In the spirit of the apparent cinematic summer of the superhero action movie, and the very recent San Diego Comic-Con weekend, I watched a documentary called Confessions of a Superhero. 


That one feels like a good stopping point, for the time being, after having written what feels like an unintentionally disproportionate amount of words in this space about comic book movies.  I figure from here I’ll move on to some other cinematic subjects, though maybe I’ll broaden the scope to write occasionally about actual comic books, or even music or novels.  But my primary focus here is movies, and superheroes are predominately what we’ve been given so far in 2008, so that’s what’s on the brain. 



Anyhow, Confessions of a Superhero.  Despite what the single-article of the title implies, this isn’t the traditional single-protagonist documentary (or superhero story).  The film profiles the small battalion of street performers who litter the Hollywood Walk of Fame, particularly in front of the Chinese Theater at Hollywood and Highland.  The story hones in on four characters in particular:  A Superman, a Batman, a Wonder Woman, and a Hulk. 





looks like a fun-house mirror version of Christopher Reeve, and he lives in a shrine to the character he portrays.  He has a questionable backstory involving a prominent 1960s actress who may or may not be his mother [he claims she is; her family doubts it].  He spends much of the movie, and the deleted scenes too, educating the other superheroes on proper public behavior, and the rest on tracking down autographs from Margot Kidder (the 1978 Lois Lane), Marc McClure (the 1978 Jimmy Olsen), and randomly, John Schneider from The Dukes of Hazzard.  Superman’s kind of weird.





looks like a fun-house mirror version of George Clooney and has a REALLY questionable backstory, which, if he is to be believed [the movie raises the question], has more in common with the superstitious and cowardly lot he’s sworn to bring to justice, than with his heroic brethren.  In other words, Batman insinuates that before he was dressing like Batman, he did a lot of bad things to a lot of bad people.  Which he probably didn’t.  Some of this comes out during therapy, which of course he attends in full cape and mask.



Wonder Woman


is an aspiring actress who doesn’t seem to be all that big into this comic book stuff, but somehow seems to be convinced that this is a better meal ticket than that Hooters job.  Honestly this character is one place where the movie’s aim misses by just a little – it’s not entirely clear why this girl, who seems pretty nice and normal (by LA standards), chooses this particular part-time gig.  That said, some of the movie’s truer and sadder moments belong to her.



The Hulk


is also an aspiring actor, who somehow has access to a puffed-up radioactive green Hulk suit, and though he’s just this side of homeless, is probably the most down-to-earth and realistic of the four characters.



How interesting a documentary is, usually halfway depends upon the subject choice, which in this case is a bull’s-eye.  The other half depends on what is caught on camera, which is subject to fate.  In that case, the filmmakers were really lucky with this footage.  All four characters undergo clear narrative arcs through the course of the movie.  Some end up better than they began, others end up worse, and what you think about who belongs in which category depends upon your own view of the world.  Besides all that luck, there is some real talent behind the camera – the movie has better-than-average cinematography and music for such a low-budget enterprise; the four stories are smartly edited together; and the individual scenes are interspersed with memorable and inspired still-photography of the characters.  Great official website too, by the way.



The movie offers a lot of insight into the human condition that is wonderful, disturbing, humorous, and just weird.  Living, working, and carousing around Hollywood over the years, I’ve actually had brief interactions with some of these people — if not necessarily the specific ones profiled here, then with some of the side characters glimpsed at the edges of frame and even referenced by the main characters.  In my personal opinion, this was a ripe subject for documentary.  These costume people are true characters.



For one thing, costume people appear to have a weird, awkward sexuality.  Note the strange scene where Superman and Wonder Woman shower together in full costume to beat the heat.  For a guy who first realized he liked girls watching reruns of Wonder Woman (and Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard, that one was key), I’ll admit I’m not immune to the appeal of a curvaceous woman in a Wonder Woman costume.  But that’s as freaky as I personally get.  There’s other people out there who move in mysterious ways.  However, I don’t really want to ruminate too long on the ways that certain people get their primal joys out of slipping on spandex.  I’m just acknowledging that it’s there, and moving on quickly.


Maybe connected to that, but certainly surprising in its prevalence amidst the Hollywood & Highland characters, is a weird rage.  I’ve seen it happen first-hand where one of those fruitcakes just completely loses his recipe.  Maybe they just get overheated in those get-ups, but these blow-ups happen more regularly than you want to imagine.  The movie cites several news reports of costumed characters getting arrested for breaking laws and arguing with other workers in the area.  Across the street, Jimmy Kimmel rightly comments on and harnesses the trend for comedy purposes, but rage issues really do seem to be a strange trend with those folks.  This movie’s Batman character, in particular, is the sum total of all of that.  His anger, and the trouble it leads him into over the course of the movie, isn’t even unnerving – it’s just sad.



As a contemporary document, the movie also tangentially shines a light on some of my least favorite things about LA, including:


  • The cruel and stupid body image perpetuation against actresses [Of the issues that this movie’s Wonder Woman may or may not have, her weight is not one of them, although her agent implies otherwise];


  • How easy it is in this town for people who should never go near guns to casually get full access to them; and


  • The misdirection of LAPD funds and energy by the LAPD.  Or maybe costumed panhandling is actually that pressing an epidemic that undercover officers need to routinely pose as tourists to sting these sidewalk characters.  Really? 



Also, the movie is useful for simply being a buffet table of wacky moments.  For example:  One of the characters stumbles across the red carpet at a Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame star unveiling ceremony, and wackiness ensues.  Who knew that Superman was such a huge fan of Antonio Banderas?


And finally, I liked Confessions of a Superhero because it took a deliberate pace, one that invited reflection.  Look, I’m a big comic book fan and an even huger movie maniac.  I’ve got one foot firmly planted in the world of superhero costumes.  So I hope I’m not misunderstood by going down this road, and this is only me talking, but this movie made me think about something:


Costume people generally make me uncomfortable and more than a little melancholy.  I guess I felt compelled to write this essay because I wanted to try to figure out why.  Maybe the costume people bum me out because as much as I may think I love the same things, my commitment is lacking by comparison.


They love the stuff that I love, way more than I love it.  Way more than I am willing to love it, certainly.  Sometimes I think I’ll never love anything as much as these people love their costumed heroes. 


It just feels like seeing the things I loved as a kid, outside of their proper context, always somehow puts a melancholy spin on them, like those YouTube videos of Mr. Rogers in an evil clown mask, that new Star Wars animated movie, or Gary Coleman.  Superman is a symbol of entertainment and positivity for kids, not a coping mechanism or a focus of obsession for an unstable grown-up unwilling to accept certain truths, as the Superman portrayed here is.  Seeing how he wears it, casts the uniform itself in a depressing light.



And sometimes, it’s the simple images that haunt.  I don’t want this to come off as insensitive or cruel, but in all of the unfortunate costumes I’ve seen at Comic-Con or at Hollywood & Highland (where it’s Comic-Con all year round), maybe one of the saddest sights I ever saw was a bald guy in a wheelchair wearing a Starfleet uniform. 


This bummed me out for a multitude of reasons, none of which I can even fully articulate.  But maybe it’s simply this:  This stuff isn’t real.  Maybe it should be real.  Maybe the world would be more inspiring, more motivating, more fair – definitely more interesting – if this stuff was real.  


But it’s not. 


Confusing the point, even momentarily, is one of the most futile things a human being could do.  But we all keep trying.  No, not “we.”  They do, where the rest of us are too embarrassed, too confined by dull reality, to try.  What they do is noble and optimistic and totally pointless, and probably that’s what makes it a tiny bit sad.



Or I could just be thinking too much.  Coming up next:  Talking animals!