Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Regarding American Splendor

by Jason Pyles

I came across the trailer for “American Splendor” at the beginning of another film. It immediately appealed to me because I thought it was going to be mostly set in a comic book store and amount to a cross between “Be Kind, Rewind” and the comic book store found in “Fanboys” (you know, the one where Kristen Bell’s character works?).

Neither of those two films was particularly good, but there is something enchanting to me — that I’ll never be able to put into words — about an environment where young, lonely people are making peanuts doing a job they like because they’re immersed in the art that they’re passionate about. I guess it’s that same feeling I get when I think of Tarantino working during his video store days, pre-“Reservoir Dogs” era.

Anyway, I thought “American Splendor” was going to be that kind of magical amalgam, but instead, it’s a less alienating, less metaphysical incarnation of “Synecdoche, New York” — to some similar extent. (That’s it, Andy. “Synecdoche, New York” keeps coming up on this site, so we’re probably going to have to discuss it at some point, although I consider it a very unpleasant experience, despite my deep respect for its genius screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman. Let me know when you’re feeling brave; we’ll endure it together, like we did “The Room.”)

In short, “American Splendor” is a self-aware biopic, of sorts. It knows it’s a movie, and it often breaks the fourth wall. Indeed, the capable cast that uncannily portrays the real-life people is sometimes accompanied by the real-life individuals themselves, which is a wonderfully unusual touch in a biography.

I had a couple of questions: How did Paul Giamatti pull off that squeaky voice? Wow. Did he have to lose his voice somehow, in order to sound like that, or is he just “acting”?

And my next question was answered with a little research. I wondered if that final showdown with David Letterman ever actually aired on TV, because it wasn’t shown in the movie. Well, according to the IMDb.com’s trivia page, “NBC would not lease out the actual 'Late Night With David Letterman' footage where Pekar finally lashed out at Letterman, so the scene had to be recreated with the actors.” However, I found out that NBC did, in fact, air it, and the footage of the actual interview can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0akXKxbflM&feature=related

It starts getting juicy about 7 minutes in.

(Oh, and most people probably know this, but Pekar’s comic-legend/illustrator friend, Robert Crumb, also had a movie made about him called “Crumb” (1994).)

I have never read any issues of “American Splendor,” but for the first hour of the film, I really wanted to. After that, I changed my mind. At first the film is funny and whimsical, something like Harvey himself, but just as it would be to hang around such a person for very long, in time, it loses its charm and his incessant negativity weighs down the film (and this viewer).

Overall, watching “American Splendor” is a good experience, and it just goes to show that anybody can become a celebrity.

No comments: