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Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

``V for Vendetta,'' the latest movie from the Wachowski brothers, isn't as dense as the ``Matrix'' movies, but there's still plenty to chew on. Adapted from a graphic novel that was serialized in the 1980s, the movie follows a terrorist (or freedom fighter - take your pick) named V, who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and, like Fawkes, has designs on blowing up Parliament.

The movie takes place in the near future where a ``limited'' nuclear war has devastated most of the world, but left England intact. A fascist, single-party state rules through a controlled media, a surveillance-happy secret police, and concentration camps for dissidents and those who are ``different.''

Here's a guide to V's world and the influences behind it.

A Avian Flu: Whenever England's populace begins to stir from the sheepish slumber and question authority, the government alerts the British Television Network to lead the nightly news with fictional, fear-inducing stories. The avian flu is a perennial favorite, followed closely by unrest in the United States (see U entry).

B British Television Network (BTN). The country's lone operating television station, providing a clearinghouse of information sanctioned by England's fascist dictatorship. As one of the network's news anchors helpfully explains: ``Our job is to report the news. It's the government's job to create it.''

When asked if there was a current model for the BTN (cough, Fox News Channel, cough), ``Vendetta'' director James McTeigue replied, ``Yes. But not just Fox. Everyone is complicit in this kind of stuff. It could just as well been the Britain's Sky News Channel.''

C ``Count of Monte Cristo'': The 1934 swashbuckling revenge classic is V's favorite movie. And why not? You've got a hero, wrongly and royally messed with, imprisoned in a mask, determined to seek delicious vengeance upon the vile souls who jailed him.

D Dominoes: There's a scene, right before V launches his big blast of final payback, where he tips over 22,000 dominoes, forming (what else?) a giant letter V. Four professional domino assemblers (there's a career in this?) from Weijers Domino Productions spent some 200 hours putting the dominoes in position.

``These people were a little mental,'' McTeigue says. ``We placed them off by themselves so no one could disturb them. Then, we're about ready to go, and the woman brushing V's hair drops the comb right next to the dominoes, just about setting them off. I think the domino people would have brained her with the comb had that happened.''

E ``England Prevails'': The sign-off slogan for ranting BTN news program host Lewis Prothero. His version of Edward R. Murrow's ``Good night, and good luck'' catch phrase is meant to instill the idea that one nation's interests should be put above the rest of the world.

``You could certainly draw a modern parallel with America, couldn't you?'' says Natalie Portman, who plays V's protege in the film.

F Fawkes, Guy: Member of a group of Roman-Catholic conspirators who hatched the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, an attempt to assassinate James I and members of both houses of England's Parliament. Fawkes and his group burrowed beneath Parliament with 2.5 tons of gunpowder, aiming to blow it up. They were discovered and summarily executed.

Britons remember Fawkes annually on Nov. 5 with Guy Fawkes Night. He has also been feted in song by John Lennon (``Remember''), in poetry by T.S. Eliot and in literature both classic (Dickens) and popular (in the ``Harry Potter'' books, there's a phoenix named Fawkes).

V wears a Guy Fawkes mask throughout ``Vendetta,'' clearly siding with those who named Fawkes one of the 100 greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll. Fawkes took his place beside Winston Churchill, David Beckham and Johnny Rotten.

G Gallery, Shadow: V's version of the Phantom of the Opera's lair. Hidden in Victoria Station, part of London's abandoned underground, the arched, Tudor-like space includes a vast library, dressing room, kitchen and a screening room. ``If you're going to be an outcast in a fascist society, it's not a bad place to live,'' says set decorator Peter Walpole.

H Head, shaved: The film's most striking image isn't V's mask or its bleak vision of a near-future London, but Portman's bald dome. Portman's head was literally shaved while the cameras were rolling in a scene (one of many) containing Holocaust imagery.

I Ipanema, Girl From: The bossa-nova classic is one of two songs - ``Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars)'' being the other - featured in the film from the 1963 landmark ``Getz/Gilberto'' album from saxophonist Stan Getz and guitarist Joao Gilberto. Portman's character, Evey, hears the songs on separate mornings at the homes of protectors.

``I can't think of better music to wake up to, can you?'' McTeigue asks.

J Jukebox: Music is integral to V's world. He sets the detonation of the Old Bailey (see O entry) to Tchaikovsky's ``1812 Overture.'' A Wurlitzer jukebox, holding 872 songs (when the DVD comes out, freeze frame on it to get a fuller sense of V's musical leanings) holds a prominent place in the Shadow Gallery. (``An iPod just wouldn't cut it visually,'' McTeigue says. ``Besides, Steve Jobs doesn't need any more publicity.'')

V's taste leans heavily on torch classics like Julie London's version of ``Cry Me a River'' and modern equivalents like British crooner Richard Hawley's soulful ``Long Black Train.''

K Koran: One of an endless number of books, movies, music and paintings banned by the Ministry of Objectionable Material. Owning a copy will likely prompt a visit from the Fingermen (i.e. secret police), who will likely black-bag (i.e. stuff your head into a sack before murdering you) your sorry soul.

L Lloyd, David: Illustrator of the ``V for Vendetta'' graphic novel. Has seen the film and believes it keeps ``the integrity and essential messages'' of the piece alive.

M Moore, Alan: Writer of the graphic novel. Has not seen the film. Famous contrarian, has hated previous Hollywood adaptations of his other work (``From Hell,'' ``A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.''). Moore withdrew his name from the ``Vendetta'' credits and told Warner Bros. to send his share of the rights payment to collaborator Lloyd. Accused ``Vendetta'' producer Joel Silver of making ``blatant lies'' about the nature of his involvement in the project.

N Norsefire: The name of the pseudo-Nazi regime ruling England. Norsefire's power grab has elements of Hitler's ascent in the chaos of post-World War I Germany.

O Old Bailey: The first London landmark blown up by V, the Old Bailey is the country's criminal high court. The British Television Network calls the Bailey's destruction an ``emergency demolition'' in an attempt to downplay any stray thoughts Britons might be having about the invincibility of the Norsefire regime.

P Purefoy, James: Original actor cast as V, replaced a few weeks into shooting by Wachowski collaborator Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in the ``Matrix'' movies).

``James is a good actor, but he found the mask very constraining and claustrophobic,'' McTeigue says. ``He couldn't make peace with it, so we made the decision to go with Hugo. And the first thing I told Hugo was, 'If you come, you need to make peace with the mask.' And he said, 'Look, I came up through drama school and did a lot of theater with masks.' He recognized the challenge and ran with it.''

Q Quarantine: Action taken by Norsefire's secret police whenever a particular neighborhood or street resists complete obedience. Those placed in quarantine are rarely heard from again.

R Reed, Lou: Another musical favorite of V. Reed's ``I Found a Reason'' from the Velvet Underground's 1970 classic ``Loaded'' album is heard in the film, sung by modern indie darling Cat Power. Like most other songs on V's jukebox, it's a love song rife with yearning.

S Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith: Government slogan seen on posters plastered throughout London. In the graphic novel, the slogan reads ``Strength through purity, purity through faith,'' making it more of a reference to Hitler's ``Mein Kampf,''according to Lloyd.

T Thatcher, Margaret: When Moore and Lloyd serialized ``V for Vendetta'' in the 1980s, it was meant to skewer then-Prime Minister Thatcher and the country's ruling Conservative party.

``People in America today read it and think we're talking about Bush,'' Lloyd says. ``Unfortunately, there's probably always going to be some contemporary relevance to this work, just as Orwell's ``1984'' continues to resonate today.''

U United States: Currently reeling from the literal fallout of the ``limited'' nuclear war. To quote Prothero: ``There was a country that had everything, and now, 20 years later, is what? The world's largest leper colony.''

V ``Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici'': Translated from Latin: ``By the power of truth, I, a living man, have conquered the universe.'' One of V's favorite phrases - what with the ``v'' alliteration - it comes from Christopher Marlowe's ``The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus.''

W Wachowski, Larry and Andy: Wrote the screenplay for ``V for Vendetta'' before writing and directing the ``Matrix'' movies. Updated the script two years ago, passed the directing chores to McTeigue, the assistant director on all three ``Matrix'' movies.

X X, Malcolm: Excerpts from the black nationalist leader's ``On Black Power'' can be heard in Ethan Stoller's ``BKAB,'' which plays over the movie's closing credits. The song also contains part of Gloria Steinem's ``Address to the Women of America.''

Says McTeigue: ``Malcolm X and Steinem were huge in the history of America, and I thought what they were saying was true and spoke to the dialogue of the film. Especially with Malcolm X, who really believed the only way forward was through violence. Does violence beget violence? That's one of many questions the movie raises without, I hope, providing obvious answers.''

Y Yellow-coded curfew. Not found in the graphic novel, this color-coded means of government control is a cinematic nod to the cryptic warnings emanating from America's Department of Homeland Security.

Z Zealot: ``Bottom line,'' Lloyd says, ```V for Vendetta' is a cautionary tale about what happens when people are in a bad situation and they follow zealots down the road to hell. It's about the individual's right to be different and not conform. The message that's repeated throughout is, 'People shouldn't be afraid of governments; governments should be afraid of people.' That's the world we need to create.''

Glenn Whipp, (818) 713-3672



11 photos


(1 -- cover -- color) The ABCs of `V'

(2) no caption (bird)

(3) ``Count of Monte Cristo''

(4) dominoes

(5) no caption (Natalie Portman with a shaved head)

(6) no caption (character from ``V for Vendetta)

(7) jukebox

(8) Alan Moore

(9) Old Bailey

(10) Margaret Thatcher

(11) Malcolm X
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 12, 2006

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