In The Mindscape of Alan Moore we see a portrait of the artist as contemporary shaman, someone with the power to transform consciousness by means of manipulating language, symbols and images.
The film leads the audience through Moore’s world with the writer himself as guide, beginning with his childhood background, following the evolution of his career as he transformed the comics medium, through to his immersion in a magical worldview where science, spirituality and society are part of the same universe.
The documentary is being released on DVD in the U.S. on September 30, 2008, but you can be pre-order The Mindscape of Alan Moore before that date right now.
The writer and director of the documentary, DeZ Vylenz, sat down with WatchmenComicMovie.com a while back to talk about what is was like making his off-beat, yet captivating film, about the life, career, and philosophies of comics legend Alan Moore.
What was your process for making The Mindscape of Alan Moore?
Vylenz: The way it worked was I actually structured the film in three acts. I said “Okay, if we’re going to do this, we need a structure.” You know, a point where it started and ended. Same thing with [Alan Moore’s] career. I had certain ideas myself that I thought were interesting, such as shamanism, consciousness expansion, martial arts. All cultures have different… spiritual technologies, shall we say. I was really fascinated by that.
So, we’ve got a structure really well, and I took from every specific work I knew was at a specific time in his life. So it had all the meaning for him in a way that had meaning for fans. It’s just like what I like about his work, you can really feel that he’s enjoying the work himself almost as if he’s a reader. He's just really enjoying himself when he’s writing it, and at the same time, he can step back and feel what it is to be a reader, someone who experiences the medium. And that’s really the key for the film. Get that going, all the information, get the spiritual and scientific point of view, and make it a very coherent kind of fluid media essay that you could really visualize.
At the same time, the difficulty of course was to get the mood of his books. Obviously, it would be a very dry documentary if it was only him talking or just Terry Gilliam, which was a consideration I had at the time, to interview Terry Gilliam and anyone else who had worked with him. But I thought it would kind of detract from the shamanical journey that I wanted to achieve for the film. You sit there and at the end of the film, you feel like something has changed in your brain. The same thing where if you read one of [Moore’s] works, something really changes. I think it’s almost something chemical.
I'm not sure what your experience was when you first read Watchmen, but I’m sure that there was some kind of “glow” to the mind or the stomach.
I'm guessing you probably saw Alan Moore do other interviews. Did you ever think, “Is he going to be a willing subject? Is he going to say interesting things? Is he going to give me enough for a film?”
Vylenz: Basically, when we had a structure, I did an audio interview with him. I think I did at least two full days of interviewing and we just talked. I talked with him about what I was interested in. The key thing with any kind of caliber artist is never to be sycophantic and — excuse my language — kiss his ass. If they see you as a kiss-ass fanboy, you’re not working on the same page. The last thing you want to say is “Oh, I think your work is great because of this, this and this.” It’s more of an appreciation and you’re very professional about it. And you wait until the last day of the shoot — before you leave — to get out the comic books and have them signed.
It’s a kind of respect. He was a really great guy to work with, I don’t know where all these stories come from. Obviously, he’s a very determined man and he has his own vision, so of course when people disrespect his vision for so long, of course there’s going to be some friction. But we had a great experience with him, he was a real gentleman.
He’s also a great listener. Not just a great talker, but a great listener, so it was a very close collaboration. He didn’t mind if I said “Okay, look, in this magazine you say something in a very articulate way. Is there any way you could work it so it fits in this segment?,” and so on.
A lot of the footage in the film is actually improvised. Yes, there was a structure, but at some point, I wanted the guy to sort of move off in a different direction and you’ve got to use that if it’s a great take. So we had some things where he digressed and went to very interesting areas where I thought “This fits in the film as well and we’ve got to use it.” He’s so captivating; he’s like the ancient Mariner. He’s so articulate.
So yeah, I wasn’t too worried about that. I was more worried about getting the visuals and the music and everything up to his level. It would be pretty bad if we got all this amazing stuff but we filmed it in a really boring way or in a really over-the-top kind of edited way.
You recreated scenes from V for Vendetta as well as a scene from Watchmen — but for the Watchmen scene, you have Alan Moore actually doing the voice of Rorschach. How did that come about and how was that particular journal entry picked?
Vylenz: Well, that’s one of my favorite Alan Moore works. I felt when I opened the book, and you have that Rorschach voice-over, it’s very reminiscent of De Niro in Taxi Driver. That Travis Bickle character — very angry, very anti-establishment — it resonates with your personal zeitgeist, if you want to call it that. I thought he was a very social, political, critical kind of character, with a lot of things going on. At the same time, it’s also the framework for the book. So I thought it would be great to have him do that segment. And he did, and that’s his Rorschach voice.
It was funny, one of the fans had sent us an e-mail saying that Zack Snyder had said on a Harry Knowles interview that he saw that scene and that he was going to use it as reference for the mood or something like that. So that was a nice compliment in the end, and also Alan liked the scene himself. We just wanted to capture the mood.
It’s the angry voice in all of us in the end, you know? He’s like the vigilante. Rorschach is like an animal in the structured society. Of all the superheroes, he’s the one who will never relent. He will never give in because he doesn’t believe in that kind of system where things are controlled.
Does Moore like discussing his older work or did you get the feeling he’s just tired of talking about it?
Vylenz: Oh, not really. He always likes talking about his next project. He’s always a man looking forward, beyond the next horizon. But at the same time, whenever you discuss it, he’s fine with saying “Oh yeah, I was trying this at the time, I put a lot of work into it, but now I think it’s naive in some bits.” But with Watchmen, he never says it, but I got the feeling that he’s pretty pleased with how it came out. He said there was an incredible kind of synergy, alchemy, like a chemistry between his mind and Dave Gibbons. How they would come up with ideas, go back and forth. They tapped into something that was magical. Dave Gibbons is also a magic practitioner, so we talked about that as well. I was going on about how I believe that when artists have a special spiritual mind set, it can sometimes reflect in their work, even if it’s very subliminal. With Dave, he’s very balanced as a person. Same thing with his style. It’s very clean, very balanced, there’s no ambiguity, but at the same time, there’s a lot of detail. A lot of layers. Very clean and crisp.
Anyway, I think he’s still pleased with Watchmen, though I think there’s still a sour thing that they never gave him his copyright back. I don’t know much about the politics, but I believe at the time, it was not normal for comics to be in print longer than a couple of years. So they’ll get the rights back when it gets out of print and it has been in print the last twenty years.
A lot of people bandy about the term “genius” when they talk about Alan Moore. What do you think about that?
Vylenz: Well, that’s a difficult word. I don’t think he’d ever describe himself as that. I think someone once said that William S. Burroughs was a genius and I think Burroughs might have answered “At times, I am possessed by genius.” In other words, a genius, like a genie or a spirit, is something that creatively we can all have. But Alan has that almost all the time, that possession of spirit. So, I would say that in many ways, he is a genius. He embodies that word, he’s one man who can carry that word with him — not that he does.
Obviously, it’s a tricky kind of term. It’s like how a master would never call himself a master. It’s other people that call him a master because of his achievements. It’s the same thing with genius. If you call yourself a genius, it leads to hubris. It leads to arrogance. But a lot of people call Alan Moore a genius.
It says on your Web site Shadowsnake.com, that The Mindscape of Alan Moore is part one of a “shamanautical” series. Can you define “shamanautical?”
Vylenz: Imagine five parts, so five different films. The first one being a documentary, The Mindscape of Alan Moore, the other four are fiction. They’re based on five different elements as well. I don’t want to go too far into it, or we could talk for hours, but it’s very much to do with characters that also explore the surroundings and world and dynamics that they study between people. One of them is a martial artist, for example. Another one — the one I’m starting next — is kind of a rogue movie through the jungle. Not like Deliverance, but imagine some kind of trailer atmosphere. All of them have one thing in common, which is that they’re exploring the universe in a certain mind set; a certain point of view. And that’s a “shamanautical” thing. I just coined the phrase to describe how I want to do this. It’s kind of conscious navigating through different parts and different levels of our existence.
I don’t want to get too much into the existential stuff, but beside the material plane, you have the plane of ideas, thoughts and so on. Beyond that is what scientists explore, it’s what different religions try to explore. But all of them have one thing in common, which is they try to explore the universe, existence or underlying truths through different actions or research or experiences, which is what I’m trying to achieve with the films. They’re pretty much experiences.
It seems to me that you and Alan share the same sort of spiritual or artistic connection, or synergy, if you will, that helped Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons to make Watchmen a masterpiece of the comic genre. Do you feel that you and Moore were connected in that same way?
Vylenz: Yeah, it was really strange. His magical system is different than mine. I come from a martial arts background, so the philosophies are different. But in the end, it all comes to the same thing, because I always say that Taoism is a formalized version of shamanism. When you’ve got Taoism, you’ve got the Tai Chi symbols and all that. Then you’ve got Alan’s system, which is very much based on the Kabbalah. But in the end, they’re all systems. That just means that they’re all trying to explore the universe and find more underlying truth. So, it was really great seeing that acknowledged by him.
He never called himself a shaman, but I wanted to make the film a “shamanautical” experience, so why not draw the comparisons between him and a shaman? He never called himself that — he used the word “magician.” But in the culture I grew up in, you have African tribes in the jungle, you’ve got Native Americans, you’ve got different cultures, so you see a lot of spiritual practices and it's very interesting to see all the similarities.
9.12.08 Source: WatchmenComicMovie.com
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