Irony is, in essence, the tragic vision translated to a world where man was never “sufficient to stand,” as Milton had it. The irony may verge into black humor but with or without strong humor all ironies are dominated by a vision of a world without the glories of tragedies and romances or even the sheer dumb luck that blesses the hero of the comedy.
GHOST WORLD (2001)— I’m no great fan of the work of Daniel Clowes, but there’s no question that he evokes a world of ironic ugliness and surreal tackiness like no other comics-professional today. Terry Zwigoff’s adaptation of the GHOST WORLD graphic novel is not quite as concerned as the original with the distanciation of emotional states, but Zwigoff’s own brand of black humor abounds, particularly in the scenes that expand the Crumb-esque character played by Steve Buscemi.
DEATH NOTE (2006)—Live-action movie version of the Oba/Obata manga series has the same ruthless vision of the TV-anime, in which the only “gods” are the Japanese Shinigami, who exist to write in their books the names of the mortals destined to die. Such a book falls into the hands of handsome alpha-male Light Yagami, who then arrogates to himself the right to kill whomever he pleases by inscribing the names of his victims in said book. The story then traces the pursuit of this self-appointed executioner by his own Inspector Jauvert, the gnomish “L”—a nice reversal of the hero/villain expectations.
BARBARELLA (1968)— Jean-Claude Forest’s sexy space-fantasy might have borrowed a lot of paraphernalia from FLASH GORDON, but the tone of Barbarella is more Rabelais than Raymond. At times Vadim’s best work verges on straight comedy, but the satirical elements dominate, particularly in the scene of Barbarella’s most memorable combat-scene, where she out-orgasms a mechanical sex-machine.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)—I suspect this anthology-film, made up of tales from the EC-horror comic book, would be more popular with comics-critics if it had a tonier cast and direction, maybe along the lines of the 1945 anthology DEAD OF NIGHT. But EC Comics weren’t aimed at an elitist audience, and so the match between the grossout-tales of the comics and the stalwarts of commercial horror-cinema (Freddie Francis, Peter Cushing) proves a fine match to embody EC’s sadistic visions of sparagmos.
FRITZ THE CAT (1972)-- Here’s another one I haven’t seen in many a moon, but memory tells me that the Ralph Bakshi film successfully translated the gross world of 1960s underground comics. Fritz’s creator Robert Crumb was so repelled by Bakshi’s translation that afterward he did a story that killed off the famous feline, implicitly rejecting any further association between his work and such commercial entertainments. Or maybe Crumb didn't like Bakshi showing the grossness of Crumb's works unleavened by whatever "intellectual implants" (as I called them earlier) added on. Who knows?
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