devils we thought we were, until he hit us with one of the most illuminating pieces of writing yet to grace a One Question Interview. Read on for Ross' thoughts on movies, and his opinions on the connection - or lack thereof - between comics and celluloid.
"Oh man, I actually love to hate films, I really do. I’d say that there’s a sweet-spot a movie can occupy where it’s a pleasure to watch, and then just rip into afterwards and pull apart all its flaws. A great example would be something like the recent Indiana Jones film or the Star Wars prequels. I mean, admit it, you love ripping those films to pieces! It’s such a pleasure to me to explore where these films go wrong and where they might have gone right. Some films are just bad, for sure, but some bring us so much joy by occupying that sweet-spot of frustrating almost-goodness. I think the most common thing you’ll hear out of my mouth on the way home from the cinema is “You know what they should have done…”
I guess as a person who writes and draws about film, my biggest complaint would be a lack of depth in too many films. And I don’t mean that every film needs to have richly drawn characters and intellectually stimulating plots, just that I wish film-makers would look at investing more thought into the worlds they are creating. When you look back on those films that have survived the wear and tear of time, it’s those that bother to have a little more complexity and nuance that really stick with us. It’s that care and attention at every level of production that really shows. I guess that’s what frustrates and fascinates me so much with something like Indiana Jones IV: You can see in that film the opportunity to tell an interesting story about Indy becoming a relic of the past himself, as science and the atomic bomb replace mysticism and the Gods (or whatever your own theory is of how they could have made a better film!). Instead what we get is something that is at times painfully vacuous, and pretty forgettable, lacking any depth beyond obvious spectacle.
A lot of people say that films like that are designed purely as entertainment. But many ‘popcorn’ films manage to create a legacy for themselves, revealing their depth over the years as people explore them in all sorts of different ways. Take a film like Die Hard, which is at first sight ‘just another action movie’. About six months ago I read this article by Geoff Manaugh, who called Die Hard “one of the best architectural films of the past 25 years”. He went on to discuss how John McClane harnesses his environment as a weapon to fight his enemy, traversing the building in this really unconventional manner.
It’s just so wonderful and fascinating to me that we can take a film like Die Hard and twenty years after its creation, still find new ways to explore the film and its meanings. It’s a testament to just how wonderful cinema can be.
That’s what I love about good cinema, the way a film you’ve enjoyed for years can get transformed into something else when you watch with a certain critical perspective. I love taking some esoteric element of film, and looking at how it’s deployed by film-makers to different effect. I play games with films, and then I write about them in comics. And when film-makers don’t even bother to give their films enough thought and depth to allow me to play those games, well… that’s just no fun.
I think ultimately, I wish films were a little more like comics. We’ve had this influx of comic book adaptations and comic book centric films made over the last few years, and I’m not really referring to them. In fact the worst possible thing a film-maker can do when trying to convert a comic to the screen is to try and make their film more like a comic, especially when they don’t really understand how that works. One notable exception that worked was Scott Pilgrim VS The World which I think captured comic-book (and more-so computer-game) aesthetics really well without forgetting to be a film. But I cringe at films like Sin City and The Hulk (the Eric Bana one) where the film-maker has tried to invest the film with a really overbearing comic-book ‘sensibility’, as if that’s even a thing. Obviously we’ve got to remember that films and comics are worlds apart in what they are and what they do, but I think they can both learn from each other.
What I’m really referring to is the can-do attitude of the comics scene, especially the small press scene. What’s inspired me and driven me forward over the last year is the fact that comics, unlike almost every other medium, is a very accessible one to work in. Not so film, which requires vast teams and resources just to get your vision filmed, let alone distributed. Meanwhile in comics you just need a pen, paper and a photocopier to get your vision down, and a trip to your local independent comics shop to get it out there for people to read.
What I’d like to see more in film is this kind of singular vision, resulting I think from the small teams that create the unique comics works that we pick up in comics shops or buy online. I realise that this is not entirely possible in the world of film, but as technology reduces the cost of production and distribution I think we’ll more and more see films that come with the comic-book ethos. Out of the democratisation of print we got underground comix and to this day an exciting small-press scene. I just wonder what artists will emerge from the democratisation of film. We’ve already recently seen it can be achieved to an extent, with the fantastic District 9, a concept that was first conceived with a DV camera and desktop software before being remade with Hollywood backing. I think that stands as an example of what I’ve been talking about. Not only is that film well conceived and full of nuance and depth, but it has drawn on what I see as a comics attitude to film; a desire to create distinctive, singular work that showcases a creator’s vision.
I guess at the end of the day, having grown up on films before comics, when I read my favourite creators I do just wonder, what would happen if they gave Chris Ware or James Kochalka or Art Spiegelman a camera?"
Keep your eyes peeled for our upcoming review of Filmish within the next month. Spoiler alert: it's going to be a highly positive one, so let's just dispense with the formalities and go and buy Filmish #1 & #2 via Edward's blog, immediately. Cut!