Sunday, December 8, 2013
Looking for Jimmy's End: Part three of five
BT: We were talking about collaboration and the people Moore works with, which might be a good segue into Unearthing, and why you thought it was a dilution of pure Moore.
KS: I don't really think his vision has been dissipated by film, I just thought I would say that to get a reaction.
Indeed it seems that the films are drawing on the big man's strength for collaboration and producing something new and involving. Jimmy's End feels different from what has gone before. I can't put my finger on exactly what is unique except to say that the cycle of films have their own atmosphere that is rooted in the setting, (which might be why we keep coming back to workingmen's clubs). It will interesting to see what happens if Moore and Jenkins get to make The Show, since, apparently, that will be set out and about in Northampton (or at least a version of Northampton).
Unearthing, the prose piece, is one of my favorite Mooreisms. It is a love letter to an old, dear friend. It is also a bravado piece of writing. It is dense and engaging and beautiful and sad and enigmatic and very, very, very spooky. Unearthing is prose which you can get wonder around in-as long as you are prepared to risk getting lost and never finding your way out. In short, I think Unearthing is massive.
I don't really like the photo adaptation of it. It seems besides the point. Unlike the things we have been discussing Unearthing was never conceived of as a collaboration. To make it one seems forced and takes away from the power it has been when it was 'just' words on the page:
"The ceilings gone, the room opening up into a space above that isn't night, and something stoops, leans in from outside, gathering identity with its approach, It pushes its unfathomable face down into our aquarium, displacing world, spilling reality on heaven's front floor."
"Jim, his father's barrack-room nativity just one twist further down the helical ancestral staircase, mans the rocket battery that's stationed on the golf course, uphill from the former gibbet-fields. Phosphorus tracers hyphenating giant blackness, boom and siren, recoil shuddering the green and distant firebursts pluming from the cower of the city."
I mean, does that writing need pictures? Does it want someone to go through and change the font size and type? Every page has at least twenty bits of writing which are just as captivating. I rest my case.
Moore's commitment to community is admirable and it kind of makes a lie of his claims that he would like to be a hermit and just left alone. I also really like the fact that he seems to know the dirt on everyone. There is that great interview where he, along with Pat Mills, talks about Ken Reid. Moore's contribution is about the personal tragedy and circumstances of Reid's life. There is his great obituary for Robert Morales and I really love his introduction to Richard Corbean's adaptation of House on the Boaderlands where he gives the DL on many old pulp writers. Moore's own description of his telephone relationship with Morales reminds me of Michael Herr describing Stanley Kubricks use of the telephone:
"...he was one of the most gregarious men I ever knew, and i didn't change anything that most of his conviviality went over the phone. He viewed the telephone the way Mao viewed warfare, as an instrument of protracted offensive where control of the ground was critical and timing crucial, where time was meaningless, except as something to be kept on your side. An hour was nothing, mere overture, or opening move, or gambit, a small taste of his virtuosity...I've been hearing about all the people who say they talked to Stanley on the last day of his life, and however many of them there were, I believe them all."
Fuck I love that book*. Everyone should read it. (*Kubrick by Michael Herr).
Humour is one of those things in Moore's work which I have not always responded to. While I agree with you about D.R & Quinch and Abelard Snazz, (and I would add Jack B Quick to that list), I have sometimes found the laughs lacking in other works. I like the Bojefferies for many reasons but I just don't find it that funny. The humour all seems a little forced. Indeed one of the things I most admire about the series is that Moore has said how difficult it was to write. Every word was carved in granite was his summary I believe.
Thinking about that last paragraph I realise it is utter nonsense. What I should of said is that the parts of his work which are funniest are often the droll, almost throw away comments made by characters. "Big Figure. Small World" says Rorschach as an overture to the unpleasant mayhem which is about to play out in and around his jail cell. I laugh each time I read that line.
One of the works where the humour flows in a very natural way is Big Numbers. It's full of the everyday laughs that get people through their lives and has moments of absurdity that are in keeping with Jimmy's End. "I don't think there's any need to use language" is one of my favorite lines from that series. The section where Christine calls her father on the phone and has to listen to him berate a visiting priest is gold.
BT: I always found the funniest bits of the BoJeffries Saga were the parts where it just got full-blown weird - like when one character tries to build a working model of the Atlantic Ocean in the living room...
The photo adaption of Unearthing is the only version I've seen, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I do have a real love/hate relationship with some of the imagery. Like I said before, the more mundane it gets, the more I like it, but some of the photos are just so literal, it's really cringe-worthy. And the constantly shifting text really does irritate more than anything else.
But I don't think the fact that it was never conceived of as a collaboration should be held against it. Neither were the comic adaptions of Snakes and Ladders and The Birth Caul that the esteemed Mr Eddie Campbell did were ever meant to be comics, but after finally listening to the recordings of the performances, I have to say the comics are vastly more entertaining and moving. I don't have a lot of time for adaptions of Moore's short text stories and music lyrics, but when interpreted by a talented creator like Campbell, they can be absolutely delightful.
All that said, I got totally bogged down in the Jenkins-illustrated version of Unearthing, in a way I don't think I would have if it was purely prose, and still haven't finished the final ten pages, two months after I got it.....
That jocularity is back in Moore's tone whenever he goes on about being a hermit - he is quite clearly committed to his community in a way few creators bother with. We all hear about his public spats with people like Steve Bissette, but he also appears to be extremely loyal to his mates, and anybody who does breach that loyalty is just cut off forever. It means he sometimes sounds like a bit of a cunt, but at least he stands by his principles, and has moving things to say about people he genuinely liked, like Bob Morales (Most of the obits I saw after Morales' death were fixated on the fact he once did a slightly-controversial Captain America comic, but that Moore piece makes it clear he had so much more to say). And he's always been an incorrigible gossip, and more well-read than he really admits, so any introductions or essays are always well-researched and argued.
Getting back to the movies, one part of collaboration that Moore can't do much about is the acting in the Jimmy's End movies. I got my own thoughts on it, but don't want to pollute yours yet, so how do you feel about the acting efforts? Do you like the largely amateur cast? Do Moore's words lose or gain power when they have to be articulated by other people? Do they really just belong on the page?
KS: I think, by and large, the acting is pretty good in the films. Certainly there are bits and pieces that don't work. The guy doing the voice on the telephone in 'Act of Faith' is awful and Melinda Gebbie as Lil doesn't really come across, but as a whole I thought they did well.
I imagine that directing the actors is one of the most difficult things to get right when making a film, especially if you are someone that comes from a technical background and that's how I see Mitch Jenkins, someone used to focusing on lighting and mood but now having to deal with the messy complexities of hitting marks and the actors line delivery and ensuring that the performances all have a compatible tone.
Having said all that I think Jenkins has been making leaps and bounds in that area since the project started. You can see that emerging confidence reflected in Alan Moore's performance and the in promo's used for the Kickstarter campaign.
Moore did not come across for me in 'Jimmy's End'. While the finale was great he was basically doing one of his spoken word performances. The section in the changing room came across as clumsy. At the time I wondered if they were having to cut around an amateur performance.
The behind the scenes short was an eye opener. Here you get a sense of the relish Moore is bringing to his role along with an understated confidence. There's a moment that I love, just after he finishes his monologue, Metteron drops his affable mask and you get a glimpse of the scary prick under the makeup. "I don't like him Dad" said Seamus when he saw the clip. The relish is also there in "A Professional Relationship" and that section is one of my favourite parts of the cycle.
Darrell D'Silva is also great as Jimmy but what I really love is his part in the Kickstarter promo. You get a sense of Jenkin's just allowing him to play around with his performance while keeping the shooting simple and to the point. Underneath it all is a slight tension and unease that resonates with the tone of the cycle. Lovely.
Personally I really like the spoken word performances and would rather listen that read them. Like 'Unearthing' they are dense and at times difficult but well worth the effort.
I can remember when I first heard Moore read a piece of his own writing. "Oh, I get it now" I thought. "All those text panels I skipped in Swamp Thing were meant to be read aloud. Of course". At the core of Moore's creative essence there is a performer and raconteur - you can take the man out of the Northampton Arts Labs but you can't take the Arts Labs out of the man.
One of the nice things about more, um, fuller bodied writing is that there is always something new to discover. These pieces are designed with that in mind. To some extent your meant to drift in and out of them and to be overwhelmed. I think fugue is the word that always comes up. That would probably be even more so in their original incarnations as performances. I would dearly love to attend one before I cark it.
Like the original Unearthing, and the movies, there is more than a tang of the occult in Moore's utterances. But their real power resides in their very human core. You can relate to the stories and messages even become ensnared in the net they cast out. Check out the note Mr Eddie Campbell posts at the conclusion of his The Birth Caul adaptation;
"Somewhere towards the end of this project, Eddie Campbell casually mentioned in conversation with his mother that he was working on a book entitled The Birth Caul. "Oh" he was informed, "you were born with one of those. The midwife said "Look! He's got a wee cap and veil."
I can imagine the weird thrill that must of come with that chat.
All these performances are heavily emotive. You can hear it in Moore's voice and you can feel it in your belly and chest. More than once I've teared up as I listened to the rasping vocal. Push through the dense verbal web and you will find forgiveness and understanding and respite.
At times too they spotlight Moore's astonishing talent for turning the incomprehensible and alien into something understandable and personable. The Birth Caul's rendering of childhood is haunting and beautiful but where it really jumps up and starts to mess with your head is the description of conception and development in the womb.
TOMORROW: WORTHINESS! SINGING! AND THE GHOSTS OF THE TIMES I HAD BACK THEN!