Monday, February 07, 2005


As much as I love Grant Morrison's comics for his huge ideas, and cosmology, the thing that makes him unique from a textbook is his sense of pop. What is pop? It's basically something really cool, effortlessly so, King Mob in Volume II of The Invisibles is pop, all of Marvel Boy is pop, Kill Bill Volume 1 is pop. It's stuff that's not neccessarily that deep, but is so cool it doesn't matter.

In movies, it's about cool clothes, great music and interesting camera techniques. Of current filmmakers, I'd say the most pop is Wong Kar-Wai. His films are really beautiful, he's got great sets, and he always makes his actors look really cool. It's like, these people may be depressed, but they're not going to look bad because of it. Fallen Angels is his most pop movie, a distillation of images, music and emotion, with more attention paid to being cool than to having a really coherent narrative. The theme song of the movie is "Because I'm cool," that basically sums it up.

That's pretty damn cool, the lighting, the actors posed to look good, rather than in a natural conversational stance. It's all about playing up to the audience, the moment of cool.

Other filmmakers who have made incredibly pop movies include Fernando Meireles who dropped City of God on an unsuspecting populace. This movie is full of great stylistic stuff, including the use of 'Kung Fu Fighting' in a dramatic scene, any filmmaker who can pull that off you have to respect. Despite heavy subject matter, Michael Mann makes The Insider a really pop movie, by editing it with such energy and drive, and a great soundtrack. Oldboy is another great pop movie.

But, for me the undisputed master of pop is Grant Morrison. His comics are always full of crazy cool images, that makes his stuff feel so alive and now. Particularly when paired with phil Jiminez or Frank Quitely, he makes the coolest characters ever seen. His masterpiece is The Invisibles, which has a really shiny pop aesthetic, but a lot of depth below. It's the combination of a really cool surface, with a ton of depth that makes The Invisibles such an interesting work. Kill Your Boyfriend, Flex Mentallo and Marvel Boy are more pop masterworks. Some of his other works, like Animal Man, are still great, but lack the pop sheen of his newer stuff.

I guess the major thing that makes a work pop is a focus on the image itself, rather than just using the image as a vehicle in the narrative. This makes every single moment entertaining, rather than just the big action scene, or ending an entertaining moment. The Matrix: Reloaded is a film that's really jumbled, but it's great because of the focus on image. When they're in the real world, the movie sucks, but once they go into The Matrix, all the characters look cool enough that it doesn't really matter what they're doing. Similarly, in Wong Kar-Wai's work, each image is so beautifully composed, that you can literally just watch the movie and be awed, without even engaging in the story. WKW does have great stories and character arcs, but it's not all that the movie is about. It's the distinction between the movie being geared towards an end, and every image just being an end in itself.

That's why I like movies that really allow the director to express himself (or herself, Sofia Coppola has made some incredibly pop movies). Don't always be subject to the narrative. Music is a huge part of this. Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides has a soundtrack by Air, a soundtrack that is so good, listening to it is an end in itself. The music is so pop that you can enjoy the movie just as an accompaniment to the music, as well as on a narrative level.

The moment that created this idea of pop for me was the 60s flashback at the beginning of the 'Entropy in the UK' storyline in The Invisibles. In it, we see Gideon Stargrave, the 60s analogue of King Mob, battling enemies while dressed in mod clothes, blowing stuff up and such. It's ridiculously cool, you can enjoy each panel as just a great piece of Jiminez art, enjoy it as a short story in its own right, or analyze it for clues about King Mob's psyche. Pop implies a lack of depth, but I feel like it's more a gateway to multiple levels of enjoyment, with both the surface and substance.

Perhaps the most pop moment in film is the end of Fallen Angels, which features three strains of action. There's the incredible visual, a beautiful shot, with a tight camera effect. There's Yazoo's Only You playing, a great song. And, there's a voiceover that sums up the theme of the movie. Watching it, your eyes don't know where to go, there's so much great stuff on the screen, and that's part of what being pop is about.

So, what is pop in music, which is an art completely divorced from narrative film? We'll find out tomorrow, but here's some pop images.

King Mob in The Invisibles, as drawn by Phil Jiminez

This is from Fallen Angels

The cover of Morrison's Marvel Boy

City of God

Related Posts
The Invisibles: Vintage Reactions (3/1/2004)
Fallen Angels (12/10/2004)
More Pop! (2/8/2005)

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