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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The title is not meant to suggest that Frank Miller's SPIRIT film is better enjoyed with ice cream, but that, whatever failings the movie has, it occupies its own distinct mode and should be judged on the terms of that mode.

A lot of cyber-ink has been spilled with regard to how Miller allegedly betrayed the spirit of the original Eisner, uh, Spirit. But it should be noted that what Miller did is nothing new in the world of Hollywood, where almost any original work can and probably will be rewritten. One such adaptors reminisence went as follows:

"I wrote it fast because I had contempt for [the work] ... I tell you [the author] didn't like what I did with his book. I ran into him at a restaurant and, boy, he didn't like me."

On the face of it, this sounds like one of many, many Hollywood tales of an unscrupulous hack tearing apart the precious work of some misused author, right?

However, this quote (sourced in Wiki under the name of the film adaptation) comes from respected scripter A.I. Bezerides, and the book he was rewriting was Mickey Spillane's 1952 Mike Hammer novel KISS ME DEADLY. Bezerides' script, directed as a film by Robert Aldrich in 1955, was only modestly successful in its day, but in succeeding generations filmhounds came to view it as a classic film noir. And yet, anyone who's read the original novel, as I have, cannot question the validity of Mickey Spillane's response to the work of Bezerides and Aldrich, for the film KISS ME DEADLY is entirely a travesty, and very nearly a satire, of the original work.

Now as a pluralist I respect the best manifestations of every mode of creativity, as I addressed here in respect to the concepts of "subtle" and "gross" modes. In that essay I explained that I considered a "subtle" work like DESIGN FOR LIVING to be no less worthy than a "gross" one like WAYNE'S WORLD. (By the same token there are certainly any number of works that are bad with respect to their modal potentials-- say, off the top of my head, 1939's IDIOT'S DELIGHT for the subtle category and AUSTIN POWERS 2 for the gross one).

By this logic of modes I have no problem in appreciating both the original Spillane novel and the satirically-flavored adaptation of it for the 1955 film. I deem both to be classics with respect to their modal potentials.

And yet--

One is a travesty of the other.

Does I mean to suggest that Miller's SPIRIT, even if it was as much a travesty of its original source as the script of KMD THE MOVIE was of its original source, was as good in its mode as its source material was?

In a word, no.

But the point is that-- it could have been.

In other words, though Miller's SPIRIT isn't good in itself, it could have been as good in its mode as was KMD THE MOVIE, or many other examples I could name.

I'll come back to these matters of authorial integrity and misprision in another essay soon--


Charles R. said...

Along with King, Spillane is one of the lucky few writers to have more intelligent remakes of his work for film.

Gene Phillips said...

I suspect Spillane felt less than honored, though I don't imagine the film hurt his sales.

KMD the book is a cool nonsensical ultraviolent romp. I wouldn't mind seeing the real thing filmed some day.

Anagramsci said...

oh I quite agree--The Spirit is bad because it is bad (and because Frank Miller is an idiot), not because it is a travesty!

(likewise--Kiss Me Deadly is amazing because it is amazing--not because it is also a brilliant satire of an awful novel that is such a straw man that it doesn't need satirizing)


Gene Phillips said...

I thought that must be Dave Fiore when I saw the signature...

Well, KISS ME DEADLY is an extremely crude and violent pulp novel, but to me those are plusses: pulp is supposed to be crude and violent. Pulp doesn't necessarily have to be sadistic toward the female of the species, which KMD the novel is, and yet IMO Spillane's sadism evokes a sort of primal fear of All Things Feminine. It may be noteworthy that although Aldrich's film plays up a villainess who's a cool customer, and so APPEARS to be more "empowered" than the average Spillane female, the central villainess of KMDtn is incarnates primal Fear-of-Woman a lot better. (After her face gets ravaged Mike Hammer drops a surprisingly-erudite reference to Medusa, another bitchin' babe with a horrible face). I wouldn't mind seeing Miller direct a Spillane novel, though his future chances for directing anything may be limited.

I should add that in a perfect world maybe Spillane should be grateful to Aldrich.

But in that world, Shakespeare would also be grateful to Lloyd Kaufman for TROMEO AND JULIET.