Leitmotifs And Dark Beliefs

The Second Revelatory Interview - part two
By Phil & Sarah Stokes, 24 September 1999

Clive : "No, the poem is mine! This strange sense that the poem was waiting and I had to be so tired that I could not put up any psychic resistance against it and it was only the next day - I mean I kept the piece of paper on which I wrote it just to see..."

Revelations : "There's a similar story about Keith Richards coming in one night, stoned out of his head - he had a tape recorder by the bed and the next morning he played back the tape. It was mostly tuneless, casual strumming - and then the chord sequence for Satisfaction jumped out at him. And he'd just been playing away, fallen asleep doing it!"

Clive : "Ahh - I think there's a lot to be said, as we were saying last night, for getting out of your own way and sometimes exhaustion gets you out of your own way.
"What was interesting about 'Brother Plato - right or wrong', which is one of those first lines which would be kind of intriguing, is that it wasn't emotional, neccessarily - it was an argued poem:"

Brother Plato - right or wrong?
Says the tribe where I belong,
Is a family of souls in two, (Now we've got the word 'two' in...)
Me a half - another, you.
Let's stay together, one tonight, (So 'one' comes in...)
And prove our brother Plato right. (So everything swings round to brother Plato again.)

Revelations : "It's very elegant."

Clive : "Yes, it's sort of clean and patterned. And I'm much more open to those things now than I ever was before. And I know that my internal processes have changed, and hopefully will continue to change because the changes are exciting and those excitements are often to do with just learning to listen better."

Revelations : "In terms of getting out of the way, you've talked in the past of the 'fugue state' in which you wrote Imajica - which we see as being born of the disappointments of Nightbreed..."

Clive : "Right."

Revelations : "A need to sit away in a corner and not deal with anyone, to hide..."

Clive : "That's exactly right, by the way."

Revelations : "You were talking about something on the scale of Imajica again last night, but do you need to put yourself through that again?"

Clive : "One of your questions - I noted it with interest - was very much to do with that..."

Revelations : " - the creative outpouring!"

Clive : "Yes! And really it's a very smart question, because it goes to the heart of well, why the hell am I on the planet? I mean there's no question, to my mind, that in order to make something which is worth a damn, putting aside the 'Brother Plato's of the world which was totally painless, certainly at that length and that elaboration you need to go through long periods of self-doubt and agony and willed activity as opposed to spontaneous activity. And that makes a difference because I paint almost entirely in a state of spontaneous bliss - I have the best time. I very seldom write like that. I mean writing particularly a big book like that just at a certain point you are just a prisoner, absolutely, of your own invention and unable to move forward except through the medium of the work you're making. And unable to think - except about it, unable to sleep and dream - except about it, and for a long period of time that can feel smothering. And then you have moments when something catches fire in a way and you go, 'oh, I know why I'm doing this!' And particularly the revision stage with a huge book like that, simply getting the language right, simply getting the sentences properly constructed on a 900 page book of that elaboration, where nothing really... there's no coasting, there's truly no place in that book where I was describing something that I knew, even the real world sequences are not really things that I know, I was still inventing them from the ground up."

Revelations : "I think it's bizarre that people around the world are playing with cards called things like 'Streatham'!"

Clive : "I know! How great is that? Now probably Streatham is as strange to them as Patashoqua - you know?"

Revelations : "Yeah, well there are people here who call Streatham 'Saint Reathem' - so they're probably sat there going, 'Patashoqua...Saint Reatham...'"

Clive : "Oh Yeah! It goes to something interesting here, which is - let's talk if we can, I don't know if this is okay, world creation: there are a few of us - Gilliam would be a great example - there's nothing in Gilliam's movies when they're real. The Fisher King would be the prime example. Even the real world in The Fisher King is not the real world."

Revelations : "Although there's the beautiful sequence in Grand Central Station, which is stepping out of the real world for a moment."

Clive : "Yes, but even when he's describing a DJ or a Chinese restaurant..."

Revelations : "I don't want to see Gilliam in a video shop."

Clive : "No, I agree and you can feel impatience in the filmmaker when he gets to that place, like 'get me the fuck out of here'."

Revelations : "The two guys that did the film on Gilliam, are they still doing one on you?"

Clive : "They're still doing it, yeah. It's going to be a huge, huge thing."

Revelations : "The one on Gilliam, The Hamster Factor, is so insightful."

Clive : "Isn't it great? [To Fiona] Have you seen this? It's really great. It's a film made by two people, Lou and Keith, who are now making - and have been making it for the past year - a film about my work. And I've let them in on a lot of things which I've never let anyone in on before, like..for many, many hours while I've been painting, and that's quite interesting. I've made some paintings in front of them and then there's the writing and a few...and I think they'll work on it for another year and I think at the end of it they'll have, by the time they've finished it, a sense of how the pieces all fit together."

Cocteau - Deux Visages Poissons

Revelations : "Does it change how you work, having someone there, especially something like the painting, knowing they're sat in the corner?"

Clive : "No - I really have to try not to show off!"

Revelations : "There was I thinking you'd find it more difficult, but no, you want to show off..."

Clive : "The terrible danger is that it all gets terribly showy - you'll paint something that you know you can paint well as opposed to the agony of scratches and scrawlings. I mean, when I am drawing something in people's books, knowing that I have 20 seconds to do it, I have a gallery of 12 or maybe 15 things which I will do variations of. If someone was to say, 'Gee, I really would like a picture of Buckingham Palace, I'd be fucked!! because I don't have the kind of shorthand, you know, to make that work, so there's a certain number of things - Cocteau taught me this, Cocteau is the great master of having just a few lines...he painted fawns, he painted satyrs' heads, beautiful young men with snub noses and long, elegant eyes that came up over and over again. Picasso does the same thing, I mean the shorthand..."

Daumier - The Uprising

Revelations : "I can just picture a film crew standing behind Van Gogh and him thinking, 'I know what I can do - I'll do some sunflowers...'"

Clive : "Exactly! Sunflowers - and I can do them real quick too!"

Goya - Caprices 41: Neither More Nor Less

Revelations : "It's like being a cartoonist instead of an artist, because they take the essence of something."

Clive : "Yes, and it's very interesting... Cartoonists will tend to, by and large, take things which are familiar to him or to her and go back to the same things, whether it's a civil servant... even someone like Gilray, or Daumier who was an artist as opposed to simply a cartoonist - Goya in the Caprichios and the more comical things; you can see him returning to his favourite things - mad old women and donkeys, you know, the sort of..."

Revelations : "Yes, they're always good for a laugh."

Clive : "Well you're right, I think you're exactly right, that they're always good for a laugh, and he knew that and he was attempting to entertain his audience and make them feel engaged, and he wanted to make them laugh, you know - he was an entertainer, so there is a terrible tendancy to show off."

That bloody man with the beard again...

Revelations : "Well, when we get you to sign some of our books today, we'll ask for something other than the man with the beard."

Clive : "Right, something completely different."

Revelations : "It'll turn into something like, 'Got it, got it, need it, got it...' It's going to be like the Imajica cards, isn't it?"

Clive : "Well the tremendous and really fun thing is when somebody, and it happens once in a while, you get someone who comes in with a leather jacket and a silver pen, and you know I do this very rarely but when I do it I try to do it properly, and he says, 'OK - you've got the back of my leather jacket - Go for it!' I usually say, 'How much can I go for it?'"

Revelations : "Do you ever want to wear it in public? Do you still live with your mother?"

Clive : "Exactly. And if they say - because they're seldom the kind of person who would say, 'Ooh - you've got to be careful,' you end up putting this huge icthyphallic demon looking leaning on the back of the thing with its dick somewhere up between the middle of its eyes, and you see the guy's eyes going, 'Oh dear, oh dear...'"

Revelations : "'Oh, and did I mention it's for my girlfriend?...'"

Clive : "Right, right, right! But that sort of thing is fun to do."

Revelations : "What - watching his face?"

Clive : "Exactly, it's just tremendous. But also, the thing is, in many ways I see my job as pushing the boundaries, the limits of what can be said, what can be shown, what can be discussed, what can be enjoyed."

Revelations : "Is it just an apocryphal tale that, shortly after you moved to London, Scotland Yard burned a whole bunch of your drawings?."

Clive : "No, that's true. It was one issue of a magazine that I did the centrefold for - that was all that was burned. It was called 'S & M Magazine' - SaM - and I was invited by the editor, whose name was Brian Derbyshire, to draw a double-page spread in the middle of the thing, and Brian called me up and said, 'If the doorbell rings, don't answer it!' And he said why not to.... Unfortunately, I lost the original as well. It was two men fucking and one of them was tied up and it was not very subtle. Probably even now, well..."

Revelations : "Is there really anything now that would command that sort of reaction?"

Clive : "Well, I am surprised constantly by things. When Eyes Wide Shut was shown to Warner Brothers, the incredibly tame orgy in that movie - they digitally put figures in front of it."

Revelations : "Well, Jack Valenti made them..."

Clive : "Right, but the fact is that Kubrick had already agreed before his demise - oh yeah, this is not after-the-act, which is extraordinary."

Revelations : "We're getting the uncut version."

Clive : "Without the figures? It's playing without the figures?"

Revelations : "Yes, it's playing across Europe without the figures."

Clive : "Isn't that interesting...isn't that interesting."

Revelations : "Mind you, who wouldn't want their figures digitally enhanced?"

Clive : "There is a rumour that certain actors from Star Trek have had their bottoms nipped and tucked several times, and I can sort of believe that."

Revelations : "Too right! William Shatner's hair must be a prime candidate all the way since the T.J.Hooker poodle version!"

Clive : "Digital fixes...digital fixes."

Revelations : "Characters. There's something you say in Private Legends about the fact that everything you put on the page is you anyway."

Clive : "Yes."

Revelations : "But how do feel when one of them fights for more space when you go back and do a redraft or grabs you a second time in a way that they didn't do the first time, so that you have to go back and rewrite them? Or in the way that Pinhead eclipsed what you wanted to tell, which was basically a love story from beyond the grave, so as suddenly to generate yet another monster-led franchise?"

Clive : "Well I think, Phil, that those are two different questions."

Revelations : "Actually, probably five or six!"

Clive : "Right!"

Revelations : "Just like the final question in the Q & A session last night! I felt so sorry for you, because you were actually having to follow it so as to be able to give an answer."

Clive : "Yes, like there's going to be a question mark somewhere in this sentence!... Here there are two separate questions: the Pinhead phenomenon, if that's what we should call it, was really audience-driven; it was an audience coming to those movies and saying, 'We really like this bloke, we want to see more of him.' And then some marketing men in their wisdom say, 'Here's what you need to do in the next movie: get him on the poster, plastic models and so on...' That's a very different thing to the first part of your question, which is where you were talking about the way that a character demands more attention. An example would be Marietta in Galilee, who was a minor, minor player. She's still obviously not the chief character in the book, but she really demanded more attention. I enjoyed being with her. I just enjoyed her company..."

Revelations : "Maddox enjoyed being with Marietta."

Clive : "Maddox enjoyed being with Marietta, and Maddox is me. But Maddox was also slightly pissed off with Marietta, and the thing about Marietta is that she is, in a sort of sense, Maddox's introduction to life, life outside L'Enfant, and he's lived, in a sense, vicariously through her, and one of the scenes I loved (there were two scenes I loved writing for Marietta) one where she comes to look for the poem she is going to read to her girlfriend, she finds that poem which is purportedly written by an ex-nun, and the other when she and her lesbian friends come in at the end."

Revelations : "That's the one I remember!"

Clive : "There you go!"

Revelations : "Essential, absolutely 'Essential'!"

Clive : "They are rather Bacchic, of course, in one sense they are a mob, but actually they are almost trying to be life-affirming by coming into this place, which has been a fairly melancholic place, with new energy and new life, and I knew that scene was going to happen."

Revelations : "Maddox knew that it was dangerous for them to be entering the estate, and yet he welcomed it, despite knowing it to be the beginning of the end."

Clive : "Right, and actually I think the parallel is with the state of Yzordderex at the end of Imajica in which Gentle returns to the city which was a city of power, in which his own alter ego had ruled, to find it had been entirely turned over to water, children and women - and so this isn't the first time that I have played with the idea that the next evolution of the House of God is that it becomes the House of the Goddess. In Madonna, the story of water-women and strange births, again, obviously, the images were strong for me; the idea that the Goddess form has been repressed and smothered and that the time has come for it to spring out, and it will spring out in that most terrifying of forms (terrifying for male certainty) flow, changeability, that most protean of things - things that cannot be fixed.
"Language is, for me, much more masculine than it is feminine, because language operates - even when it's argumentative: Brother Plato, right or wrong - that's an argumentative piece of language. Still there's something about the way those words work for us that, yes, our intellect is being engaged, but actually something we cannot fix is also being engaged, which is so much more important.
"I think of cinema as being essentially rather a masculine art form, and I think that painting and certainly music, which is the art form I envy most, painting and the writing of words in poetry or novels as being feminine forms in the sense that they, in their creation, even though you use your intellect, you engage your intellect, you also engage some much deeper place in yourself in which the work is not susceptible to intellectual investigation. The things that I care most about, the writing that I care most about in my pieces, is stuff which defies simple summary; the way the feminine principle does. Now you may say the male principle does too, but I would say it's rather too simply summarised..."

Revelations : "You place yourself in the role of populist, which is very different to Blake's position where he held, 'If it's simple, I'm not interested; if it can be explained to an idiot, I don't go there, I'm only interested in things which trouble the higher intellect.'"

William Blake - The Tyger

Clive : "Right. Let's look at this in the context of 'Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night.' There's 'Tiger tiger burning bright,' which, everybody knows, is in one sense an incredibly simple series of images: here is a tiger burning bright in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye framed thy fearful symmetry? In other words, how were you made, how is it possible you were made? Is it possible that the same hand that made you also made the Lamb? Well, yes, it is, says Blake, it is very possible and on one level that is an incredibly simple idea - the tiger is terrible and magnificent and fearsome, and the lamb is gentle and soft and vulnerable, but God made them both. But now, take away the thesis of the poem and you first look at the words, and the words have this energy. You can say, 'Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forests of the night,' and it's an invocation. I defy anybody to say those words don't feel different on a Monday to the way they do on a Tuesday. There's something about those words which is almost infinite."

Revelations : "There's a rhythm and a rhyme which is the invocation which is just like prayer."

Clive : "Borges said recently in an essay, well, not recently but in an essay I read recently, Borges was extremely good, I think, about talking about how complicated simple things were, but also how at some root place, if one just plugged into that thing, you either got it or you didn't get it. And he was talking about, 'I long to go to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,' - Masefield. And he said to his interviewer, 'Either you understand that or you don't, and if you don't understand it, I'm not about to try and explain it to you.' And I thought that was very smart, because what Blake of course meant by a higher intellect or an educated man or whatever, is probably very different to what we would now mean. There will be only one sense in which that educated audience will be intellectually immensely sophisticated, but on another level be immensely sophisticated about a small number of things. Our problem, it seems to me, is that we have this vast array of knowledge, this vast amount of information that we know at a very shallow level. Blake's contemporaries would have known, I think, a lot about a little, which is much more important, in my assessment, than knowing a little about a lot. You know, if you know a little about a lot then you're Jeremy Paxman, and you can pass yourself off as a very smart person at 9 o'clock at night, but it doesn't mean a whole heap."

Fiona : "He's doing 'Start The Week' now - in the mornings."

Revelations : "Well you can fool some of the people some of the time..."

Clive : "Exactly!"

Click here for Part Three...

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