Movie lovers of the Silicon Valley have followed film critic Richard Von Busack’s work in the San Jose Metro for over three decades. His work has been incisive, clever, and thought-provoking, and Richard realized recently that some of his work has been lost to internet amnesia. And so it was time to gather and preserve some of his work in a book. Taking the title Shooting the Survivors Richard has turned to GoFundMefor his book, to fund the publication.
The title was inspired by Ernest Hemingway, who complained that “…critics watch the battle from a high place and then come down and shoot the survivors.” But still, film critics play an essential part in communities, sparking conversation, spurring thought, and helping moviegoers choose what they want to see at their local theater. In Richard’s own words, it’s also true that “…a good critic shelters and nurses the memory of a film wounded by neglect, until the world is ready to understand and love it.”
When I first started reading the Metro as a college student, I didn’t always agree with Richard Von Busack’s reviews, but I always read them. Years later, I felt honored to become friends with him. So of course I backed the book. Perhaps you would like to as well. Richard sent me a sampling of his reviews, and it seems only appropriate that I include his take on Daredevil; for the book, he said he will revise the review to interpret the Director’s Cut.
I WAS CAPTIVATED by The Man Without Fear during Frank Miller’s days of writing and drawing Daredevil comics in the early 1980s. The unexpectedly mature plotting and the striking graphics–particularly Miller’s use of negative space, influenced by Jim Steranko and Will Eisner–represented a breakthrough in the form. Miller brought in thousands of readers who previously had never cared about Marvel Comics’ red-suited, low-cal substitute for Batman, created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964. Miller’s stories pushed the Comics Code until it almost snapped. These restrictions were even tougher than Hollywood’s old Production Code, declaring that a hero mustn’t kill, mustn’t carry a gun–even when it seemed that he was most justified.
Later, Miller left, and the crapification process started. Miller moved to DC Comics to create The Dark Knight Returns, about Batman’s last case. The graphic novel was a national success, leading directly to four Batman films that sourced the look of Miller’s comics.
Twenty years later, Daredevil arrives on the big screen, and its day-lateness and dollar-shortness make it very slight. Director/writer Mark Steven Johnson introduces almost nothing new. Ben Affleck stars as poor but honest lawyer Matt Murdock. Blinded in childhood but given extraordinary senses as compensation, he falls for martial artist Elektra (Jennifer Garner, the much vaunted star of Alias). An assassin named Bullseye (Colin Farrell) enters the picture and interferes with the romance. This killer with unerring aim murders her father, but since Elektra believes that Daredevil is responsible, she decides to hunt him down. Farrell steals the show as the mad Irish Bullseye, with a modern-primitive scarification target on his forehead. Although Michael Clarke Duncan is an imposing semimythical crime boss, he really doesn’t have much to do except smoke a cigar in a significant manner. You wait in vain for Duncan’s Kingpin to do something wonderful, besides pose.
Johnson, working after the Batman films have waxed and waned, is playing catch-up. He has tried to make Daredevil a more realistic hero–giving him scars and a lair full of painkillers. Supposedly, Murdock is broke, and yet he has a headquarters that must have cost beaucoup bucks. Aside from the now-derivative imagery; the “Will you accept this rose?” gesture the Kingpin makes to his cadavers (like the roses Bruce Wayne left on the sidewalk in Tim Burton’s Batman); the masked lovers fighting (Batman Returns)–beyond the array of things we’ve seen before lies the question of what the film is trying to say. Superman (and Spider-Man) turn away from love and embrace duty; Batman turns away from love and embraces solitude. As we see in the opening, the haunted Catholic Daredevil embraces the cross in his time of crisis, but then he later has no compunction about knocking the villain through a church’s stained-glass window right after he’s supposedly found forgiveness. And the priest cheers him on as he vandalizes the church.
Want to read more? You should consider checking out Richard Von Busack’s GoFundMe page to dive deeper into some of the best Bay Area film criticism.