Tag Archives: Dave McKean

Luna: the UK premiere of Dave McKean’s new film

2 Oct

Luna

Finally, illustrator turned film-maker Dave McKean has unveiled his long-awaited Luna, which had its UK premiere last night as part of the Raindance Film Festival. I caught it with my son Sam, who loved it. The last time we saw a Dave McKean film together, which was the Neil Gaiman-scripted fantasy Mirrormask, Sam was a wide-eyed kid of nine. Now he’s 18 years old and making films himself. I say this by way of illustrating what a long and tortuous road it is to make an indie film in the UK: Luna was actually shot seven years ago, but it’s taken this long to raise the funding for special effects and post-production.

So – what of the film? I don’t want to say too much, as Luna is still on the festival circuit and not yet on general release (there will be screenings in Picturehouse cinemas across the UK). Let’s just say that it’s a The Big Chill type of scenario, where old friends meet after a long gap in a big old house with a dark past by the sea, and gradually buried secrets and long-held grievances are teased out. But, this being Dave McKean, you can also throw in fawn-antlered wood-children, origami crabs springing to life, and a naked eagle-man of the rocks.

At the Q&A afterwards, Sam asked Dave about a key dinner-table monologue in the film, concerning the blurring of fantasy and reality: how there’s no such thing as an objective, absolute reality when reality is only what we perceive it to be, and when the way our brains process information (particularly when under stress, or grieving) will be very individual.

“That’s my own manifesto,” Dave agreed. “I’m an absolute realist, I don’t believe in anything supernatural, but the way our brains interpret the world and deal with it is where all my stories come from.

“You see, this is real, right here, right now,” he continued, gesturing at the cinema. “But there’s a great, swirling wall of our imagination surrounding this little piece of reality in the centre. In an hour, we’ll all be elsewhere, and doing other things, and you’ll each have a different memory of what I said here, or your own different interpretation of what the film was about.”

Dave is a prodigious talent. He’s designed over 100 album covers; illustrated numerous children’s books as well as, in the last year alone, fat coffee-table books for Richard Dawkins and Heston Blumenthal; he’s written and drawn graphic novels and the covers for all the Sandman comics; he designed the British Library’s recent Comics Unmasked exhibition and the poster for their forthcoming Gothic exhibition; he’s made stamps, and adverts, and worked on Harry Potter films, and held art exhibitions. Oh, and he plays jazz piano and composes songs, including for Luna (though don’t think I didn’t notice the Douglas Adams steal/homage in the song Words!).

In film terms, he is perhaps best described as the UK’s answer to Guillermo Del Toro, though he is also very different. This is what Neil Gaiman has to say about him.

And still he has trouble getting his movies funded and distributed? Sometimes one despairs of the British film “industry”.

Comics Unmasked: Sunday Times plays supervillain

18 May

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On Saturday I went to the British Library’s Comics Unmasked: Art & Anarchy in the UK. It had its flaws, which I will come to, but the biggest flaw it highlights is that there has never before been such a large-scale exhibition on comics in the UK. Seriously? When the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood are powered by comic books, many of them heavily influenced by the revisionist approach of UK creators such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis and Mark Millar?

Then today I read Waldemar Januszczak’s demolition job in the Sunday Times. He couldn’t believe the British Library had devoted so much space to such a “lurid and misguided” exhibition. The only thing he could find to admire in the whole thing, I kid you not, was a speech bubble at the start with a quotation from professional controversialist Julie Burchill (gawd love ‘er): “Comic books for adults is a complete contradiction in terms, as anyone who reads comics is not an adult and should have their voting rights removed ASAP.”

He picks holes in the scholarship: a) The exhibition opens with Punch who, as any fule kno, sprang from commedia dell’arte rather than comics. Does he seriously imagine co-curators Paul Gravett and John Harris Dunning are unaware of this? The point is that it sets the tone for the “Art and Anarchy” sub-line, as well as referencing the graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, who art-directed the exhibition. b) The catalogue,  Januszczak complains, “describes Sergeant (sic) Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as ‘the album that kicked off the ‘Swinging ’60s’, even though it came out in 1967”. That’s not too far off: the ‘60s only become known as swinging half-way through, and Sgt. Pepper’s was a defining moment. It’s certainly not worth point-scoring over.

More foolishly, Januszczak pillories the exhibition for its focus on Alan Moore, “who gets more namechecks here than Popeye had cans of spinach”, which is as ludicrous and, frankly, embarrassing a criticism as if the Sunday Times’s theatre critic had lamented that there were far too many productions of Shakespeare being staged.

Januszczak does hit on a couple of genuine problems. To pick a single spread from a comic, and mount it in a glass case, is like showing two seconds from a film: those unfamiliar with the comic will get little idea of why it is exceptional; and the brief accompanying captions are unequal to the task of explaining it. [Though that’s why iPads are also provided with complete comics loaded, albeit an unexceptional selection.]

And organising the exhibition thematically into sections such as sex, politics, society and altered states (I paraphrase their more elegant titles; see below) does work well on its own terms, but may leave comics neophytes such as Januszczak wanting a more explanatory overview.

But these are small criticisms. The curators have dug up a wealth of content, sourcing original artwork and scripts from comics creators, and delving into the British Library’s archive to uncover historical gems such as a Biblia Pauperum (poor person’s bible) from 1470 with an illustrated account of the Book of Revelations; a contemporary knock-off copy of Hogarth’s The Harlot’s Progress with several panels on a single page, as a comic book might have; or serialised illustrated stories from the Glasgow Looking Glass in 1825, which Gravett says could be seen as the first true comic. And the whole thing is beautifully put together by Dave McKean, with a strikingly simple and clever 3D opening which I won’t spoil for you.

As Neil Gaiman said to me when I interviewed him for a feature in Where London magazine about Comics Unmasked, “When I was a young man I talked them into giving me a British Library Card so I could read rare books. It came in handy when Alan Moore needed a researcher on From Hell. The idea that one day the comics we were writing would be exhibited and displayed there, the idea that they would look up and realise and acknowledge that something unique had happened, was a pipe-dream of some far-off utopia. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

 

Paul GravettCurator Paul Gravett

If you want to know more about the exhibition, I also interviewed co-curator Paul Gravett (left) for the Where London feature. Some details will have changed since we spoke, a few weeks back, but these are the highlights of each section, in his own words:

Mirth and Mayhem: “This looks at the links between slapstick comedy and dark, nasty violence. Obviously that includes British humour comics like The Beano, and more recently Preacher. But it also goes back to the 50s, when there were a lot of scare stories about comics. Ironically, one of the campaigners against them was the Communist Party, who had their own reasons for not liking ‘capitalist’ American superheroes, but a lot of edgy, counter-cultural stuff got caught up in that too.”

To See Ourselves: “This is comics as a mirror – possibly a distorted, funhouse mirror – in which British society is reflected. We explore recent developments in autobiography: Spiral Cage, by Al Davison,  about his lifelong struggle with spina bifida; Turner Prize-winning artist Grayson Perry’s semi-autobiographical comic about a kid who cross-dresses; and The Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary and Bryan Talbot, which won the 2012 Costa biography award.”

Politics, Power and The People: “This starts with how leaders are depicted. It includes Tony & Me By Georg Bush, As Told to Dr Parsons, which is drawn like a five-year-old and full of spelling errors; a very funny satire of that ‘special relationship’.  There are two very interesting comics dealing with racism: one from the Young National Front, which explains to members what to do if they get into trouble with the police; and on the other side the Anti-Nazi League, whose Action Pact comic features a white guy and a black guy who get superpowers and defeat the National Front dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits. We end with V for Vendetta and the way its Guy Fawkes mask has become such a potent symbol for the Occupy movement.”

Let’s Talk About Sex: “This covers erotica right up to Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls, in which a grown-up Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Alice from Wonderland get up to all sorts of sexual discovery in a mountain resort on the eve of World War I. It also covers the two big obscenity trials of the ‘70s: of Oz magazine and Nasty Tales. The exhibition is not recommended for under-16s, and this section is slightly separate and clearly indicated so that parents can take any kids straight past to the superhero section.”

Hero With A Thousand Faces: “We could so easily have turned this into a superhero theme park, but its main focus is to look at the enormous impact of UK creators on American comics: writers such as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Mark ‘Kick Ass’ Millar. As outsiders, they were able to challenge the conventions of the genre.”

Breakdowns: “This is quite a complex section that covers magic and drugs and altered states. Alan Moore and Grant Morrison both use magic to help in the creative process. We have John Dee’s book of spells, Aleister Crowley’s Tarot cards, Moore’s Promethea comics, and the underground comics of the ‘70s. We’re also not just talking about altered states of mind, here, but the altered state of comics – going into digital, or installations. Throughout the exhibition we provide iPads on which to view comics, and here we have a whole section on Jamie Hewlett’s cartoon music group Gorillaz. You really could spend the whole day in here!”

 

 

 

 

Easter special: Dave McKean picks his Passion films

29 Mar
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Dave McKean, illustrator, director and dead ringer for Orson Welles

Dave McKean is an astonishingly brilliant and prolific illustrator, graphic novelist, animator and director. His credits are too numerous to mention, but his films include Mirrormask, written by long-time collaborator Neil Gaiman, Luna (as yet unreleased) and last year The Gospel of Us, in which he filmed Michael Sheen being crucified on a beach in Port Talbot.

I’ve interviewed Dave a few times, and had the pleasure of asking him about his favourite movies involving Christ and crucifixion, to get us all in the Easter spirit:

“There are a lot of screen depictions of the Passion of Christ that I love. King of Kings, the silent film, has a beautiful atmosphere. There’s the Christ sequence in Ben Hur, which goes from a sepia image to glowing  Technicolor. Pasolino’s The Gospel According to St Matthew has these incredible faces of these non-actors he got to play the parts. Jesus of Montreal is probably the closest to The Gospel of Us. The Last Temptation of Christ is fantastic, it’s close to being my favourite Scorsese film. Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ is brutal and over the top in the scourging sequence but it has some amazing stuff in it. But nothing beats Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain.

Holy Mountain was hard to find for a very long time. The original prints were embargoed by the producer and it was only available in Japan in degraded and often heavily censored form: glowing orbs would appear over people’s genitals. But Jodorowsky finally got the rights back recently, and it’s an astounding film to look at, though it makes variable sense depending on who you are and how much you’ve had to drink.

“Jodorowsky has said he basically rounded up his actors and kidnapped them, kept them in isolation, broke them mentally, then put them back together on screen. In a key scene the Christ figure, who is a complete innocent, gets cast in papier mache by his followers. When he wakes up, he sees a thousand versions of himself and is driven insane, smashes them all up, and the last sequence is him eating one, ripping great chunks out of it.

“But the whole film is incredible. You start with this man, who wakes up, covered in flies… it doesn’t make much sense but it’s incredibly compelling. It’s one of those films where you arrive somewhere, look back, and you think ‘How the hell did I get here’ and you can’t imagine where you’ll be in ten minutes’ time.

“My own approach to Gospel of Us wasn’t much more sensible. We basically raced down to Port Talbot, where Michael Sheen was re-enacting the Passion over 72 hours with a cast of a thousand locals, taking ten cameras to shoot what the hell we could. It took eight months to whittle it down to a two-hour film.”

So there you go. That’s your Easter weekend movie viewing sorted. And we didn’t even mention The Life of Brian

A shorter version of this post first appeared in The Book magazine