Siobhan Hewlett as Faith in Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins’s first short, Act Of Faith
The films made from Alan Moore’s comics range from the terrible, bearing no relation to the original beyond a shared premise (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Constantine), to the not-at-all-bad-but-the-best-bits-are-lifted-straight-from-the-comic-so-what’s-the-point? (V for Vendetta, Watchmen). So it’s fascinating to see how Moore approaches writing for the screen himself.
I thought we’d never get the chance: even before he fell out terminally with Hollywood, back in 2002, I asked him to rate his five favourite art forms; cinema did not make the cut. But recently at the Prince Charles Cinema, following a fascinating interview (click here for the highlights), Alan Moore staged a screening of the first two of five projected linked shorts. His reluctant celebrity status has worked to his advantage this time: the fifth and final short recently raised £60,000 on Kickstarter — £15,000 more than they asked for, and many times the budget of most shorts (though a lot of it will go on the Kickstarter perks of T-shirts, DVDs and books).
For me, part of the interest is that both Alan Moore and the director, photographer Mitch Jenkins, are new to film. Both were quite upfront about this at the Prince Charles. “I’d never seen a film script before I got Alan’s,” said Mitch Jenkins. “Since I’d never seen one before writing one, I’m not sure you have even now,” quipped Alan Moore.
How would they fare, free of the “tyranny” of script structure classes and Save The Cat books?
The first short, Act of Faith, is an uncomfortable watch which has already provoked heated debate online about its sexual politics. [SPOILER WARNING: major plot points ahoy. But as you will likely see these two films only when all five are completed, I feel this only gives away the beginning.] A woman, Faith (Siobhan Hewlett), arranges to meet her lover, talking dirty on the phone. We follow her with almost painful slowness as she undresses and dons “slutty” clothes. She places plastic in her mouth, handcuffs herself inside a wardrobe, and settles down to wait…
… until her phone rings: her lover is frantic; delayed by an accident, he can’t get there in time. She wakes up to the danger, too late – and we watch as slowly, helplessly, handcuffed, she suffocates, alone.
It’s especially uncomfortable because for much of the 15-minute short the camera does not show things from her POV: we see her from behind, as passive voyeurs, then peering in at her from outside the wardrobe, unable or unwilling to step in and help her. It’s uncomfortable, too, because there is no clear message. Does she “deserve” to die for being (her words) a “slut”? Is she a damaged individual, showing how a cycle of abuse is endlessly self-perpetuated? Does the film demonstrate that the supposed feminine empowerment behind sexual experimentation can too easily turn to victimhood? Is this is a reactionary message in liberal (un)clothing?
Perhaps all will become clearer in subsequent films. But it’s more likely that Moore sees his role as a writer to pose the questions, not to come up with the answers. Certainly he’s a purist: “I have a kind of Khmer Rouge, Year Zero approach to film-making,” Alan Moore said at the Prince Charles screening. “Nothing which isn’t real, no special effects.” And, as he’s pointed out elsewhere, no non-diagetic sound, ie that the characters themselves can’t hear.
Jimmy’s End. “I do quite like David Lynch,” says Alan Moore.
The second short, Jimmy’s End, is at over 30 minutes more artistically successful and more cinematically ambitious. A silver-haired gent finds himself in a strange bar in a strange part of town. It’s quickly apparent to the viewer, though not yet to Jimmy, that this is hell, or at least Limbo. “I never knew this was here,” he tells the barmaid. “Yes, you did,” she says, significantly.
The sound engineering is brilliant, with distorted jukebox music and endlessly ringing phones creating an unbearable tension as Jimmy wanders corridors graffitied with magical sigils, encountering a series of laconic weirdos – notably a threatening-looking clown who tells him, by the urinals: “I don’t tell jokes anymore. I just masturbate and cry. Usually at the same time.”
Faith, the woman from the first film, is here, too, in reluctant thrall to a devil figure, and Alan Moore himself makes a spectacular appearance as a god figure, in gold boots and white trousers, his gold-painted face haloed with frizzed-up white hair like Aslan gone Elvis, or a 60-year-old version of The Teletubbies’ sun-baby.
If there is a problem with Jimmy’s End (and there is), it’s that it’s not so much a homage to David Lynch as a wholesale steal. Alan Moore made light of this: “I do quite like David Lynch,” he said at the screening, “however I would have to say the red curtains were Mitch’s idea. And the only film I can think of without any curtains is perhaps One Million Years B.C.”
It’s not just the curtains, though, that recall David Lynch: it’s the eerie soundscapes; the latent menace; the gallery of grotesques; the slow pace and long takes; the red, red lipstick; and the very idea of vaguely cabaret-style waiting rooms that are suggestive of the supernatural.
Ah well. There are worse people to copy. And if you are going to make your film debut, why not dream big, and cut straight to kinky sex, death, and the afterlife?