March 27, 2016 by heligena
#25 THE FILTH BY GRANT MORRISON ET AL
We’ve established that we here at off the record have a deep abiding (and totally consensual) love for the graphic novel, right?! We feel like that’s something we need to reiterate before getting into the nitty gritty of The Filth because this is the first GN that we’ve really had problems with.
We however are professionals and will try to rein ourselves in, emotions be damned. Because the most frustrating this is that the book has some interesting ideas contained within. Grotesque, repulsive ideas to be sure but fascinating nonetheless.
You want an example? How about a tiny colony of iLife nanobots designed by scientists to save lives that decide to turn on their creators instead? Or the genetic solution to man’s sterility being corrupted and transformed into a truly hideous spermy weapon? So far so cool, wouldn’t you say? The problem is that the concepts offered up in The Filth are presented in such a way that their impact gets lost in a sea of anarchic sound and colour.
It seems to have become increasingly easy these days to mistake inaccessibility for profundity and it’s clear that The Filth tries to court this trend to its own advantage. Messing around with narrative style, changing up page formats and breaking the fourth wall can often be a mind blowing experience (see our earlier posting on Jhonen Vasquez’s Johnny The Homicidal Maniac for a great example) but to be honest here, it all just feels too messy. Just deliberately and wilfully confusing- a case of a conjuror’s slight of hand designed to hide a lack of clarity in the plot. All of which could be fixed by a smart enough directing/editing team if a movie was ever made but here, makes for a frustrating read.
We don’t doubt for a second that the lack of background to the storyline was done purposely to make the reader empathise with the main character Greg/Ned’s disorientation. It’s a solid narrative device, well used for good reason. However, in this particular case the lack of subtletly that sits alongside it more often than not results in an exasperating visual experience and offers nothing to ground you in the reality Morrison has carefully created.
Don’t get us wrong- in terms of content we actually applaud the authors for their fearlessness. What they’ve given us is a seething, sleazy universe that could have been ground breaking in its forays into the seedier furrows of the human mind (and for that, read hardcore pornography, multiple personalities and invasive governmental surveillance.) Very few graphic novels are so wilfully sick to be fair and given the right framework this could have been an innovative piece of work.
It’s unfortunate then that its reliance on clumsy scenes of meta-fiction and overloaded panels (again traits that could be distilled down on the big screen) all combine to achieve a reading experience something akin to an overwhelming sensory kind of white noise; unpleasant and wearisome to try and unpick.
So, disgusting, disordered and deliberately bewildering, consider this our klaxon call to an out-there director to try and turn this beast in, to a fully fledged cinematic work of art. Because buried deep under its skin lies something great, you know?
It’d be a real shame to let the ideas go to waste.