Review: Alan Moore And Kevin O’Neill’s ‘Cinema Purgatorio: This is Sinerama’
by Koom Kankesan
Alan Moore And Kevin O'Neill's 'Cinema Purgatorio: This is Sinerama'
Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill follow up their vaunted League series with a collaboration that plays to their strengths. Taken from the pages of the Cinema Purgatorio anthology, this collection features dreamlike episodes in which a narrator visits a macabre and disturbing revival theatre. The films she and we watch are both familiar and alien. Weaving together Moore’s predilection for cultural history, the dreamlife surrounding ‘reality’, and human accountability through O’Neill’s unique sensibility and craft, this slim yet satisfying volume is searing and sanguine in its salutation to sin – a fitting capstone and counterpoint to the League work.
-detailed, lavish art
-sharp and informed, incisive writing
-wonderful and numinous handling of dreamtime and the afterlife
-mainstream comics fans won’t get it (wait – that’s actually a pro!)
The collected Cinema Purgatorio: This is Sinerama by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, published by Avatar, collects the chapters from the comics – originally a Kickstarter backed serial that also featured stories by creators such as Garth Ennis, Raúlo Cáceres, Max Brooks, Michael DiPascale, Kieron Gillen, Ignacio Calero, Christos Gage, and Gabriel Andrade. If one doesn’t count the collected volume as a reprint, this might truly be Moore’s swan song to comics, especially in light of the recent announcements concerning future works of fiction by him from Bloomsbury. It’s tempting (because it’s also a collaboration with O’Neill) to compare this work with the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen saga, but it’s different and connects more with other Moore projects.
The League is a very long and involved, complex, shifting work whereas This is Sinerama can be read in a single sitting. Beyond O’Neill’s artwork which to me appears slightly different (more on that below) from that in The League, the main similarity is that this work also contains allusions to works of culture (in this case older cinema) but doesn’t require the reader to be as adept a detective or knowledgeable in terms of references.
The ethos is different too: each vignette or chapter involves an unseen narrator, a woman, who dreams herself visiting a retro theatre that plays old films. The films contain references to actual films but in dream fashion, skew towards references to the creators and personnel involved with the films, often in ways that are psychologically disturbing and refer to injustices in their lives. The theatre attendee also gets to know the manager (Mr. Flicker who bears a certain resemblance to Hitler) and employees of the theatre, not to mention steady shadowy patrons, who all seem to be surreal carnivalesque characters out of a nightmarish realm.
Those of you who have seen Moore and Mitch Jenkins’ film cycle The Show will recognize this vibe pretty quickly and then work out that the cinema is not in dreamland so much as purgatory. In many ways, this work crosses over with The Show (and it would be so great for us North Americans to see the film that follows the short film cycle) more than it does with The League. Those who have been long standing readers of Moore’s work will know that beyond references to culture and their impact on our consciousness, he’s also very concerned with human culpability and moral accountability. As in Providence, we have a central character that the reader quickly comes to realize is an unreliable narrator, especially where her own life is concerned. There’s a reason she’s here in purgatory and her cognitive dissonance and rewriting of the narrative gradually burn away to reveal moral failings.
Moore is also concerned with the injustices and inequities perpetrated by the industry in which the films referenced take place. It’s hard not to align that with Moore’s trenchant criticism of the comics industry and his treatment (and the treatment of other prominent creators) at its hands. As a final work of comics, it stands on its own as a very readable, entertaining but thought provoking work which points to his interests and sensibilities. As always, this is probably going to divide traditional comics fans but dyed-in-the-wool Moore fans will find much to like.
I haven’t read the other contributions to the original anthology but I wondered whether the other creators also had their characters visiting this cinema and seeing films – i.e. was that the central conceit of all the narratives? And were the other cinema patrons in the Moore/O’Neill chapters characters from those other narratives?
Finally, the art is stupendous. O’Neill puts a great deal of effort and work into the detail that make up his panels and pages. He works solo so these pages, like those from The League, involve a fair amount of plasticity and planning as Moore does not take his storytelling lightly. Since the art here is black and white, invoking a kind of silver screen dream fugue, there is the use of washes to induce a pearly sheen reminiscent of silver nitrate.
I enjoyed the work very much and recommend it wholeheartedly if you like Moore’s work from the latter part of his career. I once read a Facebook comment that said Moore and O’Neill love to work together because they hate the same things. If this is correct, the intensity of their mutual dislikes produces some very delightfully precise and engaging work.
Cinema Purgatorio: This is Sinerama is available how from Avatar Press