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DVD Review: The Mindscape of Alan Moore

One of the biggest creative talents behind Zack Snyder’s new movie Watchmen is absent from the credits: Alan Moore, the author of the original graphic novel on which the film is (by early accounts, faithfully) based. Moore, who also penned V for Vendetta, From Hell andThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,is the visionary often credited with changing the face of comic books.Over the years he’s become disdainful of celebrity and dismissive of movie adaptations of his work. A new 2-disc DVD set,The Mindscape of Alan Moore –billed as “a psychedelic journey into one of the world’s most powerful minds”–is an engaging introduction to the colorful recluse and his artistry.

Not a documentary as much as an evocative monologue stylishly filmed by director DeZ Vylenz, Mindscape quickly and neatly covers Moore’s youth in the working class section of the British city Northampton (where he still lives) and his early embrace of literature, mythology, science fiction, and comics. When he moved on from a local grade school to a posh institution of higher learning, the former star pupil found himself outclassed by his more privileged classmates. He acted out, was expelled, and seemed doomed to a series of menial jobs when he began writing and drawing for U.K. comic publishers.

“Quitting my job and starting my life as a writer was a tremendous risk. It was a fool’s leap, a shot in the dark,” Moore says, his eyes locked to the camera. “But anything of any value in our lives–whether that be a career, a work of art, a relationship–will always start with such a leap. And in order to be able to make it you have to put aside the fear of failing and the desire of succeeding.”

His early underground comics in the late 1970s led to a weekly newspaper strip, and as the Eighties progressed, his work reflected the anxious climate of the Reagan-Thatcher era and he became more overtly political. He abandoned drawing to concentrate on writing for increasingly wider audiences. The dystopian Watchmenseries was his breakout work, and “also grew out of the politically shadowy landscape of the 1980s, when the Cold War was probably at its hottest in 20 or 30 years, and when nuclear destruction suddenly seemed a very real possibility,” Moore recalls. “Watchmen used the clichés of the superhero format to try and discuss notions of power and responsibility in an increasingly complex world.”

Partly because he saw movies as part of the dominant power structure’s mass marketing apparatus, Moore devised his comics to be “un-filmable,” as he told Terry Gilliam back when Gilliam was being considered to direct a movie version of Watchmen.

As entertaining as such backstage anecdotes are, far more hypnotic are Moore’s riffs on magic and spirituality, the relationship between alchemy and science, the mechanization of society that began with the Enlightenment, and the disastrous triumph—as he views it–of the culture of information. He’s as potent a wordsmith on camera as he is off, his flamboyantly be-ringed fingers and wild shocks of shoulder-length hair adding to his intensity. Director Vylenz illustrates Moore’s wide-ranging reflections on mysticism and post-industrial anomie with cutaways to tarot cards, antique Kabbalah charts, dreamy reenactments, and, less successfully, a low-tech pulsing “brain” meant to symbolize (I’m guessing) Moore’s notion of an “idea-scape” (itself essentially a variant on the Jungian concept of a collective subconscious).

The DVD extras on Mindscape include an interview with Dylenz, a native of Surinam now working in the Netherlands, whose University of Amsterdam thesis was on Watchmen. The second disc is devoted to interviews with those who know Moore well, including his Lost Girlscollaborator and second wife, Melinda Gebbie; publisher and graphic novels expert Paul Gravett; and illustrator colleagues David Lloyd, Kevin O’Neill, Jose Villarubia, and Dave Gibbons.

Watchmen’s Gibbons describes how he would have to pare down Moore’s densely detailed scriptsbefore he could begin drawing (“I think the first page of Watchmen ran to four or five typescript pages”) and opines that no matter how “fantastic” a film adaptation of a graphic novel may be, something is likely to get lost in translation, and “it will be a different thing than the comic book.”

I haven’t yet seen the movie, but judging from the photos of Gibbons on the set that are included prominently in Peter Aperlo’s gorgeous new book, Watchmen: The Art of the Film,it would appear that Snyder and company deemed it very important to court the artist’s approval and support. How closely the movie follows the book we all will soon see; in the mean time, The Mindscape of Alan Moore is likely to please the prolific author’s fans and create some new ones.

– Andrea Gronvall
March 3, 2009

Andrea Gronvall is a regular contributor to the Chicago Reader, a frequent speaker for Harlan Jacobson’s Talk Cinema, and teaches film at the University of Chicago’s Graham School of General Studies.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon