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American Splendor

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Haven't seen it yet, but the buzz is good. Andrew Sarris begins his review in the New York Observer with this:

"Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner

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I'm still trying to sort out how I feel about this film. I usually dislike bio-pics, and this one often falls into the genre's traps. But the way it uses comic book ideas is really interesting. And I loved the moments when it explores the contrast between "real life" and autobiography/biography. Those were fascinating, and I wish the film had done even more.

My initial reaction is that the film's a great idea for a movie and often achieves what it sets out to do but doesn't completely succeed. Still, it's entertaining and somewhat thought-provoking.

J Robert

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Interesting comment from Steve Sailer's review of this film:

In the movie, the real Pekar is shown commenting on Paul Giammati's fine performance as Pekar as he writes his comic books commenting on his life. And now I'm commenting on all that commentary. Whee! Ain't we postmodern?

Actually, this contemporary tendency toward commentaries piled upon commentaries seems more like a medieval throwback. Thirteenth Century churchmen and Talmudic scholars would have understood the 21st Century filmmakers' urge to say rather than show.

And I suppose the DVD will have a commentary track in which Pekar comments on his commentary, and another commentary track in which Giammati comments on Pekar's commentary regarding his performance, and so on, and so on ...

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Sorry, haven't been posting for a while...just been going through...stuff. One of those months.

Anyway, just came home from seeing this film and my friend and I LOVED it. There were a few other people in the theatre but we seemed to be the only ones laughing. You know in college where you take a class and the professor says something and one or two students laugh and the professor gives them a knowing glance while you and everyone else in the class feel a collective pang of envy and insiginficance? Well for the first time in my life (or as long as I can remember) my friend and I were the laughing ones. Felt good.

This may sound strange and I don't know that this is the intention of the movie, but American Splendor is one of the most inspiring movies I've ever seen. I mean it's a portrait of despair and angst but at the same time, Harvey Pekar will be remembered! What a splenderous America this is, where a nobody file clerk can be immortalized in a comic book. It's proof of the fact that God has a plan for everyone. Everyone. If reincarnation were real, I'd say that one of Pekar's ancestors must have been the author of Ecclesiastes. His insight into the plight of everyman is 20/20 and it's his eye for detail in the dark areas of life that redeems him.

And the editing! Instead of leaving the real people for some big payoff at the end of the movie (like Schlinder's List or Rabbit Proof Fence, to name a few), they bring in the actual people right from the beginning which, in a way, is where the belong since it's about them after all. So instead of ooh-ing and ahh-ing the real people at the end where they have nothing to say, this movie involves them in a way that is so much fun. I wish there were more of the real Pekar. Most of Pekar's on-screen commentary happens during the first half of the movie. I can't help but wonder if while they were taping his "real" segments, he just got tired of all the takes and retakes and just dug out. I wish they'd have used him more at the ending where (SPOILERS) he has cancer.

Well, those are my thoughts for now.

God bless,

randall

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I'm beginning to feel like I missed something but skipping this. Main reason I let it go was I worried I wouldn't quite get it without knowing the comic book. (Ghost World was a bit like that). Will I get it if I see it?

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YES!!!

I've never read the comic book. I want to read it now. It's one of the rotating five or six films I'm considering for one of the last spots in my Top Ten for the year.

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In a sense the film is the graphic novel. I read the various graphic novels right after the film because I was so intrigued and found the film to be a great introduction. But the film at times is indistinguishable from Pekar's writing.

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Just saw American Splendor this weekend with "the film crew" (my teenage daughter and some of her friends), and I thought it was going to be perfect for them and -- based on the reviews I'd seen -- for me. Instead, I just thought it was pretty good.

Basically, I thought it was a brilliantly told story, but not much of a story -- limited character development, no particular plot -- so it didn't really work as a dramatic piece for me. It didn't work as a biographical piece either, since it left out so many details. Why is this guy famous? Who are his fans? How many readers? Who published A.S.? Are they worth anything? Will Pekar's stuff stand the test of time? I was left wondering if Pekar got his 15 minutes of fame for the same reason his friend (the nerd) did: because people find him peculiarly fascinating.

There were some very inventive and innovative moments -- the jellybean scene is outstanding, especially in the way it takes out the 4th wall. It's very self-aware on one hand, ignoring conventions of suspension of disbelief, but does so not to bring the audience into the film but to morph into it's alter-ego. I felt like it was a sort of optical illusion, where we are watching a story about a story of itself... almost like the M.C. Escher's "Drawing Hands" (a picture of two pencil-drawn hands drawing each other).

If there had been as much attention paid to the story as there was how to tell it, it could have been a film for all time. As it was, the 'crew' enjoyed the art of American Splendor, but found it a little boring. (They much preferred "It's a Wonderful Life", the first feature on Saturday's double bill.)

Tim

P.S. And what's with the slam against Jewish women in the checkout line???! What, he gets away with it because he's a "Yid"? Gimme a break! Again, brilliantly executed scene, with cartoon versions of Pekar cajoling himself, but the content was weak. Just IMHO!

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(They much preferred "It's a Wonderful Life", the first feature on Saturday's double bill.)

Someone paired American Splendor with It's a Wonderful Life? As in Jimmy Stewart It's a Wonderful Life? ROTFLOL, That's briliant!

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Comic relief at the Oscars?

Colby Cosh

National Post

Friday, January 09, 2004

Will there be a happy ending for Harvey Pekar? On Sunday, the National Society of Film Critics gave Best Picture and Best Screenplay honours to American Splendor, the movie adaptation of the Cleveland writer's life and work. On Thursday, the L.A. Film Critics Association followed suit. Perhaps this is just the highbrows' way of trying to undermine the Oscar coronation of the The Return of the King in advance, but American Splendor would nonetheless seem to have an inside track. If it keeps its lead, it will be the upset of the century.

Mr. Pekar is best known for a series of controversial appearances he made on Late Night With David Letterman between 1986 and 1988. Mr. Letterman delighted in interviewing Mr. Pekar, whose autobiographical comic (drawn by various notable cartoonists) has been appearing sporadically since 1976. It delighted him more that Harvey would show up in rumpled second-hand clothes, his balding pate uncombed for network television. But eventually Harvey tired of the repartee, feeling with some justification that he was being used as a prop. He began to bait NBC parent company General Electric on-air for its involvement in defence manufacture, challenging Letterman when he tried to change the subject. Mr. Pekar's chaotic last two appearances are treasured as great moments in unscripted television. During the second show, Mr. Letterman closed the segment huffily, saying, "We're going to a commercial break now, and when we come back, guess who won't be here."

Well, Harvey's still around, despite two later bouts with cancer, and he might be there at the Oscars, too. If they get him on stage, viewers are in for a spectacle even more bizarre, but far more satisfying from the standpoint of divine justice, than Michael Moore's appearance last year. In truth, Harvey Pekar is the real article of which Moore is just a cheap knockoff: He's the last American proletarian intellectual. A chronically penniless autodidact, he served as a clerk in a veteran's hospital until he reached retirement age in 2001. He needed the cash, particularly the health insurance and the pension. The comic American Splendor hasn't always broken even, and Mr. Pekar was self-publishing the series for years even after his Late Night dustups.

Our culture is only now beginning to make room for the category of "important comic-book artist": The idea of an important comic-book writer may still be beyond many of us. Mr. Pekar was inspired in the 1960s by a chance meeting with R. Crumb, the future dean of "underground comics," who was then drawing greeting cards for a living in Cleveland. They met to trade old records, but when Mr. Crumb showed Mr. Pekar the quirky adult comics he was doing on the side, Pekar's imagination caught fire. Crumb's work, he noticed, was intellectual and satirical, but not realistic. Why couldn't you have a "straight" comic book with a tone like Dreiser's, or Celine's, or Balzac's? Thus was born American Splendor. Naturalism was coming to the comics page.

The books consist of short literary portraits of Mr. Pekar and the people in his life -- acquaintances, workplace characters, put-upon wives and girlfriends. Sometimes Pekar will simply chronicle a private train of thought, a moment of frustration or of happiness. Sometimes he'll relate an anecdote, or trace a walk through his neighbourhood. (He has a fine ear for dialect, including -- unusually -- his own.) Sometimes he'll explore the trivial but terrible stresses on a relationship, or the curious pathology of the obsessive music collector. He is far from afraid to discuss his own failings and egomaniacal impulses: One of his strips relates how he cynically planned and sprung a guilt trip on R. Crumb in order to bully him into drawing some of his early scripts. The result was, naturally, rendered by R. Crumb.

American Splendor will be read a hundred years hence for the simple reason that people like Harvey Pekar may already be extinct. Will the clerical-career "lifer" disappear in the New Economy? Will Harvey Pekars of the Internet age have to extract a liberal arts education from years of afternoons at the public library? Have chatrooms replaced evenings spent on streetcorners rapping about the Cleveland Browns or tenor saxophonists? One hopes, above all, that talent like Mr. Pekar's will be recognized earlier in future generations. But if someone had put Harvey to "good use," we would have been deprived of his amazingly candid observations about boss-worker tension, white flight, or what it's like to live on breakfast cereal and canned food from the co-op.

Harvey's art is, to be sure, not for everyone. Anyone who is largely free from resentment, self-loathing, or feelings of isolation will probably stare at it and go "Huh?" But it is good, and great. I can't wait to see how he looks amongst the swells at the Kodak Theater.

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I just saw this one last night. Wow! I didn't think I would like it as much as I did. Top ten material for sure.

The first thing that really was great was Paul Giamatti's performance. He has Harvey's mannerisms down perfectly. That scowl is brilliant.

Also, I thought the story was great and naturalistic, as some have commented that Harvey's comics are also. I appreciated the fact that there was no big pay-off or dramatic ending, because, really, Harvey's story isn't over yet. The story of American Splendor will keep continuing.

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