So last week we talked about something that I was not so enthused about, and to wash that crap out of my mouth I’ve decided to tell you about something that I love. In all caps, folks. LOVE.
You ever hear of a fella named Alan Moore, writer of such works as Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell? Well, we’re here to talk about some short films he did with Mitch Jenkins. Collectively, these are known as Show Pieces, but we’ll just be looking at the first and the second from the series, An Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End.
An Act of Faith
After your first viewing of An Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End, you can be forgiven for walking away from the former without it leaving much of an impression. While Jimmy’s End is thirty minutes of Moore screaming maniacally for your attention, An Act of Faith is subdued to the point that you might miss its beauty if you aren’t actively paying attention.
But subdued can be subversive.
An Act of Faith shows us a window into the sexual fetsih of Faith and her ritual leading up to it. While the ending, which I won’t give away, is the tie in for Jimmy’s End, the fascinating part of the film is the plodding, quotidian way Faith goes about her business. All caps. BUSINESS. Wink wink.
This could have gone so wrong were it miscast, but Siobhan Hewlett was phenomenal as Faith. There’s a defining moment in the film where Faith, after placing a plastic bag in her mouth per her ritual, just stops and stares at herself for a solid twenty seconds of reflection, and the magic of this moment is that it’s so easily understood and yet so hard to describe. Have you ever caught a look at yourself in the mirror and it broke a spell? Maybe you were in the midst of your own sexual ritual. Maybe you were playing Rocky and giving Adrienne a seeing to when after Round 2 you decide you need some water and in the bathroom mirror you notice a pudgy, sweaty, panting man wearing nothing but cheap red, white, and blue boxing gloves and you just have to stop and stare. You know you’ll get back in that ring for Round 3, Rocky, but first you need a second to contend with what you’re experiencing. I’m sure there are some people who would describe this as a moment of despair, ennui, or loneliness, but I think that’s all off base, albeit related. If I had to describe this feeling in words, it would be something like “Well, here I am.”
“Well, here I am.”
And it’s these moments that make An Act of Faith special, whether it’s Siobhan Hewlett clearly just going through the motions or Moore’s masterfully crafted awkward, off-putting, and patently unsexy dialogue. Moore takes fetish and shows how it, too, can be boring, prosaic, and repetitive.
And I fucking LOVE it.
To say that you’re in for a tonal shift with Jimmy’s End would be an understatement. While a lot of effort went into making An Act of Faith about as exciting as playing Bingo at the retirement home, Jimmy’s End is start to finish a relentless visual assault.
What would you say if I told you that one of the first scenes of the film is James walking in slow motion down a hallway. In the background the telephone rings endlessly and there’s creepy ambient music playing. Sounds like a student film, right? I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry, it doesn’t end with a fade to black/gunshot. It, in fact, has one of the most potent, body blow endings I’ve ever seen, right up there with Pontypool and Super. But let’s not get off track.
The magic of Jimmy’s End is that it is one of the least subtle films ever made and, believe it or not, I’m complimenting it. This film masquerades as an art project, but it can’t go for two minutes without hitting you over the head with exactly what is happening. This is a film that begins with the lines
James: I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up down here.
Woman: We all end up down here sooner or later, darlin’.
I mean, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but read the fucking title of the film, people! I couldn’t spoil anything if I tried!
And what’s fantastic about this is it’s a big middle finger to all the bullshit wannabe artists out there who create something that they imagine to be visually interesting but aren’t actually saying anything. Think doll heads floating in blood. Or footage of a book burning, but played backwards, so a book emerges from ashes. Don’t forget the violin music. And if anyone asks what it means, don’t worry about it, you’ve prepared for this at least a thousand times. You turn your nose up and snidely say, “It’s a film where the viewer brings his own interpretation.”
Well, Alan Moore says fuck that. If you’re an artist and you’re not trying to communicate with your audience, then what are you for, exactly? What do you think your art says if, by your own admission, it says nothing, and it’s up to the audience to bring meaning to your cobbled together turd?
So, Moore made a film that contains all the visual cues that we’ve come to expect from experimental film and quickly subverts the medium by explaining everything twenty or thirty times. The part of the film that you’re interested in, then, is not the mystery of what’s going on, as that’s been spelled out for you, but rather if and how James will come to terms with what’s going on.
Trying very hard to be confused.
And here the obviousness of the situation juxtaposes perfectly with James’ resistance to understand. Every interaction James has with other characters provides threads that, if pulled, would clear things up for him quite quickly. But the reason you don’t look behind a door is not because you don’t know what is there, but rather because you do know, and it’s a joy to watch James be visibly shaken time and again yet heroically keep pretending that all is well.
Also, Jimmy’s End has what An Act of Faith lacked, which is an ending that overshadows all that came before it, an exclamation mark that sends shivers down the spine and elevates the piece as a whole. I can’t give too much away, but I will say that Metterton (played by Moore himself) delivers a speech that beautifully, succinctly, and quite sadly sums up not just the life of James, but the human experience as a whole.
I’m not saying these films will change your life, and I can’t make any guarantees, but if you’re like me you will walk away a slightly different person than you were before you saw them.
Throwing down the gauntlet
And with this I am proud to present Stonepug’s first throwing down of the gauntlet. You see, Pugs has a long history of taking note of my recommendations and then blissfully sitting on them for fucking years. But, thanks to this public venue, we can hold each other accountable.
Pugs, you have one week to watch An Act of Faith and Jimmy’s End and share your own response to the films here on Stonepug.
Of course, you have the right to throw down your own gauntlets in the future, but then you could probably have just privately told me to watch something since I’m not a rude asshole who ignores his friend’s recommendations. But that’s neither here nor there, and since I don’t want to air our dirty laundry in public, I hereby retract that statement.
Unicorns and rainbows to you people and see you next week. And watch Show Pieces! Watch Show Pieces now, dammit!