Reviewing Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts

Greg Baldino writes for Bleeding Cool

As I write this, Warren Ellis’ second novel Gun Machine has made it onto the New York Times bestseller list five days after its release.

That’s not bad.

It’s an accolade that arrives between two feature films based on his graphic novel Red. There’s at least one more prose novel in the works, plus a non-fiction book from Farrar Straus and Giroux. There’s also the TV series in the works based on Gun Machine, (which based on my earlier review back in October will WORK, having to make really only one minor change to the book to make a long-running serial feasible.)

Which makes the full-length documentary Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts from Sequart all the more interesting.

Announced hot after the heels of Patrick Meaney’s Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods—literally, the trailer for Ghosts premiered at C2E2 in 2010 at the end of Sequart’s panel on the Morrison documentary—it’s interesting for two reasons.

One, it’s a very well-paced and organized look at Ellis as a writer, from his personal history to his process. The video is built around two days’ worth of interviews with the writer, intercut with comments and observations from his friends and collaborators—including Helen Mirren, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Darick Robertson, Stoya, Garth Ennis, Matt Fraction, Zoetica Ebb, Matt Jones, Molly Crabapple, Rich Johnston, and others. Also intercut with the narrative are a number of recreations from classic scenes in Ellis’ comics, including one which utilizes a Warren Ellis “Muppet” which was offered as a pledge incentive during the original Kickstarter campaign to fund the final production of the film. It’s an interesting and intimate piece that is peppered with much of Ellis’ jagged wit, but also a large amount of sincerity.

For another, it’s great to see how Patrick Meaney has developed as a filmmaker. The structure on Ghosts feels tighter, more structured than Talking With Gods—notnecessarily learning from mistakes, but definitely learning what worked and why. The DVD includes quite a lot of footage which was cut from the full feature; it’s all good stuff, but having watched both docs I get the feeling that Meaney has an even better idea now of how to take an assortment of conversations and build an arc out of them. There’s a lovely bit of narrative to it where the film begins with Ellis reminiscing about his father’s own aspirations as a writer (Gerry Ellis had one novel published, the crime caper The Thursday Shed) and the influence of his father in his life; then towards the end, the film addresses Ellis’ own role as a father to his daughter Lilli.

It’s captivating to see those parallels come together, just as it is to see also how much of Ellis’ career ties in with a number of key shifts in the shape and scope of the comics industry. It is also amazing to see just how many people got married off the Warren Ellis forum. (The story of how Fraction and DeConnick is just “awwww” inducing.)

Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts is a fascinating look at where Warren Ellis has been, and prompts a lot of curiosity about what Meaney will do with his next film on Chris Claremont, due in March of 2013.

Find out more about upcoming Sequart projects at http://sequart.org/

Greg Baldino writes for a number of publications and websites, including Newcity, Rain Taxi, Sequential Tart, and more. @gregbaldino is where he keeps track of it all. He is severely worried about who got the puppet from the Kickstarter and what they have done with it. “It’s not a crime if… PUPPET Warren Ellis does it!”

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