Friday, December 6, 2013

Looking for Jimmy's End: Part one of five

Jimmy’s End – and the films surrounding it – are part of a relatively recent film project written by Alan Moore and directed by Mitch Jenkins, revolving mainly around the various nefarious things happening at a spooky old workingmen’s club where people who might be dead wander through, lost and confused.

Like much of Moore’s work, the films are thoughtful, stylish and occasionally baffling, and they’re certainly worth discussing. So I’m delighted to be joined in the Tearoom by Kiwi comic creator (and previous contributor) Kelly Sheehan for a daily dialogue about the films and surrounding ephemera. He's the only person I’ve meet in real life who is more passionate about Moore’s work than I am, and I know that, because he bothered to import all of the performance CDs, and I just borrowed them off him.

This will fill this blog for the next five days while I’m off in Hawaii, looking at lava.

So. They’re great little films, but what does it all mean, anyway?

Bob Temuka: Moore literally does put all his cards on the table in one of the Jimmy's End films – a cinematic image he's had in mind since the eighties, according to the recent Fashion Beast comic. So it's only fair we do the same. What do you think the films? Do you like them?

I know I enjoyed all of the films, and watched them within hours of getting them. Time will only tell if they stand up against the great works in Moore's career, but I found the films funny, smart and surprisingly slick. At some points they're massively cheesy, but an undercurrent of absurdity helps offset the darkness of the story.

I like some of the films more than others, and I dig the way they are all structured around the one magical night. Sometimes it gets a bit nasty, but that's another part of the pleasantly variable tone. And sometimes it wears its influences on the sleeve just a little too obviously, but that's inevitable in a debut feature like this.

So, on the most basic level, what did you think? Are they a bit silly? Are they too serious?

Kelly Sheehan: The answer to the most obvious question, do you like them, is, of course, yes. In fact, I dig them the most.

Together they add up to a creepy whole, (well, almost whole), which leaves you more than a little uneasy. The ideal response to films which were originally billed as 'occult, noir-flecked pieces'. The tone of all four is about right; grim, claustrophobic, brooding. The comedy comes with a very sharp edge and, as you say, a sense of absurdity. The absurdity of lives unfulfilled. The absurdity of bad choices repeated. The absurdity of being in an unfamiliar bar at four in the morning by yourself and with no idea how you got there.

In short, things we can all empathize with. That mundane undercutting grounds the films nicely, though some might say it's not so much a grounding as a miring in a bog of depression and darkness. Whatever, that sense of the everyday is a constant feature in Moore's work and the fact that he makes it sing and resonate, without losing sight of the heartache and pain, is one of the reasons I love his work so much.

Today my pick of the lot is A Professional Relationship, though my favourite bit in any of them is when Matchbright tells Jimmy he's here because that's what easiest, that he's followed the path of least resistance. Chilling. Made me think about my life and what I'm doing with it.

So, that's what I thought.

Also, I like the fact that the cycle's atmosphere is so particularly English. Jimmy's End resonates with David Peace's Red Riding Quartert, Get Carter, Morcombe and Wise, Peter Cook and Dudley (no relation) Moore's Bedazzled.and even Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy. All firmly rooted in the English sixties and seventies with their sleazy bars, bad cops, shitty class system and awful comedians (and I'm not referring to Pete and Dud here).

Have you seen the behind the scenes video? It's worth watching for the Frank Metterton part at the start. He describes how he is playing a character called Alan Moore "who has grown up to be an embittered, monstrous figure." While I wasn't really convinced by Alan in Jimmy's End itself, (well, the bit in the dressing room, the closing monlouge works just fine), the 'making of' made me think that he might just pull this off.

There also does seem to be more of a link between Jimmy's End, the spoken word performances and prose. in that work in these areas has a more direct relationship to his occult preoccupations. While that is present in the comics, (Promethea being the best example), there is not quite the same palatable undercurrent of weirdness that goes with that territory.  The end of Jimmy's End itself features a monologue which would not be out of place on the The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels CD. It was like Moore had driven one of his spoken word pieces at high speed into the back end of Jenkins' film, (in a good way).

BT: Well, his performance pieces almost always have a crack at reaching the sublime, some moment of transedental awareness, and Jimmy's End also has that going for it. It's a good theme, worth returning to again and again, and it is often surprisingly satisfying on a plot level.
But yeah, the films do get a bit nasty and mean sometimes, especially in the Upon Reflection part, but they are also more than a little bit silly, and that balancing act has long been a standard in Moore's work. The part where the grand climax is suddenly undercut by Moore's big golden face groaning about "the loight" is suitably shocking, and has made me laugh out loud every time I've seen it. I think Moore's work in general is often mistakenly criticised as dour and gritty, because everything he has done has some small element of silliness, because his stories are always about human beings, and human beings are inherently silly creatures.

It's all just too absurd. Which is also very, very English, and I saw all sorts of other influences in the films as well - there is a definite creepy Lindsay Anderson "chocolate sandwich" vibe, and a little of Sapphire and Steel as well, with very strange things happening in mundane places.

And this is set in a workingmens' club, which is about as mundane as you get with its working-class gloss. My parents are still members of some of Timaru's finest clubs, and I always find them strange places to visit. There is always a hint of despair and wasted opportunites and bloody cheap beer. I still associate them with Unknown Places That Kids Aren't Allowed, and spent more than a few afternoons waiting in a stinking hot vehicle in the car park, waiting for Dad to finish his last jug at the club. The idea that I'd have to pass through one of those places to my eternal reward is more than a little horrifying for me.

Also, "the absurdity of being in an unfamiliar bar at four in the morning by yourself and with no idea how you got there" is dead right. I got the existential shits from that a couple of times. One time I woke up in the pitch-black basement of a 150 year old pub in Dunedin, and it took me an eternity to get out of there, and when I got to the surface, I was alone in the pub, so I jumped out a window.

Which has very little to do with Jimmy's End, really, but is a neat story at parties.

What do you think of the setting? It's bright and colorful, but you know it stinks of stale booze, old smoke and hopelessness. Is that the right place for this kind of story?

KS: For sure it's set in the right place.

 As you point out it's a setting which brings with it a palatial sense of despair alongside the suggestion of confinement and doomed dreams. Even if it was not set at night there would be no natural light in the Jimmy's End Club. The atmosphere is smothering, choking even, as if all of this is taking place in some sort of isolated, pocket universe. Metterton and Matchbright are petty tyrants in their own rotten borough. Strange that, the occult and the supernatural should bring with it a sense of the infinite. 

You know, the working man's club is not really an institution which brings with it progressive social values, particularly the idea of equality of the sexes. There is a barely concealed rank misogyny that seems to simmer in many scenes. Obviously this is most apparent in Upon Reflection but Matchbright's treatment of Faith at the start of Jimmy's End is almost as appalling in its contemptuous restraint. I don't for a minute think this is a reflection on Moore or his attitudes but rather part and parcel of the haunted nature of the location and the time and place it is reminiscent of.

The question of influences is an interesting one. Everyone seems to cut straight to David Lynch because there are a few curtains thrown in there (and I really do wonder if they were just part of the clubs decor that Jenkins decided to exploit on the day). I much prefer your suggestions of Lindsay Anderson and Saphire and Steel. What Mitch Jenkin's seems to have added to that mix is gloss. You can see it is in the camera movements and the colour schemes and the slick edits. I'm not sure if I'm entirely down with some of those creative decisions. That might be because my current preference is for someone like Ben Wheatley and his complete embracing of a mundane naturalism that allows for concentration on the action/performance at hand. But that's not what Jenkins has gone for. Indeed it is all very well for me to make these observations but it brings up one of the problems of writing about a project which is only partially complete. Jenkins has said that should the next section of the project be made, the movie titled The Show, it will be set in an everyday Northhamton. So maybe I should just shut up and wait and see.

I should add that I do like the colour schemes used in the film. There's that hallway, the one with the sickening nicotine patina, the washed out, shitty brown of the bar walls and furniture, the violent, burning red of the dance hall and toilet and that awful purple in the dressing room (where Meterton lays his cards out on the table....)

"Chocolate sandwich", indeed.

BT: Dude, Oh Lucky Man is the best film ever, because I still have nightmares about the guy with his head grafted onto a sheep.


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