Alan Moore rarely ventures outside his native Northampton, so when he does you know it’s for a good reason.
And Show Pieces, the short film portmanteau he’s created with collaborator Mitch Jenkins, is a very good reason. The film received its world premiere at the renowned FrightFest horror and fantasy film festival in London’s Leicester Square in August 2014 and Moore and Jenkins were on hand to discuss their project.
An anthology movie in the style of David Lynch meets 1970s Amicus films meets The League of Gentlemen, Show Pieces is unusual, imaginative and proof of cinematic life in the Home Counties.
Made in Moore’s beloved Northampton, it weaves in the writer’s other preoccupations; mysticism, magic, eroticism, and life and death (although not necessarily in that order).
Three films, Act of Faith, Jimmy’s End and His Heavy Heart formed the version of Show Pieces we were shown, although two more films, Upon Reflection and A Professional Relationship, will expand the version released on DVD.
Post-screening Moore and Jenkins gave a lively twenty minute Q&A, in which they discussed Show Pieces and the proposed feature film follow-up, The Show. Plus, modern movies and television, annoying Nigel Farage, and whether Q magazine is still running (it is).
How did this project come about?
Alan Moore: That’s a complicated story. Originally when I’d been doing my beautiful but doomed underground magazine Dodgem Logic I’d been working with Mitch on another project and Mitch happened to call.
He’d been doing this wonderful burlesque shoot to go with an article by Melinda Gebbie and had got burlesque dancers and this wonderful seedy working men’s club, of which Northampton has quite a few, but that was the cream.
Mitch later said he wanted to do a film using the same characters and the same location. I asked if wanted me to write a bit of a screenplay.
Mitch Jenkins: Foolishly…
AM: And he said it couldn’t hurt, so here we are….
MJ: Three and a half years later…
AM: Yeah, we wrote Jimmy’s End, but most of the other stuff was written trying to get Jimmy’s End made. It was always seen as being part of a much bigger story, so it wasn’t a problem coming up with the other films, the other parts of the jigsaw.
The film relates to your interest in mysticism. Could you expand on your relationship on how mysticism influenced this film, plus your relationship with Northampton?
AM: Well, obviously there are lots of things about Northampton that are very suggestive of limbo or purgatory.
MJ: Steady on, we’ve got to work there again.
AM: But, I wouldn’t advise anyone base any serious mysticism on what they happen to see in these films. There’s a good demon signature in there for those who are looking, that’s legitimate.
I suppose what it basically comes down to is my thoughts about reality, the mind and dreams. Particularly the kind of mass dreaming our entertainment culture provides for us. Those lingering shots of the CD, the reel-to-reel tape recorder, the old phonogram, these things are not accidental. We’re lingering upon them because this is about dreams and entertainment…
MJ: And blurring the lines between then.
Was there any Kenneth Anger influence in the film?
MJ: Not on behalf at all, no.
AM: Erm, probably not. I’m aware of Kenneth Anger’s work. A couple of his films have been very beautiful, but I’m not sure I’m on the same wavelength regarding magic as Kenneth Anger.
I probably don’t have a lot of the same beliefs as he does, and I certainly don’t have a lot of the same friends as he does, Bobby Beausoleil, people like that.
I suppose Kenneth Anger is a person who believes in treating cinema as a kind of magic. I believe every art form is indistinguishable from magic. Any act of creation is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. And we are, or at least I am, treating this as a kind of magic. An ordinary, everyday creative magic, which is all I mean by the word, so I suppose there is a connection there.
AM: Hmmm, we hadn’t thought of that! Not at the moment, but now you say that, possibly a musical?
MJ: Don’t get him started, we’ve got a feature film to fund first!
AM: Yeah, we’ve got this whole continuity sorted out. If we get the chance, and we wouldn’t need a huge amount of money, we’ll be doing the feature film that I’ve already written called The Show.
MJ: Which takes place the next day.
AM: Yeah, all the films in Show Pieces take place upon the same Friday night. And The Show would start on Saturday morning and it’s mostly not set in that seedy dream world.
MJ: No, it’s more of a traditional thriller in some ways.
AM: Yes, that’s what we wanted to do. Writing short films, they can be as long as you want. And the timing is different, you can linger upon something quite incidental. Writing a feature film, okay it doesn’t have to be paced like the Transformers movie, but it has to move slightly quicker.
MJ: Slightly quicker than what we did on Jimmy’s End, that’s for sure.
AM: But, that’s all right, we can do that. If we get the film done there will also be a television series, also called The Show. Mainly because I was getting a bit lazy by that point thinking of new titles.
So, as yet, no real plans as a stage drama. But, who knows.
You’ve often expressed a disappointment with films made from your work in the past. How did you enjoy the filmmaking process for this?
AM: With those other things, which we shall not mention, they were done for one medium and were done quite well for that medium. Turning them into another medium for which they were not designed is frankly stupid.
However, I don’t hate films. All right, I hate most modern ones, that’s true, but er…
MJ: Alan, we’re at a film festival…
AM: That’s true, I love films. You can’t beat films, can you… old films…
MJ: And new films, for any funders out there.
AM: My relationship with modern cinema as with most aspects of existence is a critical one. Basically, I just really like going on about things that don’t appeal to me or suit my very high standards. But, I’ve got completely off the track…!
MJ: Did you enjoy making –
AM: Yes! Did I enjoy it? Yes. But, again that was a mixture. I really loved it when I got into it. But to start with, it was a bit problematic. The first film we actually made was Act of Faith, which was the last one I actually wrote.
We didn’t know if any of this was going to actually get made, so writing it was like writing a comic book. The characters were only made out of paper, you can’t really hurt them, and if you do you probably won’t get into trouble for it because they’re imaginary.
Whereas a film is different. So when Act of Faith of was made Mitch said, “Do you want to come along and see it being made?” But, I was of the mind-set that I’d really not want to as I’d met Siobhan (Hewlett) and she’s really nice and lovely and I don’t want to think it’s my fault she’s choking to death.
MJ: I told him it was make believe, you know…
AM: Yeah, I had difficulty with that. People say, they’re only puppets Alan, they can’t hurt you. But, I really can’t internalise that.
So, I didn’t go along to that because I felt uncomfortable. These were real people now having to do these things because I’d put the directions for it in my script.
However, my heart has gone harder, and heavier probably, doing all the others so now I’m quite blasé about it. I was able to go along and watch Darrell D’Silva being really tormented. He had that gag in his mouth for how many days?
It was three days and by the end of it he was begging us to hurry up and finish the bloody film.
AM: But, we couldn’t understand what he was saying. So, it’s a great process and one of the things that’s different about it is, when I’m writing a comic, if I know the artist I’ve got a vision in my head of what the finished page is going to look like.
But, that’s not how you do film. When I write a screenplay, that’s going to be added to. By, Mitch as director and then all the great actors and actresses we’ve got, by Colin Goudie, our brilliant editor…
MJ: The production designer, everyone.
AM: Yeah, everyone. As the scriptwriter on a film you’re laying the ground plan for a house. And then you get loads of people really competent at what they do and they come in and build it for you. The final edifice is probably like nothing you imagined when sitting there at the typewriter. So, it’s a very different process.
When did you both meet?
MJ: Met 30-something years ago.
AM: Yeah, was that the first issue of Q magazine? Anyone remember Q magazine?
It’s still going.
AM: Is it? Oh, I just assume that everything I remember is dead! But yeah, the first issue they wanted a picture of me wearing a Trilby and stalking in the bushes. And I said I could do that, I’m quite good at the old Trilby and bushes scenario.
MJ: So 30-odd years ago, and then we hooked up again 8 or 9 years ago to do (illustrated essay book) Unearthing.
AM: Yep, Mitch came around and said he was tired of being wealthy and happy and asked me if I could do anything about that.
MJ: And he really has! I asked Alan if he had any writing I could illustrate for a portfolio piece because I was bored of doing advertising.
AM: All I’d got was this 25-50 page story called Unearthing. I thought he’d take it way and do a couple of pictures from it, but he said he wanted to do that whole thing so that was another 5 years.
MJ: Yeah, took 5 years to do. Once we’d finished that we moved straight on to Jimmy’s End.
AM: So it’s dangerous coming around my place and suggesting things.
MJ: Yeah, don’t it, don’t do it.
How detailed was Alan’s script?
MJ: The first one, Jimmy’s End, was incredibly detailed. Then Alan foolishly said he’d storyboard it as I’m crap at drawing. So we started off and he was drawing these beautiful panels and we were getting just how we wanted it. By day 5 he was like, for fuck’s sake, I don’t want to do this anymore.
So Jimmy’s End started off incredibly elaborate with its screen direction. But, after we’d made Act of Faith and all the other films it started to get less.
With the feature film Alan has really cut back on his screen direction. It sets the scene, the dialogue’s there to tell the story, but he leaves quite a bit more of it to me now.
AM: But, there’s a lot of detail in there that’s not on the screen. All the dancers in the purgatorial ballroom, I’ve written a paragraph of backstory. These are technically the extras, but no, they’re all characters, I know what their names are and how they ended up in that club.
All the products you see are our own. Did you notice the bottle of Tunguska vodka – “This one will flatten you”? For the feature film we’ve invented an entire imaginary world that has its own rubbish soap operas and adverts and big budget CGI movies, computer games, comics. We’ve just made this stuff up. Including a brand of cigarette called Social Leper.
AM: And we even made up a faintly racist British Independence party called GBIT. They’re slogan is… erm, what was it, something good. Ah, I remember their slogan – “Gas the intolerant”!
MJ: Which wasn’t as good as annoying Nigel Farage on Channel 4 News the other night.
AM: Yeah, apparently Nigel was annoyed because he was hoping to get more of his political points over and they had to cut away to this minority arts “thing” we were doing. Sorry Nigel.
AM: When we were talking about the film I said to Mitch I think we should do this with no non-diegetic sound. And he said, Wuh?!
MJ: But, with style and panache.
AM: So, non-diegetic sound is that sound in a movie characters can’t hear. Didn’t want that. So, it’s okay to have stuff on a radio or a jukebox, that’s fine. But, we soon realised if we did it like that we would have to pay a ton for the rights to these pieces of music.
In fact we were thinking of getting a James Blunt song, because he’s hip and down with the kids we understand… There was one particularly song he’d done that I thought accidentally fits in perfectly with what we’re doing. But, his people wanted tons and tons of money.
But, we’ve got plenty of brilliant musicians that we’re into –
MJ: All from Lex Records. They are just amazing. Alan gave Adam (Drucker) and Andy (Broder) all the lyrics, told them what kind of music we wanted it to be, and they returned with what we used in the film.
AM: Every tiny detail in this has been thought about. Nothing is haphazard or random. Most of the product names relate to dreams in some way as dreams are a very central part of the entire Show. We’ve been thorough and this goes somewhere.
I’m very intolerant of a lot of television drama shows where it’s obvious they’re making it up as they go along. They don’t have any idea what the ending’s going to be, they just think, let’s put something else weird in this week to keep the viewers interested, but we can forget about it in two weeks, no-one’s going to remember. Yes, I am talking about Lost.
But, with this, if we get to do the film and the TV series, even if it’s just three seasons of a TV series, we know what the final shot is.
MJ: He does.
AM: Well, I told you. He’s probably forgotten. This goes somewhere, it’s not just an interesting ride to no destination. This is something that goes toward a specific end, and I just hope we get to reach that end.
When does Show Pieces get released?
MJ: It comes out on DVD on Halloween. Limited edition initially with an illustrated storyboard and all of Alan’s screenplays and a soundtrack CD. Out on Lex Records. Halloween. Order now.
MJ: For me it’s running around with (producers) Tom (Brown) and Pete Coogan and Lex trying to find money to fund the feature film.
AM: Which I’ve written, so that’s there. We’re hoping to get movement on that.
MJ: We’re asking for complete editorial control, all intellectual property rights; we’re not making it easy for ourselves. But, if you’re going to do it yourself, you want that ownership and control, or you end up with Exec Producers saying, more jeopardy, more jeopardy.
AM: This is going to be very much our product. And I can say I’m very proud of this, which I certainly can’t say of any of the other films made of my work.
MJ: Not even The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen?
AM: Okay, that was a classic…