As the film adaptation of the seminal graphic novel Watchmen hangs on at movie theaters — it hasn’t exactly lived up to box-office expectations — a lot of questions have popped up about Alan Moore, the bookâ€™s writer. He’s refused to allow his name to be associated with the film, hence the “co-created by” credit that only lists the bookâ€™s artist, Dave Gibbons; Moore has even insisted that all of his royalties from the film be given to Gibbons.
So who is this enigmatic Englishman? How does he come up with his ideas? What do his colleagues think of him? How does he work? It was with these questions that I eagerly sat down to watch DeZ Vylenzâ€™s The Mindscape of Alan Moore, a 2006 documentary about the author that came out on DVD last year in a two-disc set.
The bulk of the movie consists of Moore talking directly to the camera from, I presume, his home in England. Dressed in black, with snake and skull rings covering his fingers, and surrounded by stacks of books, Moore begins with the details of his tough childhood in the working-class area of England. He came of age in the ’70s during a period of unrest in the country, and after being expelled from school for selling drugs, he struggled to find any place that would hire him while at the same time trying not to join the establishment. Comic books became his freedom from despair.
By the time Moore discusses his entry into the world of comics, Vylenz’s use of psychedelic horror-film music and images of doom and gloom (slums, smokestacks, etc.) and creepy nature shots (bugs crawling across logs, fungus growing) have already begun to wear thin. What I thought would be an examination of Mooreâ€™s career wasnâ€™t so much about the comics heâ€™d written but an attempt to literally interpret whatâ€™s going on in the writerâ€™s mind.
Watching The Mindscape of Alan Moore became like sitting with one of my far-out college professors after a night of toking up. Trippy music plays in the background, some weird Spanish film pours out of the TV, and the prof goes on for hours about government and society. The next morning — hell, an hour later — you remember being high, but you can’t fathom a damn thing the professor (or in this case, Moore) said, nor do you really care. Obviously I wasn’t the right audience for this documentary, but I wonder who is besides Moore fanatics.
Going into Mindscape, I foolishly thought Iâ€™d hear the writer discuss his interesting career and all of the work he’s done. Sadly, he only gives little tidbits of information about his writing for Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Watchmen (of course), and what he considers his “pornographic” comic, Lost Girls. Meanwhile, long periods of his career are left out altogether, including his work at Marvel and on the 2000 A.D. series. Ironically, despite his disdain for Hollywood adaptations of his work, the titles of his that are discussed the most in Mindscape are the comics or graphic novels that have been adapted into motion pictures.
Instead of thoroughly discussing his work, Moore instead chooses to explain that he’s a practicing magician. He believes he is someone capable of transforming consciousness by means of manipulative language, symbols, and images, and he considers his comic book writing to be the avenue by which he can change the way people look at the world. I have no problem with this concept, except that there’s always an artist involved in the making of every comic book — it’s never 100 percent Mooreâ€™s vision.
So what do artists like Dave Gibbons think? We donâ€™t find out in Mindscape. In fact we donâ€™t hear from them at all until you pop in the second disc to watch supplemental interviews with many of Mooreâ€™s collaborators, but Mindscape would have been much more enlightening if we had heard their thoughts in the documentary itself.
There’s something fascinating about Moore — I’ll give him that. With his long, shaggy hair and unkempt beard, he comes off like the mystic he thinks he is. Unfortunately, Vylenz is more interested in idolizing Moore than probing his work. Maybe someday the fans of Mooreâ€™s work will get a documentary that delves into his achievements and not just his complex mind.
The Mindscape of Alan Moore (2008, Shadowsnake Films) can be purchased from Amazon.