Thursday, July 27, 2006

American Splendor – The Film

“You might as well know right off the bat, I had a vasectomy”

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I have a mental list of stuff that people consider great, recommendations I’ve been given, things I want to get round to reading, listening to or seeing at some point. And this list never seems to get any shorter, it took me nigh on four years to get around to reading Arkham Asylum after first venturing into comics and being recommended it – sure it got heavy in its religious imagery, but it was certainly a worthwhile read that I wish I had gotten to sooner.

I picked up American Splendor for less than a fiver in the wonder that is HMV last week, it’s a film I had been meaning to watch for a long time, but no one will ever get me to pay £20 for a film, so how could I resist when it was reduced by that much?
And sure I didn’t get around to watching it right away, it’s taken me a week, but today I finally found the time to slip it into the DVD player.

What can I say about it? This film is fantastic, possibly one of my most favourite films I’ve seen this year.

For those not in the know, American Splendor was a comic series written by Harvey Pekar, who wrote about his life, depressing at times as it was, about being an obsessive-compulsive collector, jazz lover, hospital clerk and friend of Robert Crumb among other things – Robert Crumb? You know the underground comic extraordinaire? Created Fritz the Cat? Look him up on a wiki if your still in the dark.

It’s kind of like Ghost World in a respect, in that it’s based on the original comics, but is so much more when stitched together, this isn’t the filmed adaptation of the comics, but rather a look at Pekar, a comment on what he thought his life was then and what it is to him now.

The format of the film is unique, it involves your basic film plot narrative, this adapted from the American Splendor comics and his wife’s ‘Our Cancer Year’ these are the foundation of the film. Yet on top of this we have the inter-cut ‘white room’ interview and conversations with the real Pekar, with him providing the narrative voice over the whole thing. Producing such wonderful dialogue as...

If you think reading comics about your life seems strange, try watching a play about it. God only knows how I'll feel when I see this movie.

And it’s not just Pekar, we see his wife and friends, not just as actors, but in the real people who were them, and I’m telling you some of these actors are so close to the actual people it’s unreal.

Then woven through this are not only the comics he wrote, with us seeing important panels and sequences but also the old recorded interviews of Pekar when he was trying to promote his comic on the talk show circuit.
This postmodernist style really sets up American Splendor epitomising its originality and holding the narrative and commentary together into a very worthwhile film. The filmed footage itself is even blurred into that of a typical Pekar comic, often using captions to set the scene and the time it takes place in, along with depicting Joyce’s uncertainty of what Pekar looks like through the many different artistic representations of him present in the comics.

Reading this through you could perhaps see this as sounding pretentious, and if it does that’s my own fault, it’s not a quality found in a film which simply works so well.

It’s not like the film never received awards either, with it being nominated for an Oscar, winning 27 awards – ranging from characters performances, adapted screen play, director and best feature. It won awards in Cannes, Edinbrough and Sundance.

Don’t be like me, don’t wait on this film, go out and buy it, it really is that good, it’s fresh, touching, tragic and unique. I only got to it three years late this time.

I’ll be buying and reading the comic once I have the money to, but as of right now, I have a cheaply bought DVD that gave me one of the most entertaining film experiences of the year. So the collections on the list, and I’m certainly not waiting 3 years to buy that.

Joyce Brabner: I find most American cities to be depressing in the same way.

Harvey Pekar: And you're OK with the vasectomy thing?


Sid said...

You know what, American Splendor did nothing for me other than remind me not to read Crumb stuff. sure, the guy might be considered a comic legend but I just plain don't enjoy cartoons of women with large prosteriors.
Ghost World however, I loved. But I guess the difference here is no cancer victim and a DANGEROUSLY young Scarlet Johannason. Yum.

Still, I think more people should watch both these movies, just so we can get a decent discourse going on here.

Ryan said...

Plus we got two very different comic shop portrayals from Ghost World and American Splendor.
Ghost world reflected the whole angry young man thing, wanting to mess up the system. While Splendor give us the laid back hippys with their indie stuff. I would have hated to shop in either.

I've never read a full Crumb comic, but I am planning to give the film Crumb a look at for better or worse at some point soon.
The most lasting memory I have of someone liking his work was by one of my English Language teachers, she spent the majority of a lesson talking to us about the covers to fritz the cat and the trouble they got in for reading them at school. Takes all folks...

Ghost world was fantastic though, watching it now it always reminds me that if they ever made a Runaways film Thora Birch would play the perfect Gert in my opinion. She'll have aged far to much if they ever do one though.

Matt Boyce! said...

i think american splendor is an ace film, i havent read too much of pekars work by itself.

I have a few of crumbs books i find him hit and miss

but i do recommend terry zwigoffs crumb documentary its very surreal funny and touching
(zwigoff also directed the GhostWorld film and the upcoming art school confidential(