I’m late for my phone call with Alan Moore. I’ll spare you the excruciating details surrounding my latest frustrating interaction with a Microsoft-owned VoIP service, except to say that all of this belatedness has made me ill at ease. I’ve interviewed him before, but I’m not immune to stories about the legendary curmudgeonliness of the bearded wizard of Northampton. When I finally MacGuyver a solution, I launch immediately into profuse apologies.
“Oh,” a warm voice answers in dulcet East Midland English tones, “in the stretch of eternity it’s no problem at all.”
It’s clear almost immediately that this is not the Alan Moore called upon for comment each time a movie studio dredges up a long-ago comic book classic of his and runs it through the disinfecting Hollywood ringer. This is an Alan Moore electrically charged by his latest creative pursuit—an artist stepping inside a new medium, only to be pleasantly surprised once again by the depth and potential it holds. After a seemingly endless slate of adaptations green-lit without the slightest hint of support from their creator, the 62-year-old writer behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman finds himself diving into the world of filmmaking in earnest for the first time.
In typical Alan Moore fashion, however, the story of how the short-film collection Show Pieces came together is not remotely straightforward. “Do stop me if this is too much,” he begins, knowing full well that this is precisely why I made this call. “It started out innocuously enough, about six years ago when I was working on my beautiful but doomed magazine Dodgem Logic.” That would be Moore’s well-loved underground publication that ran for a total of eight issues between 2010 and 2011. “For the second issue I had been approached by my great friend, the internationally renowned photographer Mitch Jenkins, who had suggested that he’d like to do something—very kindly suggested—that he’d like to do something for this nonpaying underground magazine. So we’ve got an article in the second issue written by my wife, Melinda Gebbie, that was talking about the burlesque scene as she’d encountered it over here, where it’s very much modern burlesque.”
Moore and Jenkins, a celebrity photographer for the London Times magazine, set the scene on the issue’s cover and alongside Gebbie’s story: An assortment of burlesque performers, a grizzled barfly, a clown of questionable intent. And there, right in the center, was Moore, somewhat reluctantly playing the role of an Eastern European organ trader. The shoot and its cartoonish cast of shady characters proved a big enough hit among Dodgem readers to warrant further exploration by the longtime friends.
“Mitch came around and said that he’d wanted to do a short film, just for his show reel, based upon the burlesque shoot,” explains Moore. “So at that point, perhaps unwisely, I said, ’Well, do you want me to just write a screenplay for you?’ He said, ’Well, that couldn’t hurt.’ I wrote a little 10-minute screenplay. Or it was intended to be 10 minutes. I think that a reading does exist of me doing all the voices, even the women, and that comes in just under 10 minutes.”The piece was titled Jimmy’s End, a “surrealist-noir” short film steeped in the dreamy mid-century psychosis of David Lynch, in which a beautiful young woman descends into the underbelly of an adult Northampton club populated by a cast of questionable characters, including Moore, goldfaced and gloriously maned as the otherworldly emcee. But Jimmy’s End was merely a beginning—unsurprising, perhaps, for the crazily prolific author of the forthcoming epic novel Jerusalem, which clocks in at 1,280 pages. Interest from British television spurred Moore to expand what was initially intended to be an open-and-shut short film.
“I came up with a much bigger idea in which the revelation at the end of the short film would turn out to be a point of misdirection. So I sat down and wrote two or three other pieces.”
Thus far, the world of Show Pieces has yielded five shorts, which have been screened at a range of festivals across England including the Leeds International Film Festival and the London Fright Fest. The series includes Jimmy’s End and the prequel, Act of Faith, all of which have been compiled into a lovingly crafted DVD boxset featuring a 100-page storyboard/comic illustrated by cartoonist Kristian Hammerstad. Moore has also crafted a follow-up feature film set the morning after the Friday night in which all of the shorts unfold. All are set in a fictionalized version of Moore’s hometown, crafted with an attention to detail that falls somewhere along the thin line separating genius creators from megalomaniacal control freaks.
“A big part of the way that we’re approaching these films is that I decided that it might be interesting to do something that I’ve previously attempted at various times in my comics work,” explains Moore. “If I’m inventing a world, then I’d like to invent the entire culture that exists in that world. I’d like to know what products are going to be advertised on the hoardings, what shops there are, what magazines people are going to be reading. So for the continuum of The Show we’ve made up everything.”And he does mean everything: From animated television shows to a parallel world of celebrity, Moore and Jenkins have crafted nearly every aspect of their cinematic world from scratch, like a film set for an alien world, albeit one with some remarkable similarities to our own. It’s one that has, in Moore’s own idiosyncratic approach to consumerism, begun to manifest real-world products in a sort of backward approach to product placement.
Moore explains: “One of the things is the energy drink that I thought up. This is a very, very minor idea, but I just thought of an energy drink, I thought Fuel Rods. We would have a slightly narrower can than the regular ones, but slightly taller as well, and it would be a radioactive-looking fluorescent green or day-glo luminous green. We then got an energy-drink company suggesting if we were actually to make this as an imaginary product in the film they would like to license it and make it in real life.”
As with everything else he’s done, Moore has approached cinema entirely on his own terms. And while it’s easy to view his full immersion in the medium as a sort of change of heart for an artist who has spent decades spewing very public vitriol at Hollywood’s attempts to co-opt his storytelling genius, there’s little question that the writer has made Show Pieces in his own image. It’s an original work, energy drinks and all, and Moore, in his soft yet unflinchingly honest way of speaking, makes it clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“My big problem with adaptation is that it seldom, if ever, works,” the writer says. “ Even if it does work, it is seldom an improvement upon the original presentation of the work. I very much believe when I was writing all those comics, they were meant as comics. They were meant to show off all of the things that the comics medium could do. In the case of a number of them, that was the only thing that they were meant to do. That was the whole story of those books. The plots, the characters—these things were largely incidental to me. What I was interested in doing was showing off the possibilities of the medium, which at that time I was incredibly excited about. I didn’t see that there was any point at all in taking something that had been painstakingly crafted for one medium and then trying to realize it in another for which it had not been designed and for which it probably wouldn’t work.”
What’s clear is that Moore is fully immersed in his newly adopted medium. Even with myriad projects vying for his attention, he’s committed himself to the world of The Show with the conviction of a man obsessed, building this new universe up, molecule by molecule. The five shorts that comprise Show Pieces are merely the beginning.
“The thing is,” Moore says, “if I’m going to be working in any particular medium, I’d really like to do the hell out of it.”