Saturday, December 7, 2013

Looking for Jimmy's End: Part two of five

BT: So the setting of these films is either a way-station on the road to the infinite, or a grotty little working class club. I have to admit that working men's clubs do freak me out a bit, and they are bastions of outdated social values, but they have their good sides, too. It's not just the cheap beer, (although that helps). My parents are straight-up working class stiffs and they have a great time down the club, catching up with mates, playing a couple of pokies and having a jug or two. There is a real sense of community and camaraderie in these places, that is often overlooked in this day and age, when everybody has glued their nose to some iBullshit.

And all of Moore's major works over the past few years have been about the community around him, and it gives those works more of an emotional resonance, because he's talking about people and places that mean a lot to him. Moore is also perfectly comfortable hanging out with his working class mates in working class places and he knows there is worth in these social occasions.

The setting for these films is a gloomy, claustrophobic place, but it's also a place that people go to so they can be with other people, share stories and have a laugh.

The other thing about the workingmen's club setting is that it is terribly mundane, in the best possible way. One of the things I did like about the Unearthing book Jenkins did with Moore (and we'll talk more about this, and our differing opinions, later), were the shots of an utterly mundane setting, with the implication that transcendence can be found in ordinary flats and houses. That there is something magical in the inanity of a milk bottle or a kitchen table. Jimmy's End does a bit of this, and the fact that it's set in this place which is pretty banal, despite the fancy trimming, gives it an extra heft of reality.

I know that the strangest things that ever happened to me always happened in the most ordinary surroundings.

I also have to say I really, really like the glossy look of the film, with the garish colours and eye-searing sharpness. I just like purple. To be honest, I'm massively impressed by the production values of these films - when it was announced that Moore and Jenkins and some of their mates were making some films, I expected something a lot more low-rent, but the democratization of movies that digital technology has allowed directors and cinematographers to create some beautiful images on shoe-string budgets. There is some terrific imagery in all of these films, which I really wasn't expecting. I came for Moore's script, and stuck around for the sweet camera shots.

It does get a bit too glossy, and it's almost an uncanny valley kind of thing, where it all gets too sharp, too real, and you can see the artifice of the film. (Kinda like the problem people had with The Hobbit in 48fps). Some of the lighting is just too bright, and there could be a lot more shadow.

But let's face it, while Mitch Jenkins has a very talented eye, it was the words that we both came for, isn't it? Isn't that why we're really here, because we've both had the back of our brains blown off by Alan Moore's comics?  You're the only person I know who is more obsessed with Moore's work than I am, but before we dig into his script, maybe we should explain our own histories with Moore, and your triple whammy...

KS: I said to you the other day that it was a triple whammy but part of me thinks it's more like an ongoing initiation (and as Moore and Morrison and Robert Anton Wilson will tell you, the initiation is always ongoing, the initiation never finishes).

With that said there is indeed a triplicate of starting points with Moore's work. Reading experiences I recall as having a  profound effect on me in one way and another. They are the first three comics that come to mind when I think of my initial encounters with the mind and work of Alan Moore.

My first memory is seeing a 2000AD that had arrived from the future, Prog 350 to be precise. It was being held by Thomas Bates, the eldest brother in a family of four boys. They were English immigrants and one of the perks of that status was periodically receiving gift packages from relatives in the UK. These contained exotic sweets, enviable toys and comics that were ahead of the local ones shipped to New Zealand on container ships (a three moth trip). Thomas was showing the off the page where DR & Quinch are pleading their intentions to go, like, straight man. I could write hundreds of words about that image. How fresh and strong it was, how idiosyncratic even in a comic with a history of singular art. Artists with styles so strong they turned school kids into opinionated critics and rigorous aesthetes by the time they were ten. I know now that it was written by Moore but it was Alan Davis that caught my imagination. Having said that it is a prime example of Moore being able to tailor scripts to the strengths of individual artists. DR & Quinch played to Davis's strengths; exaggerated character and creature design, explosive cartoon mayhem and a highly disciplined control of every aspect of the pages composition.

Second was the first issue of Warrior magazine. I secured it from a second hand bookshop in Campbells Bay on the North Shore. It was a badly lit shop buried in a crap mall, a bit sleazy really. So, I brought Warrior #1 and read it. Then re-read it again and again and again. Well, I re-read two stories; Marvel Man and V for Vendetta. The rest of it was a fine, great even, but those were the stories that stood out. It is impossible to emphasis how fresh they were. We live in a time when the re-boot is not just a cliche but a grim reminder of how sterile and exploitative corporate culture is. Marvel Man was an explosion, a re-defining of parameters, while V blazed forward into new, unknown, territories. Again both comics featured strong artists. Gary Leach, who should be given a VC for services to letratone, and David Llyod, who redefined noir just for comics, deftly mashing up Orwell with Coronation Street.

Third was Swamp Thing, more specifically third was The Anatomy Lesson. That one fucked my head. This was the real gateway drug. The real initiation. It was the first time I came across the idea of our personality being little more than a shell, nothing but a collection of ticks and habits. This was overwhelming, terrifying even, and as I read the issue I could feel my head expanding until it broke open. After, I'm sure my consciousness was a little bigger, a bit more pliable, and the world was a stranger, spookier place.  Years later I can see this reading experience, (as in 'Are You Experinced'), formed the consciousness raising beach head that Grant Morrison would storm with The Invisibles and through which I would learn that life, and myself, were malleable things that I could change and play with.

You look back at that summary and the question that comes to mind is does Mitch Jenkins fit into that tradition of strong artistic partners? Moore himself has said is what he has learned about writing film scripts is the necessity to leave room for others to do their job. Plainly he has always done that but maybe in film you have to leave even more room. Enough space for the the director and actors but also the DOP, the lighting technicians, the artistic director, the props people, the score composer, probably even the caterer.

Does this dissipate the intensity of Moore's work? 

BT: My first exposure to Moore's stuff wasn't as metaphysically mental as yours - the very first time I ever really noticed his name on something was in the Abelard Snazz stories, closely followed by DR and Quinch, and I thought they were abso-freaking-lutley hilarious. I still think Moore achieved some kind of humorous nirvana with the "Jog for your lives!" moment. So I've always associated his work with a strong sense of humour. The main influence on his work is still probably Harvey Kurtzmann's Mad comics, and even his darkest works have a small streak of humanistic humour.

I certainly still hear it in interviews he does, where you read them and he comes off as a bit of an arse, making ponderous comments about the state of comics and his place in it, and then you actually hear his voice, and he's chortling away happily, and it's hard to take any of his pronouncements so seriously.

I did have a blow-the-back-of-the-skull moment with his Swamp Thing though, although it was the first annual Moore did, where Swampy went off to heaven and hell and everywhere in between, searching for his lost love. It was a well-structured story with some groovy appearances from some of DC's great magical characters, but the idea that Swamp Thing could just let go and drift away from his body blew my ten-year-old mind. And that bit when he runs into the soul of the real Alec Holland kept my mind spinning for years.

Moving on to the issue of collaboration, you definitely have to make more room for other viewpoints in a film. Even though I remain a massive fan of Voice of The Fire, I do think Moore is always sparked by the presence of a co-creator, and this has made him suited to the rough and tumble world of comics, where two main viewpoints of both writer and artist are merged together to create something new. (Unless it's a writer/artist thing, which is a different kind of alchemy altogether.)

But film is a far bigger collaborative effort, because you're not just working with a director, you're working with a DP, and a set designer, and the actors, and, even on a small film project like this, dozens of other creatives, right down to the caterer. They're all adhering to a specific vision, but it's more of a shared vision than a specific writer's.

This is not a bad thing. It's just a different thing, I don't think it dissipates the intensity of Moore's vision, but it does force him to make it something it might not have been, and that kind of surprise is always welcome.


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