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

Thursday, April 26, 2007

the real colossal

i've often wondered what colossal would look like if he were rendered as a generic superhero. through the powers of the internet and electricity, this has now been realised.

this is an image of what colossal thinks of himself - the superhero.

its a cross between fabio, noah (of the ark fame), jesus, superman and the cool kid at school. but with an ideal representation like this, it makes the authentic colossal so much more complex and layered. he's cooler, i think.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

notes on patrol

this post will discuss one of my recent productions, patrol. Talking about the intent, influences, what i wanted the film to do, etc. Its always fun to read more into something than was initially intended, and in a kind of superlative wank fashion, thats what i plan on doing.

It was conceived early this year as a kind of french new-wave approach to superheroes. The original script, about 10 pages long, followed two superheroes - the centaurian and hawkboy, walking around on their daily patrol. Hawkboy, an annoying chain smoker is pissed off because the Centaurian is running late for his shift. They have a conversation which descends into insults, lies, pop culture references and awkward silences. The film ends in an anti-climatic fashion, where Hawkboy discovers that his cat may or may not have died. He doesn't admit to it because, he's a man.

So with that simple premise - two superheroes on Patrol - one uptight, one laid back and professional - the movie got its grounding. The names of the heroes were 'temp' names. When the costumes were hired it became Amphibian Man (because of the aquatic themed costume) and Colossal (because its skin tight and he put socks in his unuderpants to highlight his genitals).

There were a number of episodes of Patrol shot over the four days we had the costumes. Firstly, there was a kind of 'test' version, where the actors (myself and Andrew Robards) tried to get a feel for the characters. It centered around an apartment complex, and was shot in a single take. Its easy to say it was done as an homage to Godard, Truffaut, but really its more about time and simplicity.

We shot a version in a car, at night. This became the completed Patrol, that you have probably seen. The car set up was inspired by Abbas Kiarostami's film 10 (ten). That was shot on digital video, pretty much one shot, set in a car. It has ten vignettes which focus on the female and her role in contemporary Iran. On the DVD of 10 Kiarostami, a true auteur, wanted to say with his film that any one could do it.

Fuck it then. I'll do it. I'm not Kiarostami, but why not. Just add superheroes and I'm there. We shot the film for about an hour, in character the whole time. That became Patrol. What is interesting is how you forget the presence of the camera when its just mounted on a dashboard, and how you completely inhibit a character.

Following on from this we did a version, which was closer to the original intent, where Amphibian Man and Colossal walk around the streets of Marrickville, talking. We also shot another version in the car, during the day, with another superhero to provoke Colossal (not that its particularly hard).

The version shot on the street was fine, but sound problems kind of hamper the dialogue. You would need to shoot with another camera to cover the spontenaeity of the dialogue, and the momentum of the characters. What suprised us was the way in which the location of the car altered the dynamic of the two flawed heroes.

In a car, you cannot escape a person. You can't shrug your shoulders and walk away. You're stuck with the other person. This forces you to talk. Having it set in a car also gives it a sense of realism, and works strongly with the ideas of the other superhero volumes - the peripheral events of these characters, highlighting their flawed nature.

I think of the film as a kind of cross between Kevin Smith conversational films, a buddy cop movie, a superhero comic with Batman and Robin and an alternative art film. Its funny, buts its not to everyones tastes. Nor would I expect it to be.

The length of Patrol is self-indulgent, but when you make these films for yourself and your academic cause, who else is there? I think the film gains a rhythm of its own, like you are observing a conversation in the front seat of the car while you sit quietly in the back.

Also, the presence of the filmmaker in the film, the documentarian in the backseat, highlights the constructed nature of the documentary form, and in turn, superhero characterisation. The fact that a guy with a camera is sitting in the back of the car, quietly filming, reminds that this is a film. This is make believe. There is no truth to any of this. This is interesting to me, because it is a self-reflexive device and because it is counter to the superhero genre. It wants you to believe that heroes exist. Patrol suggests that they exist, because you want them to exist. And they exist flawed because thats what they are. So its a bit of a fuck you to batman and robin.

I like dialogue in films. I can't particularly write it well, but once you've got the characters the rest of it is sweet. Hopefully the people who see Patrol enjoy it, maybe take a little bit of my argument home with them, and if not get a laugh out of it. Because its not serious - superheroes can't be taken seriously. You can pretend that its serious, but really, come on.

That was a bit of talk about Patrol, if you were interested in it. There would be a behind the scenes of it, but essentially the finished product is a behind the scenes of itself. When creation and deconstruction fuse in cinema. It exists at the same time it tears itself apart.

I enjoy it as a superhero volume, and its alot of fun. I think both Colossal and Amphibian Man are strong characters who work within a certain kind of genre but bring it down to earth with a painful shudder.

You should try making one some time. Just get a mask, a camera and a car and you can be the next Kiarostami. Thats what he says anyway.

Monday, April 09, 2007

On Daredevil

A demon searching for redemption through justice.

Daredevil is a Marvel Comics character, created in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Bill Everett. According to Lee, Daredevil was designed to fill a void in the market - bring back the swashbuckling Errol Flynn esque pulp stories to a contemporary audience. Stan Lee devised a yellow costumed hero who bounced around, fighting bad guys with style and pinache.

Daredevil is blind. Unlike other superheroes who are defined by what they 'can' do (Superman can fly, Spiderman can swing between buildings, Batman can make gadgets) it seems that Daredevil is the first character who is framed by what he cannot do. A superhero with a physical disability seems somewhat absurd when placed next to the generic staples of the superhero character. How can someone who can't see be as heroic as Superman?

This is where the Marvel Universe, for me anyway, supercedes that of DC in terms of characterisation. Stan Lee explored the humanity of the heroes, their flawed nature in contrast to their otherworldly powers. In the 1960s, the hero couldn't exist in a vacuum - a world without consequence. This was the era where the Fantastic Four were evicted. Where the X-Men were outcasts. Where the blind could fight crime, in a costume.

The construction of Daredevil as disabled was not simply a novelty. It was a risky commercial endeavour to have a physically disabled superhero in comparison to other comics that were beings produced. Daredevil was a B-grade hero, no match for the bigger names on the Marvel lineup and produced bi-monthly. Its popularity meant it didn't get cancelled, and has been a beloved character that has grown in status over the years.

Daredevil, like other heroes, is significantly flawed. The motivation in the character is inconsistent. His actions are shallow and problematic. Where this all becomes interesting is in the way justice is explored in the comic.

Daredevil's alter ego Matt Murdock, is an attorney by day. He is successful, a defender of people who can't afford lawyers. He makes a lot of money, and tries to work within the system to stamp out crime.

Note: I said that Matt Murdock is Daredevil's alter ego - Daredevil being the main character.

By night, Daredevil dishes out his own kind of justice. Cold, brutal, vigilantism. The people who escape the courtroom of Murdock find themselves hounded by a red garbed demon who will fight them until they can barely move.

How is it that someone can work within the law, believe in its power and universality, and as a great democratiser - laws define what is right and what is wrong, to do wrong you go to prison. How can someone defend that system while still act as a vigilante. Working in everyones justice - when that doesn't work, make your own justice.

The phrase 'Blind justice' is one of those gimmicky one-liners that writers like to drop into action scenes. It gains greater relevance when placed into the flawed context of Matt Murdock/Daredevil. Daredevil's actions are blind, motivated by avenging the death of his father. This is revenge, not justice.

The way justice is represented in the comic is an a flawed element of superhero ideology. To have a 'hero' who acts out of revenge, beyond the regulations of the law is a shaky thing to present to youths. It seems as though vigilantism and individual justice is the only way to equalise the world. Daredevil is ego-centric in this respect, he may be blind, but he certainly can see exactly what he wants to do. He acts on instinct and emotion. Those messy, human traits that shouldn't play part in justice.

The father/son relationship in Daredevil is possibly the strongest I've experienced in my reading. The relationship is so poignant and tragic. The father loves his son. The son loves his father. The father, wholly good hearted if a little bit stupid, is killed. The son, trying to eternalise his love for his father, fights people in his fathers name. The son in turn becomes something that his father would despise. Michael Corleone might be too harsh a comparison, but Daredevil isn't the swashbuckling Robin Hood he was designed to be.

These are some first impressions of the character. I'm working my way through an Omnibus of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's work on Daredevil, which I'll discuss later. Miller's use of samurai mythos and catholic iconography may redirect where the character is headed. However, after going through Brubaker's recent work on Daredevil (where realism is king) it becomes apparent that the writers are aware of the paradox in this character. The only way for the character to get out is to go further into the hell that he created.

Daredevil is a tragic character, lost in his own delusions of self-worth. His justice is blind, and so are his motivations. He will never achieve redemption for himself, or his father, because everything he is has been built on a flawed grounding. He could be the ultimate superhero for today. Wholly human. Flawed. Violent. In a costume, in the name of justice.