Show Pieces (2014)

Review first published by Grolsch FilmWorks

Nothing could be more mysterious, or indeed more mundane, than death. It transcends the barriers of class, gender, age. It is universal, and yet also brutally particular – and life’s biggest punchline, with no comeback usually possible. Throw in sex, and you have the two most important themes of human experience, and of art. This is what gives Show Pieces its potency. A collection of three closely interrelated short films taken from a larger body of audiovisual collaborations between photographer Mitch Jenkins and graphic novel supremo Alan Moore, it takes us on a journey into the Northampton underworld, where eros, thanatos and clownish comedy intersect in a mystic rite of passage.

In Act of Faith, well-to-do young journalist Faith Harrington (Siobhan Hewlett) – whose CD collection prominently includes an album by Faith No More – prepares to flirt with death in an edgy sex game that may well go hilariously, tragically wrong. In Jimmy’s End, middle-aged James Mitchum (Darrell D’Silva) stumbles lost one rainy night into the St James’ End Working Man’s Club, where, after meeting the forlorn Faith, the old school double act of Matchbright and Metterton (Robert Goodman, Alan Moore), and a morose clown (Andrew Buckley) accompanied by a giggling stripper (Khandie Khisses), he comes to realise that this joint is a theatricalised, Lynchian limbo where he is to be the evening’s star attraction. Finally, in The Heavy Heart, James is confronted with his past erotic sins, and cuts a fitting deal to atone for them.

Infused with a gaudy beauty and underpinned by constant unease (the flickering lights, the ringing phone that is never answered, the creepily conspiratorial nudge-nudge wink-wink innuendo), Show Pieces unfolds in a surreal interzone between everyday life and something altogether more infernal. Translating the Egyptian Book of the Dead into incongruous Northampton idioms, the film all at once elevates and banalises “the long expected great surprise”, turning death into a big gag without ever stripping it of its uncanny terror. It also reconfigures this ancient English town as a necropolis of lost souls, all slow-dancing together to a band that merely pretends to play (like in Mulholland Dr.‘s purgatorial Club Silenzio) while an old reel-to-reel tape churns out the discordant music.

For the most part these three pieces shape themselves into a coherent (if pleasingly varied) whole, and only expose their essentially episodic nature with an ending that, though certainly apocalyptic, fizzles out a little disappointingly – as if a further chapter is missing (which is, of course, precisely the case). Still, this Midlands memento mori remains a genuine curiosity, matching a strong sense of place to a mood all its own – and all its clownishness is a mere masquerade for something far more grave (or should that be the other way around?).

Anton Bitel