May 31, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Savannah, Georgia, from 1979 to 1983 was not the best place to hear unusual new sounds that were coming out of punk and new wave bands at the time — and interesting music out of England — though I did try. Not all of it appealed to me, but some of it did — at the time, it was like culture shock. Having been raised like so many at the time on the tame sounds of Casey Kasem’s Top 40 as the soundtrack to my young life — dude, it was still a novelty to have tape decks in every car — even something like Siouxsie and the Banshees or pre-Combat Rock Clash could be a little bit of a leap in the small town south.
One thing young generations do besides embracing the now is getting cozy with the radical past and I did so alongside my friends — it was the ‘60s, in this case, and bands like The Doors and The Who and such. Hardly radical. And I was always uncomfortable with the ‘60s, honestly. I was terribly interested in The Now, and certain bands from England took edge over the ‘60s stuff — Squeeze, Nick Lowe, Madness, The Ramones. And I liked plenty of lame current stuff as well. And stuff that was somewhere in between — The Tubes were one of my favorites. They were almost but not quite not lame. And they were reviled, which makes it rebellious in a weird sort of way.
When I got to college, that was the point I began to discover — and adore — so many of the bands that had either eluded me or just befuddled me. The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Cramps, bands like that . . . either long gone or with their best work behind them (The Cramps still had a few years in them, thankfully). I was mining the recent past.
Come the late ‘80s, though, I was less enthralled with much of current music, though I still had my intense likes — They Might Be Giants, The Pogues, The Pixies, Pop Will Eat Itself, Les Negresse Vertes, Mano Negra, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, XTC, in some ways that was the best era for current sounds for me. Other than those, the music that was REALLY moving me were sounds I discovered through Norton Records, sounds from the ‘50s and early ‘60s, sounds from a world before the Beatles.
Man, that’s a world of sound that I loved. If by the 1990s, I couldn’t care less about Nirvana or Peal Jam or any of that stuff, I was thrilled by volumes and volumes of Desperate Rock and Roll or Las Vegas Grind or the Madness Invasion or Sin Alley or Swing for a Crime. I think that music really taught me the lesson that punk had in a more recent form — the ideas of DIY and low-fi creativity, the concept of passion over talent or capability, the realities of using your guile to overcome the technology. It was great music, sometimes insane.
By the mid ‘90s, I was totally out of step with current music other than ska. I was still taken by the ‘50s stuff, but had also moved into the realms of Sinatra (who I had loved since childhood, but only as an adult really understood) and Serge Gainsbourg.
Serge was a revolutionary creator for me, he opened wide the door to French music that had been cracked by Les Negresses Vertes and the sounds of that country (up until the early 70s) really began to become my favorite pop music.
By the late 1990s, I had also come to mine jazz and a whole new world was opening up to me, one that was largely forgotten by the mainstream radio at the time (though college, in its embrace of “cocktail music” did acknowledge jazz — and people like Tom Waits never forgot it, nor did Morphine, but I never really got into them). And so I began to love Slim Gaillard and Louis Armstrong and Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Jordan and Sy Oliver and Duke Ellington and Lester Young, among many others.
I also began revisiting the ‘50s — this time, away from rock and more into country. I fell in love with Bob Wills and Patsy Cline and Ella Mae Morse and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Any new music I listened to came in the form of bands like Man or Astroman and Southern Culture on the Skids — or whatever ska band I liked at the time. Oh, and Cibo Matto. Mostly, anyway. Their CDs were never as good as their initial singles. And the Evolutionary Control Committee.
You can imagine that by the time Kurt Cobain died, it didn’t mean much to me and I still don’t really get it.
As the 2000s approached, I’m still out of touch, I admit it. More and more, the music I like is tinged with foreign sounds — traditional rock music largely bores me, but this trend towards touches of Eastern Europe is exciting. DeVotchka, Balkan Beat Box, Gogol Bordello, this is my stuff. I am more out of touch with popular music culture than I ever have been and the bands that eluded me originally are even further away in my understanding of why people listen to it — REM? What? They’re still around?
I like foreign bands alot. They offer something a little different. They’re as current as I get. Stereo Total, I’m From Barcelona, Komeda, The Jessica Fletchers, lots of others.
I also like electronica, mash-ups, dancey things — the real result of the new world of technology, the sound of people having fun with sounds rather than trying to have careers. That’s the sound of the obscure, regional ‘50s rock I loved, of be-bop jazz, of the early punks, of the local level new wavers, and of bands like The Pogues and Les Negresses Vertes and Gogol Bordello, who never had any reason to believe that people would want to hear the kind of music they produced.
And so when I look back the history of my musical taste — which has been sketched out here in a vague, sweeping way, rather than getting into a lot of great detail — it’s one that’s very on it’s own road. My musical taste is entirely out of step with the world around me. But I realize that I’ve always been that way — as a young teen, when all the kids around me were into The Beatles or Heart or Led Zeppelin or whatever, I liked the Oak Ridge Boys. Nothing to brag about, certainly — not in the normal sense of the word brag, anyhow — but it helps me realize that being oblivious to what’s current and following my own musical muse and going over the past again and again and again is just my way of being.
Sometimes that means I do a lot of catch-up to things I either missed or wasn’t very interested in at the time — it took a couple solo records by Morrissey for me to embrace The Smiths, for instance and that was at the same point that while I was discovering them after the fact, Morrissey’s music, which seemed interesting to me initially, began to bore me immensely.
Anyhow, that’s the Brief History of My Musical Taste. I have no idea where it will be headed next, I get pickier with age, my sphere of interest gets smaller, more particular. I’ve always loved accordions, though. And Kid Creole and the Coconuts. There is that
May 31, 2008 § 1 Comment
Did you know that the band Asia not only exists still, but exists in two different forms? Indeed. There is the original line-up — your Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer version — and then another line-up with a bunch of new guys, helmed by the guy who took Howe’s place on their third album, John Payne.
Who the hell is John Payne? Does anyone outside of Asia fans even know? And would anyone publicly proclaim themselves such in 2008?
I step forward, I bought the band’s first three albums as a teenager. For all the great and interesting taste I might have had, it was confounded by some truly dreadful taste in music, of which Asia is certainly the very lowest I ever sunk. You have to understand, being a Yeshead, Asia was the one place I could get new Steve Howe licks. Being a Buggles fanatic, Asia was the one place I could get new keyboard stylings by Geoff Downes.
I was slave to their flip side, “Ride Easy,” which gave Howe the chance to let loose — he was reigned in on that album. Wasn’t that sad?
The second album, I did not like it as much as the first. It had a muddy production, for one. For two, it wasn’t very good. And they reigned in Howe even more. The third album, forget it. Howe had left the band and this guy Payne was in. Not only was Payne no Steve Howe, he was no friggin’ Trevor Rabin — and Asia was left in the dust once Yes reformed anyhow. I understand, intellectually, that Yes is a silly band, but I love them anyhow. And “Owner of a Lonely Heart”; is still fun.
So intent on hearing new work by Steve Howe that I fought for the dorm television to air the Asia Live In Asia special on MTV. Boy, Greg Lake, now there’s a guy who can’t sing — but he didn’t ruin my enjoyment of Howe. Dude! Howe!
Anyhow, I can’t say I’m very interested in either version of Asia that is floating around. It’s been a good 20 years since I’ve bothered to listen to anything by the band, except the lick to “Heat of the Moment” which I was considering sampling for a song. I didn’t. There’s always a chance, though.
Anyhow, I apologize for being such a dork and buying Asia albums.
Next time, we’ll tackle the Fleetwood Mac problem.
May 30, 2008 § Leave a Comment
There is no argument — Jack Kirby is the single most important figure in 20th Century comic books. Whether you like his work or not, whether you appreciate his ideas or not, no single person has had so much of his output spread so vigorously throughout the industry.
And if you think this is something that should only matter to comic book fans, consider this — Jack Kirby had his hand in some of the biggest movie and television blockbusters of recent years. “Iron Man,” for instance — Kirby had a major hand in his creation, doing the initial designs for the character and then taking over the art chores on the book soon after. More importantly, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Captain America and the X-Men, among others, are all Kirby creations.
Furthermore, his later characters the New Gods — most notably the villain Darkseid — has played a major role in “Super Friends” and the “Justice League” cartoons over the last two decades, becoming very familiar to kids everywhere.
He’s also the guy Roy Lichtenstein co-opted for his famous pop art works.
Jack Kirby was the George Lucas of his day, creating fictional universes that would provide plenty of fuel for others to build upon — but he was tons better because he wasn’t derivative. He was even a little mad — how else would you explain someone who did a monthly comic book based on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and actually made it fun?
In Mark Evanier’s new art book and biography, “Kirby: King of Comics,” Kirby’s career is traced from his humble beginnings in the comic book sweat shops of the 1930s to his death — and point of triumphant acknowledgment for contributions to the world of comic books — in 1994. Evanier’s presentation is alternately gushing and honest — he’s not one to gloss over mistakes Kirby might have made in his work — and through one man provides a great history of the way comic books have been published.
Kirby started out in the cartoon studios, where hordes of artists were employed to churn out second tier comic strips at cut rate prices. From there, he moved through several comparable situations, including an agreeable tenure at Will Eisner’s studio, before ending up at Timely Comics, the precursor for Marvel. The situation was not ideal, but did team him up with Joe Kirby, with whom he would create the seminal character Captain America.
In the 1950s, Simon and Kirby refined the romance comic and ventured into surreal superhero satire with the Fighting American. In the 1960s, Kirby changed comic books forever at Marvel Comics, teaming with Stan Lee to create the tone and style of the modern superhero story. These were superheroes with real personalities and problems — Clark Kents who became Superman, not vice versa — and the stories often touched on themes that were traditionally too lofty for the superhero genre, most notably the idea that power brought responsibility.
Kirby went on to produce as string of insanely clever science fiction comics for DC in the 1970s — most notably “Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth” and “Omac, the One Man Army Corps” — and continued doing so for several companies until his death. His work was prolific, his ideas one of a kind.
Kirby was also the poster boy for creative rights within the comic book industry, the idea that artists deserve more compensation for creating these characters than a standard page rate. Consider this — when Jack Kirby came up with the multitudes of characters for Marvel, he was coming up with models for toys and movies and television shows and clothing and accessories and more. In return, Marvel Comics dismissed him from their employment and refused to give him his original art back. Kirby fought back and, years later, finally won.
Even with all the historical information, the real star of the show is the artwork. The book is lavish in its illustrations, from full color cover reproductions to plenty of examples of Kirby’s pencil work and character designs. It’s a beautiful and fitting presentation that serves not merely as a tribute this very important comic book creator, but an explanation of why he is important and a revelation for those who don’t know but should.
May 30, 2008 § Leave a Comment
I went through that phase, the one I imagine many others do, where you begin to believe that Charles Schulz and his comic strip “Peanuts” are trite. The funny thing is that it’s not the comic strip that actually brings you to this conclusion — it’s the over exposure.
You trudge through life being mentally bludgeoned by greeting cards and notebooks and Dolly Madison snack cakes all using Charlie Brown and his friends to bring up sales and they begin to obscure your vision to the comic strip itself.
But then you hit a certain point in life where two things happen — you really get Sinatra and you really get Charles Schultz. You know what it is? Everyone walks under dark clouds and a few of those clouds manage to get just close to ground level and obscure your way.
When you’re young, you revel in the darkness, but when you’re older, it becomes so much fodder for other aspects. Sinatra becomes someone to love because he’s been there, too — he’s the poster boy for dark times, but he still comes out ring-a-ding-dinging. Schulz, however, offers something more important — the ability to look into the abyss and laugh at it.
Charles Schulz, as it happens, is deep. Very deep.
This becomes very apparent when you sit down and read many, many “Peanuts” strips in succession — it becomes the sum of very unassuming little parts and you begin to see the other reason you ever thought it was trite at all. At a rate of three or four panels, once a day (six on Sundays!), it becomes something you read and walk away from, you give a little chuckle, you move along. But it quietly builds up in your subconscious and a collection like Fantagraphics’ “The Complete Peanuts” — with its current edition covering 1967 and 1968 — provides a precise road map to what it sneaks inside of you.
A recent biography revealed that Schultz suffered from some level of depression, but I didn’t need a book to tell me that, other than a collection of his work. That fact is as plain as the zig-zag on Charlie Brown’s shirt. It’s not the depression that’s important about Schulz, though, it’s the fact that the guy expressed it artistically within a popular venue. He dealt with it and provided something many of us could latch onto, a little drip that amassed itself into a flood of reassurance that someone out there understood.
While Schulz crafts his strips with punch lines, he just as often draws them out with despair — some of them are little more than several panels of kids having panic attacks or plunging into depression. Schulz is just as likely to offer four panels of a kid being insulted and humiliated as he is to give you something to chuckle about. Cruelty is the staple in the “Peanuts” universe — and the twist in the knife is the total honesty about any given character’s failures.
Think about it — Charlie Brown frets about his baseball team, about his dog, about the little red-haired girl, about his pen pal, about his kite, about winter, stomach aches, about anything you can think of. He even worries about worrying. He is pushed around by his dog and his sister. He is constantly seeking the advice of an abusive girl who charges him for her insults. Even his so-called friends make sure that they remind him that he is a loser. It would be heart wrenching if it wasn’t so absurdly funny — and it wasn’t something you could identify with.
“My anxieties have anxieties,” explains Charlie Brown.
It doesn’t end with Charlie Brown. His best friend Linus puts his faith in a giant pumpkin that never shows up, his grandmother hides his security blanket, his sister bosses him around perpetually — he is constantly being pecked at until he blows up. His sister Lucy walks around with a grand ego, pushes other people around so much that she has no real friend, is obsessed with a piano player who will not return her affections and actually treats her with disdain and is fixated with anger on the antics of Snoopy to the point that it drives her to explosive fits of anger. It’s all very funny, and when piled up day after day, tragically funny.
In other words, “Peanuts” is a very special comic strip — and Fantagraphics gives it a presentation that such a special work deserves. The design of the book pulls out small bits of Schulz’s world to create a real eye-pleaser, from the manipulated image of Violet on the cover to the minimalist end papers with beautiful mono-color shading.
Even better, Fantagraphics offers an index to the book. This means that you can look up the really important things – a quick scan through reveals listings for “Aaugh,” “depression,” “Minnesota Fats,” “wishy washy” and “Zorba the Greek.” This is certainly the most indispensable index ever.
The packaging reflects the ultimate message of Schulz’s work — there is hope, in fact, there is joy despite everything. You have problems but if you can laugh in the face of despair, then you’re doing okay. It’s obviously what Schulz did in his life and through “Peanuts,” he invites us all to indulge along with him.
May 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
When it comes to silent movies, Harry Langdon is not a household like Chaplin or Keaton or Lloyd. In some ways, juxtaposing him next to the big three does him a disservice — it’s like saying that any western that isn’t “High Noon” is bad. Langdon may not have been as visionary as these gentlemen, but he was inventive and on target with his work — and is well worth remembering. Thanks to this new 4 DVD collection of Langdon’s output, it’s finally an attainable goal.
Langdon worked primarily for Mack Sennett and among his directors were Frank Capra.
Surrounded by flappers and bathing beauties, Langdon often plays the part of the loveable loser — as did most silent comedy comedians — but there’s something of a playboy lurking behind the thick black eyeliner and lipstick that accentuate his round, boyish face by providing expressive dark slits.
There’s a naughtiness to Langdon’s work that is less present in his more famed contemporaries . . .
For instance, in “The Sea Squawk,” a crime comedy onboard an ocean liner takes a cross-dressing turn, which not only provides a gender-bending liaison with the captain of the ship, but some orgasmic titters due to an unfortunately situated monkey under his skirt and plenty of laughs derived from accidental meetings between cigarette and rear end — all the while looking rather cute.
Langdon also explores the wrong side of the track with glee rather than gloom — in “Feet of Mud,” the pursuit of an affluent girl’s hand in marriage leads to an mix-up in an opium den during a tong war in Chinatown. The Chinese are depicted as posing as addicts to play into the rich white stereotype of them — it’s a progressive view to take socially, that whites expect minorities to be lazy and loathsome, and Langdon gets good laughs from the set-up.
His films also show a penchant for the absurd that utilizes camera tricks and crude amusing animation that exemplifies the sort of technological experimentation that makes the era so exciting.
The set also contains some nice extras, including a few “counterfeit” Langdons—Eddie Quillan in copycat film and the bizarre “Funny Manns,” a slice of outdated ‘60s schtick-styled monologue that incorporated some onld clips of Langdon to the tale. There are good commentary tracks and liner notes by film historians that makes the collection great for students of silent films, as well as for those who just like to laugh at them.
May 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
The second release in Toon Books’ new line of easy reader graphic novels, “Silly Lilly,” is a charming affair by French author/illustrator Agnes Rosenstiehl. In a series of seasonal sketches, a young girl named Lilly is followed through her reactions to the changes.
That’s a funny thing about being a kid — before you are really aware of time, of real change in the sense that an adult is, you are aware of the flow and passing in one very sensual way and that is the shift of seasons. Seasons, like anything else, are relative and will look and feel different according to where you live — at the same time, the basics are generally the same and this is structure we teach children.
Seasons, it seems, are the first formal lesson we give in the cycle of life. Lilly gets silly in the park in spring, the beach in summer, the apple orchard in fall, the snow in winter and the playground in spring, bringing the year full circle and, more importantly, transcribing a year of change for not only the earth, but the girl as well.
Rosenstiehl crafts a simple sketch of a graphic novel here, presenting the idea of sequential storytelling in its most base form without making it a pantomime. There is a crafty underbelly to the humor, with slight story tension being brought out in delicate ways.
“Silly Lilly” is the cutest tour de force imaginable.
May 25, 2008 § Leave a Comment
French cartoonist Joann Sfar unleashes his macabre kids comic “Little Vampire,” with three stories that mix dark comedy with sincere sweetness for a collection that will no doubt speak to children as it values not only their intelligence, but empathy and perspective.
Little Vampire himself lives in a haunted mansion with other ghouls — all grown ups. In one way, he finds himself cloistered among his own kind, since everyone else in the mansion is a ghost or a monster or some kind of zombie creature, and each treats Little Vampire with the sort of gentle demeanor one would hope caretakers of a child would employ. But Little Vampire of is of two kinds — ghoul and child — and though he is fulfilled as the former, he is desperate to make some connection as the latter.
Little Vampire demands that he be allowed to go to school — and all the horrors of the mansion work to make sure that he does and that it’s a great experience.
Certain issues involved in the particulars of being a monster disrupt Little Vampire’s attempts to go to school — monsters don’t keep hours agreeable to school boards. In making the best of the situation, though, Little Vampire manages to make a connection with a boy named Michael and it’s this friendship that fuels the book.
In the other stories in the book, Little Vampire uses supernatural solutions to help Michael contend with a bully and the entire ghoul gang takes up the cause of some dogs escaping an animal testing laboratory.
In each story, Sfar’s artwork — so beautiful in “The Rabbi’s Cat” books — works toward comedy, unfolding some very funny, very rollicking little adventures. It’s all undeniably European, however — I can’t imagine an American creator would use some of the dark and mature subject matter that he does so casually, but in Sfar’s hands, I barely batted an eye at any of it. Sfar is such a master at his craft — without a doubt, one of the best cartoonists in the world today — and any kid’s library will be elevated by the inclusion of “Little Vampire.”
May 24, 2008 § Leave a Comment
If you like neat science fiction weaponry, you’ll love this book.
Designed to be like a mail order catalog with a bit of personality — sometimes you see such endeavors with seed catalogs, art supplies, and even scientific equipment — “Doctor Grordbort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory” specializes in steampunk gadgets for the daring space explorer. This catalog is the brainchild of Greg Broadmore — a creature designer and sculptor for “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” — and it is, more than anything else, an art book with a very particular focus, accompanied by an extremely absurd commentary. It is also a wish book of marvelous items, even if you don’t always know what exactly the item does.
For instance, the Neverite Portable Massmortron is a neat item with a sort of doo-hickey in the back and a thingamajig on top, with a kind of whirlymagig in back. And it’s portable! It’s got “quasi-patented spin chargemolizers” and “coiled vapor inhibitors” designed to “disreduce a lack of vapor.” It features “improved assumptomatic valves” and it looks like something Sherlock Holmes might employ to take down some mole men! I have no idea what use it is though.
I don’t know what a bifurnilizer is either, but it would look great in my living room.
One enticing section is for weaponry. I’m not a gun person by any measure, but I do see the beauty of a Fahtbauss Model 9 Parallel Phase Inverter, which, it is claimed, “has the best ratios for successful kills over accidental catastrophic malfunction in the industry,” which is all anyone wants from a high-frequency electromagnetic pulse gun that has the settings “scald, broil, char and Joan of Arc.”
In the back of the book, Broadmore puts the whole thing into amusing perspective with a short adventure for Lord Cockswain, “the Famous Naturalist and Explorer” who looks like something out of Rudyard Kipling’s most ferocious British empire nightmares as he stalks precious alien prey on Venus. His illustration work is gorgeous it lampoons the most heinous sort of western imperialism.
In fact, every weapon and contraption that Broadmore sets forth to fashion is a gorgeous relic of an era gone by that never really existed. Sadly, this is all just highly potent make believe. Or maybe not sadly, these days. Still, what I wouldn’t give for a Goliathon 800 Moonhater Death Ray for my birthday this year.
May 23, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Of all the superheroes in the tapestry of costumed wonders, it’s Captain Marvel who has gotten the raw deal. In his original incarnation in the ’40s and ’50s, he was a character of silly and delightful whimsy, but he has always been harder for the modern writer to peg. The usual plan is to aim it towards kids, but that often becomes a labor in simplifying the presentation rather than crafting a superhero tale on par with some of comparable recent literature for kids.
At some point, though, creator Jeff Smith was brought in and his “Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil” proved to be a hoot — Captain Marvel done right and done modern.
As a way of traversing the other interpretations of the character, DC has released “Shazam: The World’s Greatest Stories,” which gives several examples through the decades that show that Captain Marvel and the rest of the cast are often delightful enough to shine through in any era.
There are several fun stories from more recent times — “With One Magic Word” offers a good natured team-up with Superman and the comical “Out of the Dark Cloud” takes details of Captain Marvel’s magical transformation from Billy Batson to the World’s Mightiest Mortal and extends them to wacky extremes. There is also a bizarre — and I mean that in the best possible way — tale involving “Captain Thunder,” a kind of alternate Captain Marvel who has gone bad and is causing some problems for Superman.
But the real treasures of the book are the six stories from the character’s original era that really capture his essence. The origin story is often reprinted, but little seen tales such as Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s untitled tale a visit to a planet inhabited by domineering dragon men from “Captain Marvel Adventures #1″ are a whole lot of fun.
In great bit of absurdity, the Marvel Family helps build a modern city in the Amazon for a society of talking apes, but discovers that the apes aren’t all that they seem and their naive trust of the simian society turns to a race to save the world, with the craziest way to save the day you can imagine.
Most impressive of all is “Captain Marvel Battles the World,” a charming and sly fable that has the World’s Mightiest Mortal evading the ire of the earth itself. The earth is sick of humans digging into it and despite the moon’s attempts to talk it out doing anything, the earth retaliates with a series of natural disasters that Captain Marvel must present. The surreal tale comes to a conclusion when even the earth learns a valuable lesson about appreciating a resident superhero.
This is highly recommended for kids, but grown-ups with a good sense of delight and an affection for whimsy will eat these marvelous tales up.
May 23, 2008 § Leave a Comment
Superheroes are a curious creature largely because they are such a specific fantasy. There is really no real world equivalent for them — unlike fairy tales of old, superheroes are not supernatural ways to explain natural phenomena or vehicles to pose moral lessons to children. Despite some roots in mythology and tall tales — as well as scattered adventure fiction — superheroes really are a unique 20th century fictional construct with little possibility of existing in reality.
Matt Ogens’ documentary film “Confessions of a Superhero” tackles these notions in a fringe way, by focusing on people who dress up as famous superheroes and loiter on Hollywood Boulevard, hoping for tips as they pose for photos with tourists. A lot of people living in the area characterize the superheroes as panhandlers and even many of the superheroes acknowledge that they are. But what starts out as an examination of an odd and isolated social phenomenon shifts into a study of a more general one — an honest and sometimes depressing look at the compulsion to seek attention and, ultimately, fame to the point where the practice is an extreme dysfunction.
At the center of the film is Christopher Dennis, a longtime street Superman who demands a level of professionalism from the other practitioners, often seeming like the voice of authority at the center of a chaotic configuration. Also on hand are Maxwell Allen, who as Batman has gained a reputation for directness and a bit of danger; Jennifer Gehrt, who as Wonder Woman finds an income while she attempts to live out her small town, big dreams fantasies; and Joe McQueen, an amiable former homeless man who is serious about getting acting work and seems dubious about the veracity of some of his cohorts.
The film is structured in such a way that each superhero is presented within his own construct, but slowly the filmmakers move back to present the wider scope in which each operates. Family members are introduced, spouses, girlfriends, and with each step of the way the audience is left questioning not only how much of the life each superhero presents is exactly as stated, but, in fact, to what degree the superhero might be delusional. What starts out with the possibility of being an amusing depiction of eccentrics turns into a more studied look a person’s inability to tell the difference between reality and fiction — and to see how they have placed themselves too firmly into the latter. Only McQueen seems to have any real grasp of his place in the world and the difficult task of moving past it.
What becomes very apparent is that the rest of the world can help frame the fictions within which people can retreat — it is not so much their own creation, but an example of them taking an opportunity to build upon more universal myths. For Dennis, it’s the equation of an obsession with the sweeping societal legends of Superman, a vague resemblance to Christopher Reeve and a surprising relationship to a deceased actress — as well as a supportive but equally as odd girlfriend — that buttresses his descent. Allen, meanwhile, builds on the need for mystique and building fear and begins to believe his own version of the truth so much that it’s pathological. By contrast, Gehrt’s single-minded pursuit is like an invisible thread of understanding in her life that doesn’t seem based on any reality of pursuing the Hollywood dream, but a sort of arrested development that never moved past the fantasies she had as a child.
By the end, the superheroes are left to their own worlds — places that they have forged for themselves of walls that protect them psychologically. Self-made matrixes, as it were. The people in the film are treated with immense respect and an admirable gentleness — but it still comes off as very sad regardless of the dignity they are given. As a study of the things we tell ourselves in order to excel, of the dreams we latch onto despite all indications that they really are impossible despite motivational thinking, “Confessions of a Superhero” is a profound look at something that is probably inside each of us.