Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chronic Review: Grant Morrison - Talking With Gods!

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods
Respect Films/Sequart

Director: Patrick Meaney
Run Time: 80 Minutes

Without running into too many cliches about "groundbreaking" this or "enigmatic" that...this the comic creator you really want to know about, isn't it? Sure we have characters breeding in this funny little medium of ours. Alan Moore, check. Warren Ellis, check. But c'mon. This is the cat who claims he went to India and had aliens take him to Alpha Centauri - is that for real, or a calculated act, or is this guy really shit nuts?

Talking With Gods is satisfying because it embraces all of Grant Morrison, and leaves you feeling that you can wrap your brain around him, if not embrace him. I think that people are curious about his work and his writing process, and the film broaches these subjects. I think people are far more urgently concerned with the man himself; his public persona, the drugs, the magic, the eccentricities.

Obviously it isn't possible to crib anybody down to an 80 minute chunk of video, and surely not someone as complex as Grant Morrison. The strength of this picture is that it respectfully takes on the most controversial Morrisonian matters in a way that cultivates understanding instead of titillating spectacle. If you watch this movie and pay attention, Grant Morrison will make perfect sense to you. And that is high magic indeed!

Another impressive aspect of the film is the depth and breadth of industry talent involved. This isn't just Sequart's Tim Callahan waxing philosophical, although might have been enough. We get to hear a variety of opinions from the insiders involved including Karen Berger, Dez Skinn, Frank Quitely, Warren Ellis, Mark Waid, Rich Johnston, Matt Fraction, and the list goes on forever. While the filmmakers clearly didn't seek out a lot of anti-Morrison vitriol, there may not be much of that to be had. While he might be a polarizing figure amongst fans, most industry professionals respect him and his work. But the closest you'll find to a real detractor in the movie is Alan Moore, who as the story goes shut down a Kid Marvelman story Morrison scripted and then wrote a threatening letter to Grant when he asked permission to pick up Marvelman where Moore left off. But really, who does Alan Moore get along with?

The film covers Grant's early childhood, including a nuclear activist father, a tea-leaf reading mother, and Uncle Billy who introduced him to comic books and Aleister Crowley. You'll learn about his band, his humble beginnings as a file clerk, and his rise to comic super-stardom. And yes, you'll get to hear all about his evolving thoughts on magic, the "aliens/demons", and how it all comes to down to a deep sense of pragmatism.

The trap you fall into with Grant Morrison is to mythologize him, and it's reasonable to fall into that trap since he purposefully set it - but he will also calmly grin and admit it. Talking With Gods does an outstanding job of humanizing the myth. It isn't just the stories that fascinated me, it was watching the "comics rock star" giggle and fidget in his chair like a regular bloke with Frank Quitely, the goofy photos with his wife Kristan, and his yearning to connect with a young writer and impart useful advice. (Don't be afraid to screw up, he says, your mistakes will often show you something even better than what you originally planned)

Morrison says "You'll never get it, you'll never know, and whatever you think I am, that's what I'm not." But he doesn't say that from above you with arrogance. He says it with a sheepish grin, with the same sense of play that Lao Tzu used to write similar sentiments with. Grant Morrison has had the same issues with confidence as you, the same bouts of depression, the same difficulties with the opposite sex. The only difference is that when he had those troubles, he entreated Aphrodite to send him the person he needed. And then his wife to be called him up three days later seeking comfort from her break-up.

I think the film also helps a reader understand Morrison's work. It doesn't parse specific lines of text, and probably would have suffered for the effort if it had tried. What Talking With Gods will do is introduce you to his relationship with The Bomb, and with magic, with other people, and with comics.

What's interesting about Morrison is that while most people begrudgingly accept that superheroes rule comics, he embraces the concept fully, and with pride. First he found comfort in them as an escape from the harsher cruelties of life, and ultimately perceives superheroes as a solution to those cruelties.

"The bomb, before it was a bomb, the bomb was an idea. And suddenly the understanding of oh, OK, Superman's an even better idea, so why don't we make that one real instead of that one." While most creators post-Moore have followed his lead in bringing superheroes into the muck with our reality, Morrison has forged a career on using these symbols as hyper-sigils to raise our muck into their light. That seems infinitely more edifying, actually.

Crazy? Maybe. But before the bomb was a bomb, it was an idea. Why couldn't we use those superheroic ideals to show a better way, perhaps to inspire it. Why not explore a better idea than pain and entropy? Go back and read Batman RIP, Final Crisis, or the latest Batman & Robin stuff. Go back without getting hung up on all the details and pay attention to what it says and how it makes you feel at the end. Superman will not let us down. Batman will find a way. Hope is not lost.

Those are not the sentiments of a drug-crazed nutter. Or maybe they are. If they are, we need a lot more drug crazed nutters.

Is he hard to understand through that thick Scottish accent? Mmmmm, sure. A little. That's what the subtitles are for! It's worth the effort to acclimate, Talking With Gods is an excellent profile of Grant Morrison the character and a brilliant revealing of the man who created it. Thoroughly enjoyed this film, and very much looking forward to the Warren Ellis treatment to follow.

- Ryan

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