Review by Jason W
Posted on 06 November 2007
Source Arts Alliance America 35mm print
Categories The 27th Atlantic Film Festival
Ahh, Hollywood. If a Bizarro World of sadness exists, this place is it. The struggling actors playing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Hulk in Matt Ogens’ Confessions of a Superhero are tragic doppelgangers to these heroes as they exist on the comic book page. Every day the subjects of this documentary gather in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard with fake Jack Sparrows and Buzz Lightyears, mingling with tourists who want their pictures taken amidst a sea of fictional icons, while not even noticing that real people in need of pocket change to survive are playing these icons.
There is Christopher Dennis, the flat chested, chain smoking, Christopher Reeve look-a-like who plays Superman. Maxwell Allen is a Batman who wears a Keaton-era Batsuit, and who happens to look like George Clooney if Clooney’s Booker character from Roseanne had continued working in a factory for the past twenty years, and had a giant gap in his teeth. Wonder Woman is played by Jennifer Gerht, a MidWest beauty queen struggling with her weight and consequently her self esteem, and the Hulk is played by Joseph McQueen, a black actor who only wants his big break in kung-fu comedy films. Via the lives of these three men and one woman we gain a glimpse into the wonderful, pathetic world of Hollywood Boulevard costume busking.
These actors don’t get trailers, they don’t have lines, and nobody cares if they show up late or don’t show up at all. They do their own make-up and wear their uniforms to and from work, like fast food clerks who lost a lifetime bet. Most pathetic of all, they are just another part of the Hollywood tourist trade that no one would plan a day around to see. Tourists get their picture taken because they are walking by, and if one Spiderman or Shrek is busy, there is another one nearby to take their place.
A very entertaining fictional short could come out of this film, and I’m not sure you would even need more footage than what is already in the finished film. There’s footage of Superman shaving in the morning, Batman talking to his therapist over personal rage issues, Wonder Woman arguing with her not so wonderful husband, and Hulk nearly passing out on the street from sunstroke. The film complicates the pain of wanting stardom, revealing for what feels like the gazillionth time Hollywood as the unfriendliest place on Earth. Images of superhumans are made fragile through the beatdowns of Tinseltown reality.
If nothing else, Ogens’ film uniquely emphasizes the difference between public exposure, being recognized in public, and true fame and fortune. The actors who work on Hollywood Boulevard dressed up as pop culture characters are seen by the public everyday and even well-known to a degree, but the fact that they are constantly accessible in a town which equates power with closed doors reveals costume busking as one-step away from being a non-working actor. There is nothing exclusive, stable, or relaxed about this gig, and the fact that these actors are not the least bit elusive reveals their lack of importance. Are costume buskers unique? Absolutely. Are they stars in a town filled with stars? Absolutely not.
Ogens’ film reminds viewers of many documentary truisms, particularly that if you are a good documentary subject, chances are you won’t be famous in the ways you want to be. The reason for this is that others see the best documentary subjects more clearly than the subjects can see themselves, leading to vulnerabilities and inconsistencies as to how a subject presents themselves to the world. By such a standard, both Christopher Dennis and Maxwell Allen are great subjects, because neither man seems to have complete agency over how they presents themselves to those closest to them, to tourists, or to the film viewer. Dennis’ obsession with all things Superman is confusing, and one wonders if Dennis comprehends that he only looks like Christopher Reeve and is only playing Superman. Maxwell Allen yells at tourists throughout the film and tells made-up stories to his psychotherapist of a past life of murder and betrayal which are clearly forged, and even forces the therapist to break into a huge, uncontrolled grin in the middle of a session. Bad form, but hilarious.
Documentary and fiction filmmakers will always be able to mythologize Los Angeles as the place dreams come to die, so long as people from around the world keep traveling to L.A. with the delusion of being movie stars. Is it just me, or does the whole idea of Hollywood seems like a joke constructed against impressionable children wanting to be famous, who should know better once they hit their adult years? There isn’t a metropolis devoted entirely to finding the next great firefighters or ballerinas while unceremoniously spitting all of the mediocre firefighters and ballerinas out, so why tease kids who want to be on the big screen when they are in the second grade with an entire city devoted to such a job as an adult? I don’t know if it is extremely cool or extremely sad that after seeing Confessions of a Superhero you can hop on the next flight to Los Angeles, head down to Hollywood Boulevard, and meet the stars of the film. For the change in your pocket, you can even get your picture taken with them, and if you’ve got the time, you can grab a coffee and watch them work. In a way, Confessions of a Superhero is about children who never stopped believing in their dreams. What the film captures beautifully is the damage caused by holding onto ones’ childhood dreams in a world that wants to entertained, but couldn’t care less about who is doing the entertaining.
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