Watching Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts is a bit like plugging some kind of ethereal feed into your brain stem that’s constantly spewing an angry coil of energy and creative bravado. Warren Ellis is a legendary comics writer, a futurist icon, a cyberpunk philosopher, Internet Jesus. These could easily be empty terms, buzz words, excuses. If you believe that now, you won’t after seeing this film. It hits you like a whiskey-soaked punch and keeps pushing you forward, face first, until you understand that comics as we know them now would not exist without this man. Warren Ellis is a man who sees the future, and Captured Ghosts is a film that peels back his endless layers of mystique and cigarette smoke-clouded persona until you understand why.
Created by the same team that produced the remarkable Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods, Captured Ghosts is another attempt to document the creative essence and impact of a revolutionary comics writer. But while Talking with Gods maintains a visual language of psychedelic, cartwheeling nirvana, Captured Ghosts works with a different palette. Director Patrick Meaney and director of photography Jordan Rennert craft a bold mixed media montage of re-enactments, interviews, moving collages and yes, even puppets, and the result is something that feels like a Warren Ellis comic. It’s futuristic and experimental and ballsy, and it’s the perfect backdrop for the story of Warren Ellis to play out.
Ellis did not grow up under the trance of superheroes. His idol was a purer, more humanity driven form of science fiction, from his memories of the moon landing to his obsessive reading of legendary British comics anthology 2000 AD. The result was a writer who wasn’t interested in doing comics anyone was used to seeing. He was interested in branching out, breaking the code, breaching expectations.
Captured Ghosts is about both how and why Ellis became one of the most influential writers in the history of his medium. Through interviews with Ellis himself as well as fellow comics writers Garth Ennis, Matt Fraction, Kieron Gillen, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Joss Whedon, artists Darick Robertson, Phil Jimenez, Ben Templesmith and Molly Crabapple, pornstar Stoya, journalist Rich Johnston, movie goddess Helen Mirren and loads more, a picture begins to form very quickly of just how influential this man is. Even if you’ve read his work faithfully for two decades, you probably can’t begin to conceive the scope of it unless you’re inside the industry. They all confess to it. Ellis is the man. Without him, everything would be different.
Why, exactly? It’s because he doesn’t just write damn good comics. It’s because he was riding the wave of the internet into the future before almost all of his fellow scribes. It’s because he built a network of artists and scientists and performers and scholars and other writers and found ways to give them greater voice. It’s because he took the reins of American superhero comics and found ways to shift them in astounding new directions. It’s because he’s a man who’s not only looking up at the world around him, but also looking ahead, on constant information overload, into the future.
The future plays a big role in Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts, if only because Ellis seems to have seen it coming a long time before most of us did, and seems to continue to see it with more clarity than many of us could ever hope for. The filmmakers latch onto this, and so do the interview subjects. The result is a mashup of colorful explanations for why Ellis is so important – one interviewee goes so far as declaring “Warren Ellis will fuck you with the future and make you say thank you.” – that all add up to the one truth about what Ellis is doing in his work: he’s reaching people.
Though it’s laden with doom in its imagery, music and subject matter, Captured Ghosts ends up being a film about the unique brand of hope one man with his eye forever on the horizon brings to a shifting world. It’s a bold, addictive, honest sucker punch of a movie, made all the more potent when you realize that at its heart is a man who – despite the carefully crafted persona – is in the end, as he puts it, “just wired for telling stories.”
Check out the trailer for Captured Ghosts and visit warrenellismovie.com for more info on when and where you can see the flick.