A portrait of the artist as a young chaos magician.
Dir. Patrick Meaney, 2010, 79 min, Viewed via Hulu
If Alan Moore is the crazy, raving homeless god-king of comic books, reigning from beneath an underpass at the world and stroking his pet snake-god, then Grant Morrison is his wayward god-prince, who ran away from the circus to join normal life. That’s a terrible metaphor, but neither of these men are very easily summed up by traditional symbolic language. They both operate on a plane of psychedelic neurospace, where simply thinking something hard enough could possibly make it materialize in the physical realm. Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods is a look inside that frame of mind, and what happens to create it.
Moore is the Englishman; Morrison the Scot. Moore is the old stodger; Morrison the youthful one (even though he’s only seven years younger than Moore). Moore is the crusty, dirty-looking hobo wizard; Morrison is clean-cut and presentable (in fact, he has an inverse amount of hair from Moore). Moore is the grump; Morrison is friendly and easygoing. They are flip sides of a trick coin, two oddball comic book writers dealing in similar ideas with quite different approaches. I’d make a musical analogy, except I know nothing about music. For the record, Morrison has the better documentary.
Celebrated as the author of highly influential runs on Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Batman, Superman, and Justice Leauge, as well as his original series The Invisibles, The Filth, We3, and much more, Morrison is probably the most popular graphic novelist currently working. He’s well-known for his counterculture cred and bizarre narratives that aren’t coherent in any immediate, straightforward way. Even his mainstream work with superheroes is vastly different from what you’ll usually find, mainly because he’s willing to totally embrace the fun in the genre in a way that few other writers will nowadays. I will attest from personal experience that he is an incredibly good writer. You have to read The Invisibles to see how badly The Matrix ripped it off, and All-Star Superman is the definitive portrayal of the character.
The movie draws from the recollections of Morrison and those who know him to conjure up a biography that’s not just historical but artistic. At each step, as we learn about a different episode of Morrison’s life, a line is drawn between the experience and a particular theme or event that would later show up in his work. It’s a cool little study in how life shapes art.
Of course, according to Morrison, the opposite is also true, that art can shape life. He’s had a close encounter of the third kind and met both Superman and Jesus – and he didn’t take drugs until he was in his thirties! He’s a chaos magician, and is totally sincere about it. He believes that, since our ideas change the world, we should focus on the best ideas. He grew up with both Superman and the atomic bomb. He decided to go into comics because he found the former idea a much better one than the latter. You probably won’t be won over to his religion, but you’ll come to admire his steadfast optimism.
The doc is rather “inside,” making references to the comics world without being very helpful to those who don’t know it. Very few non-readers will have any idea who most of the interviewees are, and why they matter. It’s that kind of unhelpfulness that limits its ability to reach people about the greatness of its main character, who really does deserve to be read as widely as possible.
The movie is also pretty short, and by the end it sort of loses itself the way a lot of biographical documentaries that focus on still-living people do. As the finish approaches, Morrison is leading the camera on a tour of his big new house, and I could not muster any cares at all. Rather than wrap it all up and stamp itself with some cohesive idea, Talking with Gods peters off unsatisfyingly. This is in marked contrast to how Morrison himself would end one of his stories (most likely with the universe collapsing into itself and giving birth to something stranger and more wonderful). It’s a pity Morrison couldn’t perform any his magic to make his movie something greater.*
*Is that mean? It kind of reads mean, I think. I’m not trying to be mean.