I attended the premiere last week of Frank Miller's Sin City
with a certain amount of trepidation...which was replaced by a lot of relief
when I found myself liking it. Frank's a friend of mine, and I have occasionally
gone to a premiere or early screening of a friend's movie and thought that the
featured attraction was a failure of spectacular proportions. So not only did I
have to sit there through a movie I might otherwise have walked out on, I had to
sit there thinking, "Okay, what do I say to my friend when I run into him in the
Obviously, it's a dilemma. You don't want to hurt a pal's
feelings, especially on what is usually configured as an evening of celebration
for him and everyone else involved in the enterprise. You were invited, you got
in for nothing and in most cases, there's a party and loads of free food and
beverage. Sometimes, you even get a little goodie bag of gifts, and you'd feel
like The Ingrate of All Time to introduce negative energy into the festivities.
Most screenings are also publicity events, swarming with reporters and
cameras...and that's not the ideal place to say anything less complimentary
than, "That's one helluva great movie you made there."
On the other hand, you don't want to lie.
I've discussed this with others who've wrestled with the problem
and never found a satisfying answer except to avoid premieres. If you must go —
and sometimes, you must — one solution is to say something meaningless like,
"I'm going to remember this evening for a long time" or "Only you could have
done it" or "I've never seen anything like it." I once almost got away with, "It
was so much better than a lot of things that aren't nearly as good." Usually,
folks are so eager to hear praise that they react like you'd just given them
four stars, thumbs up and a couple of Oscars. Most of the time though, they
aren't fooled for one second. They know the trick because they've used it when
attending premieres of bad movies by their friends.
It's a problem, and it's often more than a matter of not wounding
a buddy's ego. I once attended the cast-'n'-crew screening of a movie that was
so dreadful, most of us knew we were present for the funeral of its maker's
career. The writer-director was a very nice guy with some successes to his
credit, and he'd spent years getting this movie made. If effort, passion and
sacrifice were all that mattered on the screen, he'd have had Gone With the
Wind. Instead, he had something a notch below The Gong Show Movie —
which, it has long amused me, comes right after Gone With the Wind in
Leonard Maltin's books.
Watching my friend's film that night was like watching him enter
the Indianapolis 500 and drive right into a wall. And sure enough, it's now been
something like fifteen years and no one has let him direct traffic, let alone
another movie. It was one of the ten saddest evenings I can recall that did not
involve actual death.
I really did have a good time at Sin City. When I ran into
Frank after, I may not have expressed that as clearly as I should have but I was
still absorbing what I'd seen and trying to isolate what I'd liked about it. I
generally do not like violent movies and have been known to walk out on them.
(Years ago, I was dragged to see an awful film called Flesh + Blood.
About halfway through, I turned to my date and whispered, "If Jennifer Jason
Leigh is raped two more times, we leave." Jennifer was and we did.) Five or six
fewer amputations in Sin City would have been just fine with me and there
were moments when the relentless grittiness was a bit numbing, which was perhaps
the desired effect of it all. But ultimately, you have to accept or reject the
movie they made, and I chose to accept it...and not just because that was easier
than telling Frank, "That was...uh, an experience." I genuinely thought it was a
In a completely separate sense, I am really enjoying its success.
Years ago, Jack Kirby told people — to generally deaf ears — that a good comic
book was a storyboard for a great movie. "It's all there on the page," he said
of many comics he did that he felt could and should be translated to the screen
with little amendment. He was not talking about how someone could make a Hulk
movie that would take some ideas and imagery from the comics and insert them
into an adaptation that was largely the creation of others. He was talking about
the movie as an extension of the comic book, involving the creators of that
comic book in the process, as Frank was involved in the production of Sin
City. Alas, in his lifetime, Jack got no closer to seeing that happen with
his comics than that dreadful Marvel Super-Heroes show of the sixties
that used his pages, not because they could be the blueprint for a quality work
but because it was a real cheap way to make a cartoon. There's a lot of Kirby in
certain shots in Sin City, especially in moments when some character
bursts into action. But the key connection I see is that Jack always knew there
was a direct bridge between creating comics and directing a motion picture...and
Frank's the guy who finally got it built and open for traffic.