The Mindscape of Alan Moore
THE MOVIE Earlier this year Warner Bros. released the trailer for the upcoming movie Watchmen, an event that might have passed under the radar unless you happened to be listening when every comic-book geek in the world simultaneously squealed with delight. Well, all of them save one. Alan Moore--Watchmen's creator and one of the most revered comic-book writers in the history of the medium--had already negotiated to have his name taken off the movie.
Moore is a man with big ideas, and comic books are the way he expresses them. DeZ Vylenz's 2003 documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore (coupled here on DVD with an extra disc of 202 minutes of interviews with Moore's collaborators and fellow artists) shows that there is a way for him to get his ideas across on film--he can sit you down for 78 minutes and tell you about them.
Mindscape is essentially a monologue, with sparing visuals to break up the monotony. It hinges on the viewer being engaged by what Moore has to say. Luckily, Moore is as interesting, strange, and intelligent as his work.
Mindscape tells the story of Moore's upbringing in grim working-class Northampton, England, where mythology and comic books allowed him an escape route, first figuratively, then literally, as his award-winning work on British comics led him to American publishers, eventually gaining the freedom to explore subjects foreign to most caped crusaders. "Watchmen," he says, "used the clichés of the superhero format to try and discuss notions of power and responsibility in an increasingly complex world. . . . We treated these fairly ridiculous characters as more human than super."
Propelled to fame by Watchmen, V for Vendetta (a dystopian response to 1980s politics), and From Hell (an exhaustively researched historical fiction casting the Jack the Ripper murders as a Masonic ritual to bring about the birth of the 20th century), Moore eventually withdrew back to Northampton, where he continues to produce fascinating comics. He describes Lost Girls, one of his more controversial works in recent years, as "erotica, or, as I prefer to call it, pornography, because I think the difference between the two words is largely dependent on income bracket. . . . While very few of us are zombies, detectives, cowboys, or spacemen, there are an infinite number of books that are recounting the stories of those lifestyles. However, all of us have some feelings or opinions about sex."
Much of Mindscape is devoted to Moore expounding upon his interest in magic, which he defines simply as art--the science of manipulating symbols to achieve a change in consciousness--bringing in everything from quantum physics to tarot cards. What could be an interminably stoner-pretentious dorm room conversation is saved by Moore's wit, though, and his devotion to his ideas of art and the role of the artist. "It is not the job of artists to give the audience what they want," he says. "If the audience knew what they wanted, then they wouldn't be the audience--they would be the artist. It's the job of artists to give the audience what they need."
THE DISC The inclusion here of the extra interviews on a separate disc with Moore's collaborators--wife and Lost Girls artist Melinda Gebbie, Baltimore artist José Villarrubia (Mirror of Love), Watchmen's Dave Gibbons, and others--does raise the question of why they weren't edited together with the Moore footage to make a more traditional documentary (and less of a lecture). Moore's parts stand a little better on their own, thanks to the editing and to Moore's own offbeat charisma. The others, while interesting to comic fans, are a bit of a three-and-a-half-hour slog.