Every year at Yakmala, four films stand out above the rest as the most questionable and in that persistence of memory become “Best of” selections. They join the ranks of the Hall of Fame, a select group of films exceptional in their dubious qualities. These are their stories.
A perfect ass. A perfect … ass.
— Sand Serif
It is rare in the halls of Yakmala for a film like “The Spirit” to occur. It had major amounts of money thrown at it and a stable of A-level talent for a first time director with a passion project that is just a little too personal to be comfortable. It’s almost what you’d expect if MGM had given Hal Warren $10 Million to make “‘Manos’: the Hands of Fate.”
“The Spirit,” better known as “Frank Miller’s The Goddamn Spirit” tells the tale of one Denny Colt (Hi, Denny!), a young beat cop killed in the line of duty (Bye, Denny!) but brought back to life through dubious science. (Umm, hi, Denny?) Deader than “Star Trek,” Denny decides to fight crime as masked avenger The Spirit. His arch-nemesis is the man who brought him back to life, the Octopus. The film’s plot focuses on the return of Denny’s childhood love Sand Serif. In the years since he last saw her, Sand has become an international jewel thief. There’s a reason why they broke up, but it’s not really worth writing about. Oh, I should mention Sand and the Octopus were both hunting crates, but got the old switcheroo. They spend the movie trying to arrange an exchange of loot. Sand wants something that may or may not be the Golden Fleece. The Octopus is after a vase containing “The Blood of Herakles,” which will make his nigh-immortal self a god.
At least, that’s what he says. But he also hates to have egg on his face.
Now, “The Spirit” is based on the comics of Will Eisner, et al. I’ve never read a “Spirit” comic in my life and apparently watching the movie has not illuminated the concept in the slightest for me. This film is not about Will Eisner or even Denny Colt. It’s about Frank Miller.
This still from the film shows The Spirit getting smacked by the severed head of Frank Miller. Not a hoax! Not a dream! THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENS IN THE FILM.
It’s a rather apt metaphor for most of the production. Around every corner is a reference to Miller and his relationship to comics. At one point, Sand Serif goes on a rant about Robin the Boy Wonder and his tight, upsetting shorts. Streets in Central City have names of old timer comics artist or, in one instance, a direct reference to Eisner’s other works. Former DC Comics Publisher Paul Levitz appears in one scene saying, “You’ll believe a man can’t fly.” In the commentary track, Miller claims the relationship between the Spirit and Commissioner Dolan is based on his friendship with Eisner. Dolan does nothing but yell at the Spirit. In the film most staggering self-reference, the phrase “Electra Complex” is utter four times in under a minute.
When the film isn’t making references to comics, it is busy with Miller’s interior world of Whores, guys hoodwinked by Whores, and Whores. Even Death is personified in a fashion that could easily be confused for the ladies of Old Town in Miller’s “Sin City.”
The film offers new obsessions for the curious Miller fan. The Octopus, never seen in an Eisner comic, has a fascinating aversion to eggs. No. Wait. He likes eggs, just not on his face. Not a glob.
Not a glob.
Also this film illustrates the Yakmala principle of the Black Nazi. The theory states there is no such thing as a good movie featuring a Black Nazi. Miller is known to fetishize fascist gear, so this is still part of his obsession.
Not everything in the film is terrible. “The Spirit” features a remarkable character in the form of Morgenstern. She is the film’s Torgo, a character who operates in her own film while the film you’re actually watching continues to happen. In the following clip — which cannot be embeded — watch how she steals the scene from Dan Lauria and Gabriel Mact while standing in the background.
While you could watch this small portion of “The Spirit” and say it is parody, far too much of Miller’s output in the last fifteen years has followed this obsessive, hard boiled, on the nose trainwreck style. It ceased to be an artistic construct and has become a window directly into his subconscious.
For all this lambasting, I’m genuinely crushed the film was such a disaster that Miller’s partners at Odd Lot lost their jobs and Miller will never direct a feature based on “Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century.” While Miller is a terrible director, his voice is important to the overall gestalt of film. His misguided passion should be a light in the darkness to all would-be filmmakers to go and make movies of insanely limited appeal.