Long Live My Happy Head review – comic book artist illustrates his own mortality | Movies


Gordon Shaw is a Scottish artist and comic book creator who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in his early 30s; this documentary shows him coming to terms with his condition by transforming it into graphic art, an open-ended autobiographical project which takes the form of zines, pictures and exhibitions.

Shaw has the inspired idea of taking the notorious buzzing and deafening clangs experienced by people undergoing an MRI scan and converting these sounds into an electronic musical event, which people would experience from within a scanner-style enclosure. (“It’s horizontal techno, but of course you can’t dance!”) He calls his tumour “Rick” (the way Dennis Potter called his cancer “Rupert” after Rupert Murdoch, but “Rick” doesn’t seem to be anyone he dislikes) and this film shows him fighting the growth with humour and honesty.

This is a film with its own artless, almost amateur kind of video-diary directness, and Shaw himself has a childlike kind of smileyness and fun. And his trials are made even more challenging by the fact that his partner Shawn lives in the United States: Shaw’s condition makes it difficult for him to travel out there to see him – and then Covid arrives, making it difficult for Shawn to come over. Towards the end of the film, with the clinical news getting worse, Shaw addresses the camera directly in his flat (seated just next to a Bill Hicks cushion) and speaks with candour about what his choices are right now. It would have been interesting to hear more from Shaw about the work itself, and from his audience about what they get out of the imagery. But this is a tender portrait.

Long Live My Happy Head is released on 18 March in cinemas.

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