Comics / Cult Favorite

Sin City: a Romance

By Philip Schweier
December 29, 2005 - 10:54

Romance is often a term associated with the likes of Barbara Cartland and the old bodice-ripper novels that my mother devoured, while poo-pooing the silliness of afternoon soap operas. To me, there was little difference.

Each Christmas, I buy one of the Sin City books, and as series creator Frank Miller has claimed, they are love stories. Not in the hearts and flowers definition, but more in the anger-filled, true-to-life, dysfunctional sense. There’s passion, and lust, and people drawn into desperate situations due to some misplaced emotional connection, and yes, there’s even genuine affection.

It’s a rather skewed assessment, but for anyone who’s read the stories, an accurate one. In book form, I’ve discovered that perception moves at one’s own pace, not that of the material. Reading the Sin City stories, the action becomes highly compressed. In the film version, events play out much more slowly than I read them.

So when a buddy of mine got the Sin City Special Edition for Christmas,

he brought it over to my house to share. We’d seen the movie in the theater, and being film fans, we enjoyed it on many different levels. It’s a remarkable piece of movie making. Robert Rodriguez brings Frank Miller’s black and white – and I mean BLACK and WHITE, and a little yellow - to life in remarkably faithful detail.

However, by looking at filmmaking technique, digital imagery, and other aspects of the production, much of the violence becomes diluted. For people who view the film strictly as narrative combined with imagery, the gore of the movie can be overwhelming. Perhaps because it’s an adaptation of a comic book, one might expect exaggerated “cartoon” violence.

This interpretation is supported the by the notion that the blood isn’t red, but BLACK. For example, back in 1976, there was a movie written and directed by Alan Parker entitled Bugsy Malone. A gangster musical with an all-child cast, it starred Scott Baio and Jody Foster. Crime bosses rode around in bicycle-powered versions of Model Ts, and battle was done using cream pies. The plot revolved around one of the gang leaders having developed a Tommy gun that fired cream pies, laying out his rivals left and right in piles of whipped cream. A harmless creative touch, until one realizes the whipped cream was just a substitute for blood and gore. Then the movie loses its innocence and becomes rather graphically violent.

By visually substituting whipped cream for blood, or in the case of Sin City, black for red, the perceived bloodshed is subdued, allowing filmmakers to dramatically magnify the amount of violence. What a viewer may see in the movie Sin City is heavy doses of gun-play and murder and misery. But again, that’s just a matter of perspective. For some viewers, the violence is the stage, while for others, it’s the backdrop.

My wife watched it with us. Well, part of it anyway. Perhaps it’s the stark black and white contrast of the photography, or maybe I just respond better to the gritty film noir, pushed to the extreme. I love that kind of stuff, having grown up on Bogart movies and Mickey Spillane novels. My wife, not so much. She left about 30-40 minutes into the film.

Would such stories be any more palatable if set in the Old West, or in Medeival times? There’s no saying, but was there any less bloodshed in those eras? Either way, the characters will still have the same motivations, the same drive to survive against corruption and evil as they see it.

Ultimately, Sin City isn’t a film for everyone. But then again, not everyone enjoys Mickey Spillane either. When I, the Jury, the first Mike Hammer novel, was published in 1947, it was racy and harsh. Today, it has crossed the line of archetypal hardboiled storytelling to the point where it’s almost a parody of itself. Perhaps in 50 years, Sin City will be the same. Whether that’s good or bad for our perception of violence – and romance – , only time will tell.

Praise and adulation? Scorn and ridicule? Email me at

Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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