Watching and Reading

Come And See has maybe the most off putting cover of any dvd in the store. Which is a shame because this movie is way more than a gnarly WW2 film. Shot in 1985 by Elem Klimov, who up till the sudden death of his wife in 1979, was known for mostly comedies and satires, the film draws on his experiences as a russian youth during the war. He eschews a straightforward narrative in favor of a more dreamlike ebb and flow that more resembles a series of dreams and nightmares and is as much concerned with the horrors of war as it is with the bizarre details and minutia of the natural world and village life. Which makes it more bedfellows with herzog and mallick than anything else. That's not to say it's not a hardcore war movie, it totally is, but there are images and moments in this movie, both of the horrible and beautiful kind, that still stay with me years after watching it. It excels past its genre handles.
Kino's release is pretty bare bones, the sole real extra being a written appreciation from Sean Penn of all people. But just having the movie is good enough, because really, with something like this, nothing anybody says is going to really add much-its all right there on screen.

It's hard to believe that only a couple years after doing the comics in this volume, John Stanley would pretty much abandon comics for good. These Melvin the Monster strips are just flat out great, and beyond that, they looked like fun to make. The character design is inspired across the board, and there is a kind of graceful madcap lunacy to the whole thing that is just as charming as you will find anywhere. Even the cheesy jokes will get you laughing because the whole thing has such personality. Stanley does a neat thing narratively where each short strip is part of a larger narrative that just keeps expanding with each new strip, the scope of the story growing and growing till it all comes together at the end.
The work is presented as good as you could want for this kind of stuff-they got good scans from the original comics and printed it as is, even grain on the newsprint, on nice paper. No re-coloring or photographing the original art, which is good for some reprints, but for something like this, the tactical feel of the original comics, the newsprint, the occasional off-register color, adds a lot the aesthetic beauty of it and puts the work in context of the industry stanley was a part of (and ran away from). The design by Seth is probably going to rile up some comics people (everyone else will think its great), but I think even those dudes, looking at this thing honestly, can see all the design elements are handled really well, honing in the sixties horror vibe and charming character design, giving it a really distinct look. Basically it comes down to this: Before you read the book, you turn it over in your hands and think "This looks good, very nice, tut tut" and then when you're half way through it and realize how good the comics are, you hold the book out in front of you and turn it over in your hands and look through the end papers and chapters breaks and think "This thing is so awesome, look how perfect this thing is, wow, a perfect book".

I haven't read many westerns, but Warlock by Oakley Hall, was recommended to me, and every title in the New York Review of Books line I have read as been great, so I dived in, and boy oh boy, is this thing a killer. It's super epic, with a huge cast of characters based around the fictional town of Warlock, and you can tell a huge amount of research was done-the way people curse is as distinct as the droogs lingo in Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Its got all the things you would want from a western, like crazy miners, saloon shootouts, and dusty whores, but it's also about society and community and myth building. What pushes it over the edge, to my eyes at least, is that Hall writes it in this distinct prose style that mirrors the the time it is depicting. Meaning it feels like a book written in the old west, as weird as that sounds. So even in the descriptions of mountains or kitchens or whatever, you really feel immersed in this world. It's not the post modern bluntness of Cormac McCarthy, it feels true in tone and pitch to the time and place it's depicting. So like all good fiction, you get inside the heads of the characters, and know how they like their coffee, but also of the mentality of a generation, and how they saw things-what the coffee actually tasted like.

posted by sammy at 3:07 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah! Another SH film/literature appreciation post. These are sort of what I check the blog for almost exclusively.

Years ago when I still worked at Kim's, the now defunct NYC video store, one of my co-workers that was more knowledgeable with regard to film than anyone I'd met before or since told me that Come and See is basically one of the best WWII movies available. You're right about that box art being intimidating. I don't think I ever made it past the first ten minutes. I'm going to throw it to the top of my queue and try again, though. I used to watch almost nothing but emotionally wrenching films of brutality and horror (French and Japanese, typically), so I'm probably a bit ill-prepared at the moment.

Nice to see someone else being won over by Warlock. It's such a great book. I've avoiding watching the film, as I can't imagine it doing much justice to the novel.

If you find yourself desiring further non-McCarthy Western reading, may I humbly recommend Walter Van Tilburg Clark's The Ox-Bow Incident, and perhaps another NYRB, Butcher's Crossing by John Williams. Ox-Bow is a compact story dealing with the momentum of a mob in dispensing frontier justice, as well as a far more nuanced presentation of racial attitudes from the period than one often gets. Butcher's Crossing is the chronicle of an educated East-coast young man on a buffalo hunt in Colorado mountain country. It isn't full of Western tropes, but the power of the language and the depth of the small cast of characters will really pull you in. Easily one of my favorite books, genre or otherwise.

Thanks for the recommendations, Sam!

8:32 AM  

Blogger sammy said...

you have to try again! come and see is emotionally wrenching, but its so much more than just brutality and horror. and even the way the brutality is delivered is nothing like anything else.
will check out butcher's crossing and the ox-bow incident-thanks for the recommendations, they both sound good(and such good titles for books).

5:27 PM  

Blogger Jeffrey Meyer said...

"Come and See" is extraordinary, easily one of the three greatest war films ever made. The influence on Malick's "Thin Red Line" is unmistakable.

The ending is completely over the top but as a result works its way into your mind like a vivid nightmare... the only other director I think who has accomplished this sort of tone is Zulawski, especially in "Possession".

Klimov's Rasputin film is also very interesting, though not as good I think. He also made a doc about his wife Larisa Shepitko which I have downloaded but not yet seen -- it's reportedly very good.

2:21 AM  

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6:55 PM  

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