Watch Out: A Real Super Man
Posted on March 16, 2004
“If misery finds company, this man has a full house.” Those are the (approximate) words of NBC chat show host David Letterman, whose one-time regular guest Harvey Pekar is the focus of the splendid biopic American Splendor, which found its way from Cleveland, OH., to the Cannes Film Festival, to, in no ascending order of glamour, our campus cinema, whence I have just returned, moved, puzzled and very impressed.
Harvey Pekar is, I’m pretty sure, a blue collar writer for underground comic books now in his sixties whose life and work is drawn up on the big screen by documentarists Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who ramble some no-man’s-land between fact and fiction in a film that leaves us neither here nor there. (In fact, I Googled Pekar’s name when I got in tonight just to be sure that this man exists.)
Pekar’s autobiographical comic itself, on which the film of the same name is based, makes no clear distinction between fact and fiction, and the filmmakers transfer this ambiguity to celluloid remarkably well, layering fictional recreation, newly shot documentary footage and animation, to produce a kaleidoscopic portrait of the artist as a troubled man. Harvey is played for the most part by the excellent Paul Giamatti with uncanny resemblance to Pekar, who to complicate things or help explain them, narrates the film and appears in present day documentary scenes commenting on unfolding events and even casting choices.
There is so much to say about this film – about the wit and compassion of its many layers, and the hall-of-mirrors effect they create; so much that this film has to say – about the disaffected and the disenfranchised in American society – that I couldn’t possibly convey them all in the far inferior comic book of my blog. I would urge you to see it if you get the chance. It is the most refreshing film I have seen in a while – more so than Lost In Translation, dare I say, and in the words of Harvey Pekar, a real comic book superhero, doing daily battle against the villainous reality of the working class, of the bastards at NBC, of cancer – “it’s the real thing.”