Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Killing the Joke

I’ve only once given up on a movie and walked out of a cinema in the middle of it, and it was in Las Vegas in 1980. We were backpacking across America from West coast to East, and we were taking full advantage of a cheap room deal and the even cheaper all-you-can-eat buffets in all the casinos.

This was before ‘family friendly Vegas’ with its Eiffel Tower and sink-on-command pirate ship. The bright lights and the atmosphere were our main entertainment. In a four-day stay we gambled no more than ten dollars on the dime slots and came away with a small profit. There was also a four-foot plush Yosemite Sam that we hadn’t wanted to win and that we had to drag along with us for the rest of the trip.

(I won it by throwing a curtain ring over the neck of a Coke bottle in Circus Circus. Which may sound skilful but the bottle I snagged wasn’t the one I was aiming at)

(We brought the damned soft toy all the way home and it stood in the corner of our bedroom gathering dust for the next five years, until the dog chewed its foot and finally gave us an excuse to throw it away)


Though there was free champagne in the evenings and sometimes donuts (if you were prepared to sit through a timeshare presentation and wriggle away from the salesperson assigned to you at the end), daytime in 1980 Las Vegas was like the long empty morning after a late party. It was like only we and the housekeeping staff were awake and moving around. To fill the time until the evening, we went looking for an afternoon movie and the only one we could find was a comedy titled Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses?

Unpromising as that sounded, the poster featured Robin Williams “in his movie debut”. Williams had just starred in Popeye but it was for Mork and Mindy that we rated him. That’s what drew us in.


Shoulda known better. Williams was in the movie for no more than two minutes in the most minor of early-career bit parts. The poster was a piece of total opportunism on the part of the distributor. But the film itself…

The film consisted of seriously old and staggeringly obvious jokes, acted-out as literal playlets by a talent-free cast. A joke that takes maybe twenty seconds to tell would take two or three minutes to plod to its punchline, which invariably was so obvious that it had to be visible from space.

We’d paid our money so we stuck it as long as we could, but we were losing the will to live.

If the film proved anything, it’s that a narrative is entirely specific to its medium and that to shift its content to another just doesn’t work. In a successful adaptation, what comes out is something new, something re-imagined, something… else.

I always think of that piece of unwatchable crap in a Las Vegas fleapit when I hear people expressing bafflement over Alan Moore’s attitude to film adaptations of his work. He doesn’t want the money; he doesn’t want a credit; he’d rather the films weren’t made at all.

I’ve met Alan Moore on a couple of occasions and, without being a comics fan, I’ve sampled his work a number of times. In person he’s thoughtful, intelligent and charismatic; in his work he’s achieved more with graphically-conveyed narrative than most lauded novelists.

I reckon that his disowning of the film adaptations springs from the honest recognition that the craft he puts into the page disappears when people dress up and act out the storyline in front of a camera.

Of course, nothing in the Moore-adapted canon is in quite the same league as Can I Do It ‘Till I Need Glasses?

Although I have to say that the movie based on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came pretty damn close.

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5 responses to “Killing the Joke”

  1. ‘Watchmen’ is pretty good – maybe if Moore had seen that before ‘From Hell’ or ‘The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, he might not have been so anti-Hollywood. Still, it’s nice to see someone standing up for themselves and not just taking the money for a change.

    Two things – I once won a HUGE white tiger while on holiday in Florida and your tale of fluking the win and being stuck with an enormous stuffed toy that you dragged home and finally got rid of years later was horribly familiar (ours went to a charity shop. In fact, it’s probably still there!).

    The other thing is my wife mentioned that she was recording a new series on Living that looked good, and that’s turned out to be ‘Eleventh Hour’. Have you seen them all…and are you happy with them? (apologies if you’ve answered that before).

  2. Personally, “From Hell” is my favourite Moore comic, closely followed by “V for Vendetta”: the film adaptations are good, with V being the “best”. The main fault with “From Hell” is the woefully mis-cast Johnny Depp (Abberline should’ve been played by Robbie Coltrone, who actually played his assistant) and Heather Graham’s cocker-ney accent.

  3. I’ve walked out on only three films so far, myself…Bert I. Gordon’s THE FOOD OF THE GODS, which he blamed on Wells; David Birney’s NIGHTFALL, blamed on Asimov; and CHILD’S PLAY, where I gambled that even though it looked unpromising, Brad Dourif had previously chosen at-worst-interesting low-budget projects, which CP is not. I would’ve walked out on Nair’s KAMA SUTRA, but my companions wanted to stick it out to the gummy end (only NIGHTFALL, in my experience, was a more literally oleaginous film, with all the actors in both having undergone extreme unction for most of the running time).

    Glad to read you mostly like what you see of ELEVENTH HOUR US. Before TV GUIDE was split into four parts (more than Gaul) if we count the racetrack channel trotting off in its direction, I was to do the TVG blog for CRUSOE, but it was not to be. I might’ve done 11TH, as well.