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"The Mindscape of Alan Moore" Offers Many Fascinating Observations on Reality

by on September 29, 2008

There are few comic book creators as critically acclaimed as Alan Moore. For as long as I have been collecting comics, his work has been held up as some of the finest latter-day writing the medium has ever seen. The first Moore story I read was from one of his brief forays into true mainstream comics with the outstanding “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Superman story. That Moore was chosen only after Superman’s co-creator Jerry Sigel declined the opportunity is as good a testament as any as to his standing in the industry, even over twenty years ago. In the years since he’s distanced himself from such mainstream work, and embarked on an increasing amount of far more personal and esoteric work. Indeed, at one point he announced his effective ‘retirement’ from mainstream comics altogether on his 50th birthday back in 2003, a year that also saw the first release of this film, The Mindscape of Alan Moore.

As befits Mr. Moore’s status as a reluctant symbol of ‘fame’, the film is purely about Alan Moore the creator, although we do get some basic biographical information on his early years. Roughly the first half-hour of the film deals with Moore’s early life and comics work, and provides an interesting insight as to how he honed his writing skills from the pages of the short stories in 2000AD to his first forays into U.S. comic books. One even gets the impression that Moore perhaps feels that his induction into his U.S.-published work was a quirk of fate, as he wonderfully dismisses a British comic award (that first brought him to the attention of DC Comics) as being voted for by “thirty people in anoraks with dreadful social lives”.

The rest of the film concentrates on Mr. Moore’s more substantial work, such as V for Vendetta, Watchmen and Lost Girls, as well as his fascinating thoughts on the underlying nature of reality. A notable strand notes Mr. Moore’s despair on the proliferation of monotheism in the modern world, as opposed to a pantheon of gods as seen in many older cultures. Also included in his elucidations is the concept of Ideaspace, roughly described as a parallel realm actually home to ideas that everyone could potentially tap into, and for me this is perhaps the most interesting concept imparted by Moore in the film. The other most memorable essay is Moore’s description of human knowledge, and the increasingly smaller amounts of time it takes to double that knowledge. By his estimate, around 2015 human knowledge will be doubling every second, with our society effectively boiling up from a fluid state to one of steam. While making for intriguing arguments, the one minor flaw this film could be perceived in having is that we only get to scratch the surface of Moore’s worldview.

Being an unimaginative type, for instance, I have to wonder what it would mean as a practical matter for a society to “turn to steam.” Will all-encompassing information be disseminated at such an advanced level that it will be effectively worthless? And with regard to Ideaspace: even if ideas can simultaneously be shared, where exactly do new ideas come from? Are they first born in the human mind, or out of the stuff of Ideaspace? I could go on and on about the fascinating questions raised here, but perhaps that would be to miss the point. Anyone who’s looking for this film to offer a guide to life, the universe, and everything as seen through the eyes of Alan Moore would be disappointed—but that’s not what this film could ever be about, nor what it ever claims to be. What it is, though, is an excellent introduction to Moore the shaman, and serves well as a preamble to the new ideas and philosophies he has come to discover and embrace.

The movie itself, by its very nature, consists almost entirely of Moore talking to camera, supplemented by appropriately ‘psychedelic’ visuals and an effectively moody music track. Moore himself is a mesmerizing and predictably articulate presence, which makes his near 75-minute monologue very engaging. Also seen are a couple of small live-action reconstructions of isolated characters and scenes from his works, not entirely dissimilar to the occasional segment seen in Ron Mann’s Comic Book Confidential. The two scenes on offer are isolated ‘adaptations’ of V for Vendetta and Watchmen, with Moore himself providing a reading of Rorschach’s journal (a performance combination Moore repeated in a recent BBC documentary). A notable omission from discussion of most of his latter-day comics work is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although considering that much of Mindscape was made in 2002 when Moore was undoubtedly aware of what the production of the League film would lead to, creatively and legally, this absence is perfectly understandable.

The DVD set of the film contains two discs, the first one with the film itself and relevant extras, with the second disc presenting six interviews with noted Alan Moore collaborators. The film is in anamorphic widescreen with subtitles, but sadly the other extras included on the set come without closed captions. The most substantial extras on the first disc are a seemingly VHS-sourced ‘Making of’, as well as interviews with director DeZ Vylenz, musician Drew Richards and special effects artist Brian Kinney, who provided shots of a Swamp Thing-inspired ‘living mass’ for the film.

The six interviews with Melinda Gebbie, Dave Gibbons, Paul Gravett, David Lloyd, Kevin O’Neill and José Villarrubia are all quite interesting and informative in their own right and most pleasantly are not completely centered around their subjects’ work with Alan Moore. Some of these are more interesting than others, and a couple of the subjects meander into territories that, much like Moore in the main feature itself, would be better served with further explanation.

By necessity, The Mindscape of Alan Moore falls short of providing a thorough insight into the man and his work. But as an introduction to Alan Moore the creator, it cannot be faulted.

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