looking at superheroes - myth, pop culture, ideology...

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Myth Of Superman pt. 1

This is a short, interesting piece from wired. Neil Gaiman & Adam Rogers speak about Superman as a mythological figure.

About a decade ago, Alvin Schwartz, who wrote Superman comic strips in the 1940s and ‘50s, published one of the great Odd Books of our time. In An Unlikely Prophet, reissued in paperback this spring, Schwartz writes that Superman is real. He is a tulpa, a Tibetan word for a being brought to life through thought and willpower. Schwartz also says a Hawaiian kahuna told him that Superman once traveled 2,000 years back in time to keep the island chain from being destroyed by volcanic activity. Maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t, but it does sound like a job for Superman – all in a day’s work for a guy who can squeeze coal into diamonds. Schwartz then tells of his own encounter with Superman in a New York taxi, when he learned firsthand that Superman’s cape is, in fact, more than mere fabric.

An Unlikely Prophet brings up an important question about Superman: What makes people want to meet him so badly? It’s tough to imagine a similar book about, say, Green Lantern or Captain America. Superman is different because he doesn’t really belong to the writers who’ve created his adventures over the last 68-plus years. He has evolved into a folk hero, a fable, and the public feels like it has a stake in who Superman “really” is. Schwartz quit writing Superman because his bosses were telling him to put in things that he thought were out of character. That was admirable, but really, the specific stories we tell about Superman – the what-happened and what-he-did – don’t matter that much. Superman transcends plot. We retell his tales because we wish he were here, real, to keep us safe.

Everyone knows the Superman story: rocketed to Earth from the distant planet Krypton just before it explodes, raised by a loving Kansas couple, possessing powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men, defends the city of Metropolis – and the world – from evil. His real-world origin is more humble: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Jewish kids from Cleveland, created him as a character in a newspaper comic strip. But the strip didn’t sell, so they reformatted it and flipped it to a publisher hungry to buy content for one of the first comic books. When the story appeared in the premiere issue of the anthology Action Comics, kids went crazy for it, as if there had always been a Superman-shaped hole in the world and it now was filled.

It’s a classic American success story on a couple of levels. Two outsiders create a new art form, and Superman – an alien in a strange land – takes off. “Given the nature of the US, it was only natural in the 1930s for our new hero to be the ultimate immigrant,” says Bryan Singer, director of the new movie Superman Returns. “I’m an only child, adopted, and as a kid I identified extraordinarily with that aspect of Superman. The scene where the Kents decide to keep him always touches me.”

Of course, baby Clark has a special destiny. He’s literally empowered to be our salvation, endowed with all the basics – flight, strength, invulnerability – plus the wildcard powers of super hearing, heat vision, x-ray vision, and supercold breath. He used to be even more incredible; before a radical overhaul in the mid-’80s, he could move planets and run faster than the speed of light. His cape was infinitely elastic and never tore. He had super-hypnotism. In the 1978 movie, he turned back time. He’s not a superhero; he’s a demigod.

What’s important, though, is how Superman uses these powers. Compared to most A-list comic characters, he has almost no memorable villains. Think of Batman, locked in eternal combat with nocturnal freaks like the Joker – or Spider-Man, battling megalomaniacal weirdos like Dr. Octopus. For Superman, there’s pretty much only bitter, bald Lex Luthor, forever being reinvented by writers and artists in an effort to make him a worthy foe. Superman’s true enemies are disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, jet planes tumbling from the sky, enormous meteors that would crush cities. Superman stands between humanity and a capricious universe.

Singer’s movie hasn’t yet screened in its entirety, so no one knows what he’s going to add to the myth. The few minutes of the film that outsiders have seen (watched with a chaperone, on a DVD that gets shredded after viewing) look good, a spiritual successor to the Richard Donner films from a quarter-century ago. The special effects will be flawless. But Singer’s Superman is bound to be less interesting than his Clark Kent. Of all the relationships at the heart of the myth – Superman and Lois Lane, Superman and Jimmy Olsen, Superman and his adoptive parents – the most important is the one with his alter ego.

In 1959, Jules Feiffer did a classic cartoon about that dynamic. In it, Superman “pulled this chick from the river” and, after being briefly subjected to her Freudian questions about his motivation for rescuing people all the time, he quits. He settles down and spends the rest of his life pretending to be human – going to work, watching TV. In less than a page, Feiffer encapsulates the internal war between Superman’s moral obligation to do good and his longing to be an average Joe.

Other heroes are really only pretending: Peter Parker plays Spider-Man; Bruce Wayne plays Batman. For Superman, it’s mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent that’s the disguise – the thing he aspires to, the thing he can never be. He really is that hero, and he’ll never be one of us. But we love him for trying. We love him for wanting to protect us from everything, including his own transcendence. He plays the bumbling, lovelorn Kent so that we regular folks can feel, just for a moment, super.

Only a steel man.

gouge away.

it is now friday and its has been a busy week.
tuesday night I went and saw Neil Gaiman with Jess, Nick and Rhiannon. Great. He came to Mac Uni, and on a night of biblical rain sans ark, we went. He read a short story from his new collection 'Fragile Things' which was moving, funny and poignant. The kind of stuff you'd expect from Gaiman. But it being Gaiman, it was fucking brilliant. He also read a short poem 'When The Saucers Came', which was completely hilarious. He was a fascinating speaker and definitely one of the most interesting writing talents around at the moment.
Wednesday night a gang of macquarie film students went to popcorn taxi to see what cinematographer dion beebe had to say. He had to say lots. Played a few clips from Chicago, Memoirs (where the cinematography was the only high point) and In The Cut. The interviewer was an absolute tool, reminding me of the Chris Farley bit in SNL. '

Interviewer: You know... uh.... You know that bit in Collateral where the guy threw the other guy out of the window and he landed on the car and the glass smashed everywhere and stuff...
Beebe: Yes, what about it.
Interviewer: That was awesome...

I really want to see In The Cut now. Looks fantastic.

As well as being at uni all day, every day this week, its become 'crunch time' on the Beekeeper.
This week:
- Had a production meeting.
- Written a proposal for production.
- Had an interview with the convenor of Screen Production, regarding the film.
- Finished the final draft of the screenplay.
- Searched through showcast for actors
- Figured out the final budget
- We're also about to go out and find locations, speak to bee people, see if they can help us out.

Lots of work, that no one really has time to do. But we manage, because the film can be great.

I still have to write up stuff about Michael Haneke's Hidden, and Time of the Wolf. I watched Daredevil Directors Cut this morning, and was pretty impressed/interested in it. Alot of thematic stuff that is great for exploration. Like to look into that further, as my part of my contuining research into superhero mythology.

Also: Check out X Men 3 this weekend. They only care about the business on opening weekend, so check it out and show them that more more movies need to get made.

More soon.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

I'm sorry, but The Da Vinci Code has to be one of the most ridiculous films I've ever seen. How people can take it seriously, and actually believe the stuff in it, is beyond me. We went to see the movie after going to the Neil Gaiman talk (from one cultural high point to an absolute low).

Things I learnt from the Da Vinci Code:
- Symbology is a 'science' that talks about the meaning of signs. Semiotics. Cultural Studies.
- Also, people in lecture theatres ask dumb questions to propel the plot.
- Albinos do in fact, have a soul. Its just corrupted from birth.
- For a plot twist to work, you don't necessarily need a plot. Example: Hanks throws the code box thing in the air, it falls and breaks, much to Ian McKellens dismay. But before he did it, he opened it up, took out the 1500 year old piece of paper, put it in his pocket, closed it, then threw it in the air, fall, broke, to poor old McKellen. The things you learn in movies.
- If you have a really bad hair cut, you are instantly an academic.
- The role of Audrey Tatou was to ask dumb questions.
- The role of Tom Hanks was to answer dumb questions in a dumb way, that sounded smart.
- For a secret society that no one knew about, a lot of people knew about it.

Frustrating. I fell asleep for twenty minutes. Not that it mattered. I laughed out loud for quite a few lines. People around me joined in. Crazy stuff.

All in all, I give the movie 1/10, because its probably the worst piece of contemporary filmmaking I have seen. Based on the worst piece of contemporary 'literature' I have ever kinda read.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


And here we are.

We've done the second day of shooting for 'ribbon dancer' and all seems to be going to plan. The shots i've been getting are pretty solid, what our director is looking for. So she's pleased. And i'm pleased that she's pleased. Everyones happy and no ones had a tantrum yet. Only trouble so far is... we've got 75 minutes of footage from the last two days, for a dance sequence that is part of a 3 minute film. So that is a 25:1 ratio. We're meant to be working at 6:1. For the entire film. The editor is going to hate someone.. or just cry..

I was reading up at the fantastic madman directors suite page. The Exterminating Angel is being released on dvd. This movie's been on my must see list for several years, probably on par with El Topo. Here's the description.

After a lavish dinner party, the guests find themselves mysteriously unable to leave the room... and over the next few days all the elaborate pretenses and facades that they've built up by virtue of their position in society collapse completely as they become reduced to living like animals...

Directed by Luis Buñuel, made notorious by Un Chien Andalou. Razor slicing the eye. Our screen lecturer played Un Chien Andalou in one of our lectures a few weeks back. Shocks and squeals when that shot came on. After the film the lecturer said 'we were now officially film students'. I also discovered that they have The Discreet Charm of the Bourgoisie in the library, available for borrowing.

I'm going to go watch Time of the Wolf. Michael Haneke you crazy man you. More on him later.

Friday, May 19, 2006

House MD and the Justice League

Now is the part where I discuss superheroes and mythological forms.

I was at the lovely Jessica's house the other night, watching House. I hadn't seen the show before, but knew it was about a disgruntled doctor who has a heart of gold. He leads a team of doctors, who work miracles and save lives of patients. They are outstanding members of their field, restoring things to how they should be through the power of science.

Sure, the show was interesting and all, but the analytical film student in me couldn't help but notice structural similarilites in the storytelling to something else. Something called the Justice League. This is the team of superheroes who combine their individual superpowers to fight bad guys and bring the world back to balance again. The team includes Superman (the unofficial leader), Batman, Green Lantern, Wonderwoman, Aqua Man, Hawk Man, the Flash... and others.

House and his team of super-doctors struggle against the odds to help individuals from badness.
Justice League, the team of super-heroes, struggle against the odds to help individuals from badness.

Same stories, different characters, all part of the same mythological culture. House is aimed at adults, mostly middle aged women. The Justice League, in its current version, is a saturday morning cartoon program, aimed at coco-pops munching kids. The programs both transcend the medium itself, to become part of a grander social mythology, where the audience and the producer of the content are in a constant process of defining and contesting the meaning of the world. What is goodness? How can it be overcome? What are the limits of our society? Mythology involves us, we are part of it - through our conversations with others, our relationships. Discussing who would win in a battle between Batman and Galactus is developing forms of myth that have been with us for thousands of years. The nature of good versus the nature of evil. Raw moral tales that show humanity at a purely universal level (individuals battling with life and death) that show us how to live.

Contemporary medical dramas and saturday morning superhero cartoons. Its all the same story.

Woman jailed for poisoning husband

i forgot to tell dave that our da vinci thing was off for today, which was pretty poor. i was falling asleep when i was speaking to jess, which was also pretty poor. self constructed frustrations. i should have seen it coming.

today is day one of the ribbon dancer shoot. im doing the shot list now. we'll see how it goes.
thats my weekend. up in avalon, the northern beaches, shooting stuff.

i think i'll go to my fortress of solitude now.

without a jumper.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

the time is 3:42

and i am sitting outside with rhiannon's computer on my lap. mas203 assignment has been handed in, after a whole weekend of frustration and watching superman 1. i shoot the 'ribbon dancer' movie on friday, saturday and sunday. it seems under control, but like any movie shoot you just have to take it as it comes. if it fucks up, it fucks up, and you just have to try and figure out a way to get yourself out of the situation.

for those not in the know: ribbon dancer is a short (3 minutes) (3 minutes is pretty short) (we've been planning this 3 minute short for about 7 weeks not) pseudo-expressionistic-documentary about a lady named Iva Masec, who is a rhythmic gymnast. Ribbon Dancer. The movie is told in narration, as she tells us of her life struggles. Growing up in the Czezh republic, ribbon dancing was her only passion. then the russians came, and her life changed. i've probably made it sound a bit dodgy, but it is actually a moving story. its an interesting film to be part of, good project for our first film. see what happens anyway. i've been working on trying to get great shots for a while now. im cinematographer on this one. so post sunday it will be done.

this arvo i have the first production meeting for the beekeeper. i'll go into more detail about the film later, but its a revisionist superhero film. think batman begins-ish by way on unbreakable. im going for the naturalistic angle. i don't know what im talking about. its a superhero movie. its dark, a bit bloody, and about bees. so thats in production. wheels appear to be moving.

also making the news in my life: rhiannon, producer extraordinairre and uni friend, got us tickets for splendour in the grass after trying for 4 1/2 hours. we are eternally greatful and bow down to her majesty.

playing at splendour clap your hands say yeah, jose gonzales, the presets, others. its a realy good lineup. brian wilson... even though he's completely drug fucked, hes still got it. heard smile? pet sounds 2. pet. sounds. 2.

dave just came back with a jug of beer. i dont know if ill go to multimedia tute. i have to figure out the shot list with kate. rhiannon is on the phone to her friend, chatting about splendour arrangements. all is fun and great in the world.

da vinci code comes out tomorrow - will give my comments on that one when i see it. not expecting much. i wonder if i can catch this one on fire....

as marlon brando in superman says. monkey monkey monkey.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Who am I?

Hopefully more Joe Gills than Norma Desmond. That could only descend into camp.

sleep is fantastic and i love it

i spent the weekend doing my news and current affairs essay. i probably could have done it relatively quickly, but the fact that i had to do it just kept annoying me. but it got done, finished at 4:30am. Handed in at 7 am. Work at 9. Uni Production meeting at 6. Home at 9. Alseep at 9.01. Being awake for oh, 38 hours is pretty bad.

Instead of doing my assignment, i found some brilliant stuff on youtube.
the first - wes anderson directing/starring in a commercial for american express. its like a short version of one of his films (a short film?). very french-new wave with the francois/criminal.

THAT also reminds me on a tangent, but there is a Melville retrospective as part of the Sydney Film Festival. They're playing Le Samourai, Bob Le Flambuer and Le Circle Rouge, plus five others. I will be going, mostly because the cinematheque is dead and theres no other way to see these movies. If you like Wes Anderson's sytle, you'd love these movies. They're smart, richly cinematic and a brand of french-cigarette smoking cool that could only come out of the 60s. Be a friend and come along. If you're reading this you're probably a film student, so no excuse!!

the second - a david lynch cigarette commerical. Its backwards, has fish falling from the sky (i think), two men dancing. If anything was to say 'this is david lynch', it would be this. bizzare.

so thats what i did instead of doing my essay. Plus start reading Marvel 1602. Its interesting.. Neil Gaiman is a clever bastard... in Marvel 1602 he transfers the Marvel Universe (to those non-geeks, thats Spiderman, X-Men, Daredevil, Captain America, Fantastic Four etc.) to the time of Queen Elizabeth. Interesting examination of mythology, and how the superhero would be represented in that time. Great art, too.

Today I got to sleep in, get 15 hours of sleep. Off to work in a few hours. First production meeting for the Beekeper is tomorrow, which means I have to do the screenplay. Goodbye, friend.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

two accountants celebrating the end of the financial year

int. apartment - night

Two dull looking men, Steve and Michael, are wearing suits and party hats. They are middle aged, balding, and in the mood to party.

STEVE: Have you had any of the punch yet?
MICHAEL: No, but I am aware of its presence.
STEVE: I got it discounted.
MICHAEL: 10 percent?
STEVE: 15.
MICHAEL: Brilliant.
STEVE: I bought the gin to spike it wholesale.
MICHAEL: Have you done it yet?
STEVE: What?
MICHAEL: Spiked the punch.
STEVE: Not yet. Do you want to do it?

Michael puts gin in the punch.

STEVE: You're a devil.
MICHAEL: This is a great party.
STEVE: Who knows what the next financial year will bring?
MICHAEL: Receipts.
STEVE: Here's hoping.
MICHAEL: Lets drink to that.

They clink their glasses, and drink.

STEVE: My wife left me.