Adi Tantimedh writes:
You can never fully know what a story is really about until you've seen it through to its end.
As a Kickstarter backer, I finally got to watch His Heavy Heart, the last short film in Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins' cycle of short films known alternately as The Jimmy's End Cycle or Show Pieces. Show Pieces is a compendium of five short films that form one feature-length tapestry, telling… well, not so much one story but creating a mood, a different place, a different universe from our own.
Do you watch fantastical movies – Science Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural – for reassuring images and plots retold again and again or do you hunger for new ideas, new images, new thoughts? The latter is what Show Pieces strives for. It's what Alan Moore makes it a point to write. It's why he got tired of writing superheroes and prefers to explore other ideas outside the increasingly hermetic echo chamber of Marvel and DC clichés, which puts him outside the nerd mainstream of power fantasies and men in tights. Comic websites like to paint him now as cranky, reclusive and insane when the reality is quite the opposite: Alan Moore is still fully engaged with the world, with politics, with social trends, with philosophy, with mysticism, with pop culture, the arts and literature.
It's the comics industry that's stayed behind. That's what the Kickstarter campaign for His Heavy Heart was about. It was about testing a new way to fund a movie project outside the mainstream of movie studios and companies demanding ownership and creative control. It's about making movies and television whose sensibilities are outside the mainstream, reassuring and anodyne product of Hollywood and the BBC or ITV. It's a continuation of sensibilities of the Arts Lab movement of the 1960s and 70s that spawned performers like David Bowie and embraced writers like J.G. Ballard. Alan Moore has even formed Orphans of the Storm, a production company to not only produce Show Pieces, but also future projects set in the same universe. I've joked that he's now The Movie Mogul of Northampton, not exactly a job listing many people were gagging to fill.
And it is a new universe that he presents and creates in these five short films. What began as an idea for a short film has spawned an entire alternate universe, a surreal, mystical, disturbing version of Alan Moore's home town of Northampton with its own pop culture, technology, fashions and even rules for Life and Death. It's in keeping with Alan Moore's exploration of ideas of fiction as a living, breathing, constantly evolving entity that's as real as we are, and Show Pieces is an introduction to that fictional universe. What fascinates me is how it unfolds and reveals itself as we watch these films in succession.
The first short, Act of Faith, seems the most naturalistic and appears to take place in our world. It's about a woman named Faith getting ready for an evening with her boyfriend. We're introduced to her flat, her life, her work, which seems to involve exposing a local politician to a scandal. There's a brooding, uneasy atmosphere about everything even as we never leave Faith's flat. Then things go farcically, horribly, wrong. If we didn't know this was the first chapter in what would be a longer narrative, we might have written this short off as a kind of show reel, but since we know it's a script by Alan Moore and directed by Mitch Jenkins, who used to photograph the 80s band Bauhaus as part of his successful career as a photographer, we're aware that there's more coming. It's not a standalone.
Upon Reflection is a formal exercise, shot all in one take, as a reflection in a mirror above the bar of a gentlemen's drinking club in Northampton. It takes place after Act of Faith where we meet the regulars at the bar, including a man who was affected by Faith's work, a man who was not supposed to be here. But then neither was Faith.
Jimmy's End is the centrepiece of the five films. We see all the players at last, and what kind of world this is. It's named after the real-life gentlemen's drinking club in Northampton and a play on the status of the main character. This is where the mood of surreal, supernatural disquiet is in full force. Some people have compared it to the surrealism of David Lynch in the way the film transforms a common location like a working man's club into a surreal, disturbing space full of mystery and menace. Alan Moore himself shows up as Frank Metterton, a music hall entertainer who lords over the club, but seems to be more than a stage performer.
A Professional Relationship reveals another layer of the world as Frank Metterton's nature is fully revealed as God, or a god of the underworld, an underworld where the dead go. And the club itself is indeed the Land of the Dead. Not Heaven nor Hell but Purgatory. We are definitely not in our world anymore. The disquiet comes from the idea of God as a sarcastic, passive-aggressive music hall performer working with a sleazy club owner who might be The Devil, a partnership full of mutual loathing.
His Heavy Heart is the capstone, the punchline, the final nail in the coffin, as it were, for this cycle of shorts. The last of the cards are laid on the table, as it were, and we are left in no doubt as to where we are: no longer in our world. This is the afterlife. Everyone here is dead, but still carry on as miserably or gleefully (or both) as when they lived. An under-version of Northampton. A place where the dead are sent to be judged. It's a very English afterlife. It reeks of rust and mold and damp with the kettle boiling under a bad light. It's horrific and funny at the same time. It's cosmic and mundane, mystical and ridiculous. I laughed my arse off watching it. Sex and Death as a comedy double act that makes you bleed. It is not the end, but a beginning. It introduces the world of The Show, the universe that Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins plan to continue in a proper feature-length movie and TV series.
Show Pieces sets up the world and the tone of The Show: it's David Lynch meets Alan Bennett with a sinful dose of English mysticism. It takes the seemingly mundane and ordinary of England and transforms it into something mysterious and menacing, a skewed, distorted version of the world we know. It may not be to everyone's taste, but if you connect with it, you'll be hooked, curious and hungry to visit more of its mysteries. That's what the best fictional worlds do. They evolve, generate stories and our need to return again and again, holding to find out more. The Jimmy's End Cycle is only a taster. The real story is yet to unfold. The vortex is only starting to turn. Now the real show begins.
Living in another universe at firstname.lastname@example.org
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