Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Movie Review: Confessions of a Superhero

This is a lovely movie. Maybe more for comics fans than anyone else... I don't know. It's really for anyone who dreams of being more than they are, but constantly feels the sting of falling short of that ideal.

The documentary follows four Hollywood "characters", the term given to people who dress up as superheroes, movie and/or cartoon characters and work the tourist-trap portions of Hollywood. By work, I mean they make themselves available to pose in tourist photos and hope that said tourists will tip them. They legally can't ask for money, so they are entirely at the mercy of tourists for their income. The late Johnny Grant, honorary mayor of Hollywood, refers to them as dirty panhandlers while they see themselves using this gig as a stepping stone to their own Hollywood dreams.

As the documentary progresses, we get to know the real people behind the masks and costumes, and what led them here. There's real pathos, and things aren't always what they appear to be. Early on, I was struck by the obsessiveness of Superman Chris, a man that seems to be buried by the Supeman identity (along with a virtual warehouse full of Kal-El ephemera). Watching him talk about Superman, I couldn't help but think of myself and wonder if I sound like that when I'm talking about comics. How obsessed am I? Am I that far gone?

Ulitimately, I realize that I'm not one to judge, no one is. Everyone has their own private passions and demons to deal with. The documentary ends with somewhat of a resolution for each character, though questions linger. The film gets under the skin of its subject much like Crumb does, and finds the unexpected. It challenges the viewer to overcome the natural reaction to dismiss these people, and actually empathize with them.

It's a beautifully shot film that makes a canny use of still photos in between segments. The photos are slightly oversaturated and framed to look like decades-old slides, borrowing the intimiate feelings of nostalgia, and a time after one's prime. The film makers also have a good eye for what to look out for, it seems, teasing out hints dropped by their subjects. In the end, I found it uplifting, like that there is hope for all of us.

Also (there's a bit of it in the trailer) my favorite part is when Superman Chris takes it upon himself to briefly mentor an newer character on the scene. The conversation between Superman and Ghost Rider goes pretty much like any comic fan should expect.




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