Wednesday, April 14, 2010
SUPERMAN ..or December '78
I don't know why but I feel compelled to write about the boy who went to see this film with his father on a chill night in the winter of 1978. I was a young eight, and there was still a gray area between reality and film. You can guess the impact of an expensive, expansive, well-done Superhero movie on a wide-eyed dreamer...and not just any hero...this was SUPERMAN up there flying around... this was modern myth made real.
My world became bigger that year. The United States had farms in the middle and cities on the edge. I learned that not everyone was as polite as I was used to(only Superman, it seemed)...but Metropolis(New York) now existed to me...busy, bustling, loud and dangerous...what a world.
As the little girl with the comic book begins ..the onscreen curtains open ...that drum roll...
I do believe it was my first erection...actually, I'm quite certain it was...nothing sexual about it...certainly didn't understand, but I do remember the overwhelming sense of seeing something grand ...grander than anything I'd ever seen...an energy and enormity of scope that pulled me in and simply never let go.
So much emotion locked up in this...it was the 70's and things were different...and I was eight. Dad was a tall archetype father to me then and about midway between Superman and normal human beings. I don't remember if Pad (my little bro) was with us or not...probably, but it quickly became so "mine" that the film would hold its place throughout various stages of my life...with that John Williams Score serving as a pick-me-up more times than I can possibly count, even after the death of my own father.
And from that amazing title sequence to Krypton to Smallville - to the big city and the modern threat of a Nuclear exchange - This is pitch-perfect action/drama with lots of laughs; something I'm certain all the "adults" in the audience were very pleased about. The tone and pacing are classic, and the movie is beautifully shot, with extraordinary effects work, despite the distinct lack of pixels or rubber suits.
The story by Mario Puzo is solid and the cast is a virtual who's who for the era: Margot Kidder's weirdly sexy Lois ...Glenn Ford's truly fatherly Pa Kent, and of course Gene Hackman's Luthor ...sooo much fun, but Hackman's my favorite actor of the 70's, hands down. And oh, yeah ..MARLON BRANDO plays his father ...the greatest American actor ever !!..Marlon Brando is Superman's Dad - perfecto. In fact, there are a number of "father" themes running thru thoughout ..I still remember how I felt when Pa Kent took his pulse, and looked, with one expression, as though the one thing he was feeling was "I won't see Clark grow up ...I can't help him anymore..." Amazing.
There is an earnestness about this movie, as though each and every one of the players actually loves the character and the film...it felt then as though everyone in the world loved Supermen as much as I did.
...and then there's Chris Reeve.
The man charged with making us "believe a man can fly" - truly did.
Christopher Reeve stepped out of our "collective mind's eye" vision of Superman, and then spoke. The face, the body language, the Clark Kent - you could screen-test every actor who ever lived and never cast the character better. He gives off a sense of undeniable power and confidence while humanizing not just an alien but a guy in tights. It works because he works. This, and the wisdom of Richard Donner, are not lost on what is now an adult perspective on a movie that was made for everyone, but by adults. I note this element only because even the best of the many "superhero" films made since, feel a bit juvenile...like these director's did let the run the show, or that's at least what they thought we wanted. Superman always feels like adult filmmakers with the reverence of children...an almost fatherly perspective on the character, and a cohesive sense of "what" Supes really stands for, as opposed to more modern or convenient interpretations. Only The Dark Knight captured the same adult tone but with far less genuine love for it's title character.
The First Great Comic Book Film portrays the origins of not only Superman but of the entire industry itself. It started with him ...then Batman ...then Spider-man(which is an anti-hero remake of this movie)...etc. ..and now, just like the comic book industry - there's a whole messy slew...but it all comes back to the big guy - Superman is to comic books what Citizen Kane is to film...everything comes after.
Sadly, his relevance has seemed to wane in these more "modern" times, but perhaps nineteen seventy eight was the last time our society could, or would, truly embrace this character. It seems that this 2010 internet culture is more about propagating the idea that we are all "special" ...and the big blue boyscout doesn't really fit into the "GenY" model...apathy doesn't need to be saved, I guess. The simple fact is that no one looks up in the sky anymore ...they're too busy texting.
Perhaps the secret is that perceived perfection actually makes us very insecure..
...but if you look again, you'll see that his trials are not unlike all of ours ...does he/she love me? ...how to balance who I want to be and who I have to be? ...where did I come from? ...and what do I do now?
I'm not thrilled that I'm getting older, who is? but...
This movie...this distillation of so many stories and ideas of goodness and heroism...of modern myth into an actual motion picture...an epic film...this is a reason to be glad you were born in the 70's. Up 'til some points like this one I couldn't necessarily grasp my father's work ethic, but watching this movie - I understood a sense of duty - a responsibility to what you are, once you know what that is. SUPERMAN made me believe I could fly ...that is, do just about anything...
& sometimes Dad did too.
It was a good night.