Well, everybody else here is talking about Wonder Woman, so I guess it’s my turn. Caution: there may be S-P-O-I-L-E-R-S ahead! (Especially my sixth bullet, below.)
It’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. Gal Gadot is to WW as Christopher Reeve was to Superman. Her portrayal of the Amazon leaves an indelible print upon the character; it’s as if Zeus did indeed exhale, not upon a figure of clay, but upon a two-dimensional comic book form drawn of pen and ink, allowing her to step off the flat page and into the three-dimensional world, granting her life and all the depth and breadth of humanity.
Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is not some ineffectual weenie who somehow got through basic training, nor is he some steroid-enhanced muscle-bound moose. Nor is he the male version of a 1950s Lois Lane, mooning after love. Nor is he the callous male hunk in love with his own reflection. And though he opens Diana’s eyes to what is going on “out in the world,” his piercing blue eyes are not the reason she leaves Paradise Island.
Etta Candy got short shrift, but it’s clear that she’s not some Woo-Wooing sidekick. Yes, she’s a secretary, but she’s no slave; secretaries do get paid, y’know. To even be a working woman in 1918 was pretty daring, and to work in military intelligence means that she’s no slouch when it comes ability. World War I was the start of a new social order in England, as those of you who watched Downton Abbey know, and I’m pretty sure Etta votes Labor and has marched for woman’s suffrage.
I loved the portrayal of Themiscrya. Of course I immediately thought of George (Pérez) as I looked upon the architecture and facades of the city; and I also thought of my own work and remembered how, as I wrote, I would picture Diana’s home in my head. (I also thought of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, another book that also features a mystical island of women.) But it wasn’t just George or my own work or Bradley’s; it was also a callback to my childhood, when I would look at the clouds piling up on the horizon as the sun set, and see castles and waterfalls and NeverNever Land and magic.
The battle against Ares: eh. Not so much. Almost anti-climatic in my book. The battle of the Amazons against the Germans invading Themiscrya? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Diana’s realization that killing Ares did not stop the war, did not stop the violence and destruction was like watching a child who is told numerous times to stay away from the oven because it’s hot, but still reaches out when Mommy’s not looking to touch it, and…wow, it hurts! I guess, sometimes, you just have to let the kid learn for herself.
What was with the woman in The Phantom of the Opera mask? No back story, nothing. Who was she? We understand why the Queen gives the poison apple to Snow White; we get why Maleficent put the curse on Sleeping Beauty. I thought that perhaps she was an Amazon who had left Themiscrya because she was “bored now,” or something; but nope. Nada. Unless she shows up in some future sequel – maybe she’s Circe?
Referencing Mike Gold’s columnof July 7: Are you fucking kidding me? Fox News will do and say anything these days as their ratings sink and their Orange Führer sinks even lower.
Gal Gadot is Israeli and Jewish. (There are Israeli Christians and Muslims, y’know.) Apparently this bothers some people:
Washington Post: How the Jewish Identity of ‘Wonder Woman’s’ Star is Causing a Stir
Comicbook.com: There IS a Person of Color in the Lead Role
The (Jewish) Forward: ‘Wonder Woman’ Sparks Debate About Jewish Identity
Slate.com: Why So Many People Care Wonder Woman Is Israeli
Do these people know that Jesus Christ was Jewish? Do they realize that the odds of a Middle Eastern man born approximately 2,017 years ago on being blonde and blue-eyed and white are considerably less than the odds of winning the Powerball lottery?
And, sure, Cleopatra looked like Elizabeth Taylor – who converted to Judaism, by the way. Liz, I mean.
Fucking assholes… Welcome to the Age of Trump, people.
As of last Monday night, Warner Bros grew a Superman problem. That’s the night that Supergirl started its second season on its new home, the CW… where one could argue that it always belonged anyway. The show guest starred Supergirl’s cousin, Superman, embodied on TV by Tyler Hoechlin.
If you don’t already know, DC – unlike Marvel – does not link its movie universe and its TV universe. Since DC Comics is currently in the Multiple Universe concept once more, it might help to think of their TV and movie universes as alternate dimensions. So we can have two Flashes, two Wonder Women – and two versions of Superman.
The DC movie version of Superman, as shown in Man of Steel and Superman vs. Batman: Dawn of Justice Whaddee Do Dah, is played by Henry Cavill and is a darker, more brooding, somewhat more Batman-ish Superman. His costume is also darker, almost a blue-black. He is, we are told, a more “realistic” Superman. And that’s where I think the trouble is going to lie.
Supergirl’s Superman is a more traditional Man of Steel. He’s a brighter, more confident, more hopeful vision. And, not to slam Henry Cavill, Tyler Hoechlin is a better actor. As a kid he held his own with Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, and Daniel Craig in Road to Perdition where Hoechlin played a starring role as Michael Sullivan, Jr. (Sidenote: not everyone realizes that Road to Perdition is also a “comic book movie” based on the graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Work that little factoid into your conversations. Amaze your friends. Go out and get a copy. Great read. End of plug.)
The Superman appearing on Supergirl is more my idea of who Superman is – confident, capable, friendly, powerful and, according to one character on the show, smells good. When he walks into the DEO, the government facility where Lara’s adopted sister Alex works, people just stop and stare. Superman works the crowd, smiling, shaking hands, setting people at ease not like a politician or even a celebrity but like a nice guy from Kansas which, for all his powers, he is.
Hoechlin also does a great Clark Kent, reminiscent of Christopher Reeve’s great turn, having a deft sense of humor to the portrayal and making the bumbling aspect work. When his cousin secretly congratulates Clark on a well executed file fumble in the elevator, he tells her it wasn’t an act. That’s endearing.
Also, in the TV aspect of the DCU, there isn’t the underlying mistrust that the DC movie universe has for this strange person from another world. Batman wants to kill Superman because the Kryptonian could be a threat; one of the arguments leading to the creation of the Suicide Squad was who could stop Superman if he decided to burst through the roof of the White House and grab the President? On Supergirl, people trust the Man of Steel. Seeing him, or his cousin, inspires hope. While the darker portrayal may be more “realistic,” it’s not what the character is about.
I’m not looking for a return to the Superman of the Fifties as seen in either the comics or the TV show. To be honest, that one bored me even as a kid. The movies, however, makes him more angsty, more dour, and less Super. Hoechlin is only scheduled to appear as a guest star on the TV show for right now but he wears the tights and the cape – and Clark Kent’s glasses – quite well.
I know that in BvS: DoJ (spoiler alert, I guess) Superman dies at the end of the film but we all know he’s coming back for the Justice League movie. I, for one, wouldn’t mind if the movie Superman uses the grave as a chrysalis and pops out as Tyler Hoechlin. Or maybe they can have Tyler spin off into a series as Superman. I’d watch it. And I bet lots of others would as well.
And that’s going to be WB’s problem – the better Superman isn’t on the big screen; it’s on the small one.
Back when days were yore and the sun was yet in the sky and I had a shining splendor of a job – could any job be better than editing Batman? – I didn’t always go film versions of comic books. Not sure why. Fear? Of disappointment? Of being shown that others were better than I was? Of just needing to get away from my day job and watching actors portray the characters who lay on my desk was not exactly getting away from them. All of he above? None of the above?
Not that I missed all the superhero flicks, but I still haven’t seen the last Christopher Reeve Superman and I caught only a few minutes, on television, of the Ben Affleck Daredevil. There may be others I’m forgetting.
Now, though, I catch ‘em all, even the ones that reflect my comic book labors, and I tend to like them, even those that are darker/grimmer than they might need to be. The most recent Daredevil – the unAffleckian version – and the quite similar Jessica Jones are not exactly jolly entertainments. In a few minutes, when I leave this computer and get in the car, I’ll be off to see the much discussed and maligned Batman vs Superman and tonight I’ll probably tune into FOX’s Gotham while recording what is, I think, the lightest and brightest of the teevee superdoers, and of course we’re talking about the lovely Kara Danvers – Supergirl.
I accused Ms. Danvers of lightness and brightness and that’s true only if you can ignore the Maid of Might’s backstory which, like her cousin Superman’s bio, involves the destruction of an entire planet, including friends and relatives. Many of the other costumed heroes have grim pasts too. Batman, of course, seeing his parents killed in front of him and Spider-Man, responsible for his beloved uncle’s death, and Daredevil whose father was killed and who owes his powers to a nasty accident and the Thing, changed into a monster by radioactivity and Iron Man and Nightwing and and and…
Are we dealing, here, with modern fairy tales? Well, there’s Bruno Bettelheim, of the renowned psychologist Bettelheims, who said said that scary fairy tales, with all those dark woods and evil witches, are developmentally healthy because they allow youngsters to face and acknowledge fears, and then reassure the kids that they will survive. And I’ve read very few, if any, comics that did not end with the good guys triumphant.
Batman vs Superman, currently playing at a theater near me, has a happyish ending. I know this because somewhere/when in the last bunch of words I went to a theater near me and saw the movie. Then I came home and checked the email and
had dinner. Oh, and did I like the movie? Well, that might be a topic for another time. Or not.
…a new disaster movie starring The Rock called “San Andreas” is slated to premiere in theaters. From the trailer I noticed that some of the film’s big disaster set pieces (the destruction of the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate bridge) looked very familiar to me. They are almost shot for shot the same as from one my favorite movies growing up – the 1978 film “Superman.” So I decided to re-edit the “San Andreas” trailer to take out The Rock and put in a 27-year-old Christopher Reeve as Superman. I even rotoscoped him flying from the 1978 film into “San Andreas.” Christopher Reeve’s Superman was my first childhood hero growing up. I still consider him the definitive Superman and I still can hear his voice when I read new Superman comics. So it was an immense pleasure to drop him into a modern day movie and see him fly one more time in his prime. Please check out “San Andreas” re-cut to the 1978 film “Superman,” I call it SUPERMANDREAS For more info on how this was made and to compare it to the actual “San Andreas” trailer you can goto my portfolio site.
This week I’ve got a bunch of different topics and themes but none of them seem to be developing into a coherent column. So I think I’ll take parts of all of them and just stitch together into a hodgepodge column. It’s the end of the year so maybe I can get away with it.
If you’re doing a SF tent pole movie, you want to hire Zoe Saldana and use her prominently. She played Neytiri in Avatar, Uhura in the two latest StarTrek films, and Gamora in Guardians Of The Galaxy and she’s going to be in the next installments of all these films. They all made what is technically called a shitload of money. Coincidence? I think not. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if she shouldn’t be cast as Amanda Waller. (Sorry, Oprah.) I really want the upcoming Suicide Squad movie to sell like hotcakes and spawn sequels and Amanda Waller related merchandise. Okay, I’m crass. Still, think about it. . .
Peter Capaldi has finished his first season as the new Doctor and I like his Doctor McCrankypants. It’s a nice variation of the past few Doctors. Not as crazy about all the writing, tho, and I really am beginning to feel it’s time for showrunner Steven Moffat to move on. When Moffat is good, he’s really good and he’s rarely outright bad but he’s often becoming mediocre. He seems, to me, to not always think things through. Or he gets clever for the sake of being clever.
Best Animated Film I Saw This Year – How To Train Your Dragon 2. The animation was better than the original and the story wasn’t a re-hash of the first but actually advanced the characters. It was fun but also had real emotional depth and impact. In fact, it was a better film than many live action serious movies I saw. It took chances.
Best Marvel Film I Saw This Year – a lot of people would say Guardians Of The Galaxy and I loved it too. It was just wonderfully entertaining. However, I liked Captain America: The Winter Soldier even more. Chris Evans is to Steve Rogers/Captain America what Christopher Reeve was to Superman. Why doesn’t Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow have her own movie? How the hell did they get Robert Redford go play the main villain? (Oh, right – money.) And Samuel L. Jackson just has deep reserves of cool to call on. The movie also had a major impact on Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. which was an added bonus.
Just finished reading Alexander Mcall Smith’s latest installment (number 15!) in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, titled The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café. The series is set in Botswana, Africa, and features Precious Ramotswe, her partner Grace Makutsi, and their friends, co-workers, and clients in and around the city of Gabrone. The characters are all African and the author is white, born in Rhodesia, now living in Scotland. He writes the characters with great love and understanding, along with a great love for Africa in general and Botswana in particular. Reading each new book is like visiting old friends. The mysteries are mostly small matters and not really the focus of the series. It is the people. I recommend the series and, while I suggest starting at he beginning, each book is admirably written to be accessible even if you haven’t read the others. I will warn you that they are quiet books, slow paced, but wonderful reads.
Final note: just an update since so many of you expressed concern following my recent triple bypass. I’m healing nicely and recovering well. My general practitioner, on my last visit, pronounced me “medically boring.” I’ve never been so glad to be called boring.
Well, that’s 2014. Drive carefully, drink responsibly, party carefully, and we’ll all reconvene in 2015.
Well, I finally saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier this past week. Yeah, I’m a Johnny-O come lately. Got to see it in my preferred format these days, IMAX 3-D, and I and My Mary had a really good time. To me, Chris Evans’ portrayal of the Star-Spangled Avenger ranks with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman, and that’s top of the heap.
The movie also asked some interesting and morally murky questions. How far should we go to make things “safer”? CA:TWS was a political thriller as much as it was a big time action feature (and it was a big time action feature). It paid homage to its comic book roots, taking elements from comic book continuity, treating them with respect, and frequently bettering them.
There were also great performances all around. How the heck did they get Robert Redford to agree to be in it? One explanation I hear was he has grandchildren but I have to think that the other was he had a well written character and some great lines. It was a good part. Anthony Mackie made Sam Wilson/The Falcon a high flying character and more than a sidekick, as Sebastian Stan did for Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier. And, of course, there was Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, with some choice action sequences, some twists and turns, and a persona that places him morally between Cap and the villains. He was like a male Amanda Waller and I mean that in the bad-assest way.
And then there was Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow. The one question I had as I left the theater (in addition to “When am I going to see it again?”) was “When are they making a Black Widow solo film?” I already knew the answer to that. She’s scheduled to be in the next Avengers outing and she might be in the next Captain America or Iron Man film but there is no solo film yet scheduled for her.
That brings us to this week’s real topic: Why the hell not?
The Black Widow is as badass as they come. She is a consummate fighter and an accomplished spy. She is beautiful, sexy, funny, and with the suggestion of an interesting backstory, she can be ruthless and can hold her own with not only S.H.I.E.L.D. but the The Avengers as well. She’s played by Scarlett Johansson, who is gorgeous and sexy and an incredibly talented and accomplished actress. What more do they want?
They’re making a movie about Ant-Man, for crying out loud. Ant-Man. And a little later this summer they’re bringing out Guardians Of The Galaxy. The previews look like fun and I’ll probably see it, but The Black Widow has got to have better name recognition and so does Ms. Johansson.
Over on the Warner Bros lot, they’re making a film featuring Superman and Batman and shoehorning in several other characters, including Wonder Woman. There is no talk of a Wonder Woman solo film. I read the studio head make a wistful, “We’d like to do it” sort of noise but, again, nothing is on the horizon.
Why the hell not?
I’ve heard the past rationales: they don’t think the audience will support it. They point to Catwoman and Supergirl as proof. Here’s an answer: don’t make a sucky superhero film. Batman And Robin or Superman Returns didn’t kill off those franchises. They gave them pause but both franchises got re-boots and started again. This time, they made good films that found an audience.
Would a movie starring a female protagonist sell? Look at Katniss in The Hunger Games movies. Tough warrior, good with a bow and arrow, complex character and the movies sell. Role model for young girls everywhere. Do they seriously expect us to believe that the Black Widow or Wonder Woman can’t do the same?
We’re left with one conclusion: Wonder Woman, for all her powers, can’t punch her way through the glass ceiling. And that’s a damn shame.
Martha Thomases’s column on Friday addressed the sexism and gender issue that is suddenly so rampant in the comics medium and its, ahem, sisters, science fiction and gaming, as I did last week – again.
Sexism and gender issues are nothing new to me in my other life as a registered nurse. Do I have to tell you that nurses have been the targets of sexist bullshit forever? (Female nurses, that is. Male nurses are part of the “club.”) However, these days most hospital administrations have strict “zero tolerance” policies, meaning that any type of hostile behavior, including sexism, is not, well, tolerated. And most of them mean it. If it happens, the perpetrator is usually given a choice – attend a proscribed amount of therapy sessions or be fired, although there are several “behaviors” that will cause immediate termination (such as calling your workmate a “fucking Jew,” which happened to me several years ago and he was out on his butt within the hour). However, if the perpetrator completes the program and still “acts out,” well, say goodbye, asshole. No “three strikes, you’re out.” Oh, and if the asshole doesn’t complete the program, then “make a new plan, Sam.”
Too bad we don’t have a zero tolerance policy in place in comics.
On the other hand, just as Martha (and Emily) pointed out that women are becoming the driving force behind comics, those women coming up behind me in nursing are also becoming the driving force of the nursing profession, standing up and saying, “you’re going to treat me with respect, mister.” And the men are listening.
• • • • •
I’m not rushing to see Man Of Steel, though I loved Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in The Tudors. Instead I’ve been on a Christopher Reeve binge, watching Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie and his director’s cut of Superman II.
Donner and his creative consultant, Tom Mankiewicz rewrote the original story and script by Mario Puzo, David and Leslie Newman, and Robert Benton, which they felt was too campy (it included a cameo by Telly Savalas as Kojak), as one complete story. As the first film moves towards its climax, Superman diverts the missile headed towards Hackensack-ack-ack-ack-ack, New Jersey – “Lex,” Miss Tessmacher (Valerie Perrine) says, “my mother lives in Hackensack.” Lex Luther (Gene Hackman) just looks at his watch and shakes his head – into space, where it explodes harmlessly…or so we think.
As rewritten by Donner and Mankiewicz, there was to be a coda to the film, in which we see that the nuclear explosion rips open the Phantom Zone and frees General Zod, Ursa, and Nog, followed by a banner that would read “To Be Continued In Superman II.” It was the perfect cliffhanger. But “creative differences” led to Donner’s dismissal by the Salkinds, and Mankiewicz went with him. Richard Lester was hired in his stead, so we got the theatrical version of Superman II, which was an independent sequel, not a continuation (and includes the coda, now moved to the beginning of the film).
There are some glitches in the director’s cut version of Superman II, because not all of the originally shot sequences could be found and restored, but it does include additional scenes between Kal-el and Jor-el, which serve to not only deepen and humanize their relationship, but also strengthen the film’s theme. And it’s not only the relationship between father and son that benefits – the bond between Lois and Superman is further intensified and explored.
Im-not-so-ho, it’s a travesty that Donner and Mankiewicz were unable to bring their true vision to the screen, because both really got the character and the mythos. It’s so apparent that they totally respected the source material, and on the commentary they talk about the plans they had, how they could have created a franchise perhaps equaling Star Wars, because there was just so much there in Superman’s history waiting to be translated to the big screen. The four disc set I have (available on Amazon (here) also includes some nifty extras, such as Reeve’s screen test and the screen tests of many of the actresses – Anne Archer, Leslie Ann Warren, Stockard Channing – being considered for Lois, which at the time was a hungrily sought-after role. (I think Channing’s take on Lois was especially interesting, but she was a bit too “Rizzo,” a bit too Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday.) But the charisma between Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in her brilliant screen test is easily apparent – and that test became a key scene in the restoration.
• • • • •
Tomorrow, as I write this, is Father’s Day.
I was going to go down to South Jersey today to visit my dad in an attempt to avoid the traffic, but I had fucked around all morning, sipping tea, working on the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle – everyone thinks that Sunday’s puzzle is the hardest, but it’s not, it’s Saturday’s that makes you sweat – and listening to NPR…
…and then I read this week’s Entertainment Weekly’s cover story on Superman – EW was not much impressed with Man Of Steel, btw, giving it a “C”…
…and then I sat down at the computer to balance my checkbook before I left and instead played various forms of Solitaire…
…and then boss man Mike Gold called and an hour later we hung up and I looked at the clock and it was coming on 1 P.M. – holy cow!! – and I hadn’t even taken a shower yet.
But it turns out that not going today was a good thing, because my mom just called, and we’re going to take my dad (who’s been living in the rehab/nursing home facility of their complex since his third seizure) over to my brother’s house for a Father’s Day celebration, and my mom – she fell two weeks ago, and although she didn’t break anything, thank God, she is in a lot of pain, and besides, the months since my dad first got sick have not been good for her physically, emotionally, and cognitively – is going to need help getting my dad dressed and ready to go, which really means that I will be the one getting my dad dressed and out.
It’s a blessing and a miracle that I can still hug my dad and see him smile at me and kiss me and call me Mindela* – though to tell you the truth, my real dad, one of the Greatest Generation, the P-51 fighter jock, the man who taught me what integrity and honor really means, is already gone, if you know what I mean – because, to tell you the truth, I didn’t think he would be, and also to tell you the truth, I don’t think he’ll be here when Father’s Day rolls around again.
So fuck the traffic.
*Little Mindy. Adding la (“little”) at the end of a name is a common endearment in Yiddish.
I’m writing this while listening to John Williams’ magnificent score for Superman – the one and only Superman, starring Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder.
Well, this morning (Sunday, June 2, 2013) I was doing my usual routine, sipping tea at the breakfast table, working on the New York Times Sunday crossword and listening to NPR. (Yeah, I’m a media multi-tasker.) NPR’s Studio 360 series “American Icons” was about to start. It turned to be a rebroadcast of a program that originally aired on July 6, 2007.
And today’s icon was…
I didn’t remember hearing the original broadcast, and I’m guessing the station chose to rerun it because Man Of Steel is about to be released. At any rate, being a comic geek, I was delighted. Commentators included Margot Kidder, Jack Lawson, Bryan Singer, Michael Chabon, Jules Feifer, and Art Spiegelman. It touched on many areas – of course Siegel and Schuster and the shitty way they were treated by DC (NPR never reins in its guests, which is why I love it!), the relation of Superman to Jewish mythology and the immigrant experience, the history of Superman in the media, from the comics to radio to the dynamic Fleisher Studios animated movie shorts to television to the big screen – although there was no conversation about Man Of Steel, since it was a rebroadcast from just before SupermanReturns was released.
Even though it is an old program, the content was still relevant – proving their point that Superman is an American icon. And the producers did their homework. A section that I especially liked was the discussion of Superman: Red Sun (by Mark Millar, Dave Johnson, and Killian Plunkett. The prestige format mini-series, which hit the bookshelves in 2003 and was later collected and released as a graphic novel, was published under DC’s Elseworlds imprint, and explored this particular “what if?” scenario: What if Kal-El’s rocket from Krypton had landed in the Ukrainian farmlands during the Cold War? What if Superman wasn’t raised to fight for truth, justice, and the American way, but – as Millar wrote – “the Champion of the common worker who fights a never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact?”
This led to a really cool conversation on totalitarianism, fascism, World War II and the Nazis, and the use of Superman during that time as a propaganda tool by the American government to promote American ideals and values. As fellow columnist Robert Greenberger wrote here at ComicMix on December 7, 2009 , “a special edition of Superman…was produced for the U.S. Army.The Army had a problem at the time – they were drafting thousands of men a year, but many of them had no education to speak of, with large swaths of them functionally illiterate, and they were expected to operate complex machinery pretty quickly. They had to learn how to read, and fast. The troops also needed cheap and portable entertainment, something that could be carried through the battlefields of Europe and Asia.So with the cooperation of National Periodical Publications, the forerunner to DC Comics, this edition was produced by the War Department with simplified dialogue and word balloons. Hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed to GIs, and it helped them learn to read and to pass the time. And of course, copies of the comics were handed out to kids in faraway lands, as gestures of goodwill.”
The guests also discussed Superman and his role as the ultimate superhero, someone who has the power to do either enormous good or enormous evil. Either way, isn’t his decision to act at all, to interfere in the lives of the mortals beneath him, that of Nietzsche’s “übermench,” who will decide the fate of society?
IM-always-Not-So-Ho, Studio 360 did a great job dissecting what it is about the Kryptonian that makes him an American icon, and I totally recommend going to the NPR website and either streaming it or downloading it for podcast for your listening pleasure.
Williams’ score is still playing.
What really strikes me as I sit here, scenes from the movie replaying in my head – the oh-so-cool opening with the kid reading a comic and the camera zooming in on the Daily Planet as it transitions from comic page to “reality,” Superman rescuing the cat from the tree, of course Superman’s first rescue of Lois (“You’ve got me? Who’s got you?!”), the finale with Superman flying in orbit around the Earth and Christopher Reeve looking at us and smiling as he zooms off camera – is the impressive way that Williams leads the music from a grand, baroque science-fiction scenario (Krypton) to the down-to-earth gentleness of the Kent’s farm to the majestic sweep of the Kansas prairies as Clark follows his destiny to the romantic, impossible reality of Superman in Metropolis.
There are the Great Eternal Fanboy Questions. (The Eternal Fanboys sounds like a comic itself or a geek Goth band.) One of them is “Who is stronger, the Hulk or the Thing?” Or the variation “Thor or the Hulk?” You can even ask who is stronger – the Hulk, the Thing, or Thor, but that gets complicated and a little metaphysical.
The Classic Eternal Fanboy question, though, predating the others is “who would you rather be, Superman or Batman?” Supes can fly and has all those powers; he’s become sort of the Swiss Army Knife of superheroes as more and more abilities were added over the years, like super-breath. There are mornings when I’ve had super-breath. Not quite like Superman’s but still pretty potent. It had me grabbing the Kryptonite mouthwash.
Batman, on the other hand, is all dark and moody and mysterious and he has all those wonderful toys! And, underneath that cowl and cape, he’s human. One of the prevailing arguments in the debate is that we could never be Superman because he’s an alien from another planet but if we really worked at it, if we were as dedicated as Bruce Wayne, we could become the Batman.
In your dreams, pal. Never going to happen. All us Eternal Fanboys also have second lives as the Eternal Couch Potatoes. Maybe we could be Herbie the Fat Fury, who got his powers from special lollypops, but not The Batman.
As a comic book writer, I’ve been asked the question more than once (and have pondered the answer a few times) which character would I prefer to write – Superman or Batman? Most of you who know my work would probably guess Batman and, for much of my early career, it was true. My forte are dark, moody, violent characters and Batman certainly fit into that. Superman was this big blue Boy Scout with an annoying girlfriend and a personality almost as thin as the paper on which he was printed.
Over the years, however, that’s changed and these days I find I’m drawn more to the Man of Steel. I suppose it started with Christopher Reeve’s portrayal in the 1978 Superman movie. It was Superman’s humanity that struck me. That also came out in Grant Morrison’s superb All-Star Superman run, simply one of the best incarnations of Superman that I’ve seen.
For me, the heart of Superman, the basis of who he is, is not the powers that he has. It’s that he was raised on a farm in Kansas and those are the values that were instilled in him. At heart, he is Clark Kent. Not Kal-El of Krypton and not Superman. Not even the Clark Kent as perceived at the Daily Planet. At heart, at his core, he’s that Kansas farm boy. There is a humility in him; his upbringing is what defines him as a character and not his powers and that, I think, is how it should be. It’s who he is and not what he can do.
Batman has become a much darker and less human character over the years. It’s his way or the highway. He no longer tries to intimidate just the bad guys but his friends and co-workers as well. Batman is the central personality; Bruce Wayne barely appears and then only to serve Batman’s needs. He’s a compelling character, no question – but not one I feel drawn to as much anymore.
Maybe it’s just that I’m growing older but I value Superman – Clark Kent – for that humility, that humanity, and find that it speaks more to me. For all his being an alien, I think Superman is more human than Batman. So, for me, the answer to the Eternal Fanboy question is – I’d rather be Superman.
Rear Window (1954). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, from the story by Cornell Woolrich. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter. 112 minutes. *** 1/2
Rear Window (1998). Directed by Jeff Bleckner. Screenplay by Larry Gross and Eric Overmyer, from the story by Cornell Woolrich. Starring Christopher Reeve, Darryl Hannah, Robert Forster. 89 minutes. **
Other Related Films: Too many ripoffs and homages to count, among them Disturbia (2007), which is so similar to Woolrich’s story that the owners of the film had to go to court to get a ruling that they hadn’t violated Rear Window’s copyright.
This one’s an oddity, folks: a remake that was actually based on a breathtakingly brilliant idea for a variation on a movie that was a classic to begin with, that nevertheless utterly failed to live up to its promise.
The source was the short story “It Had To Be Murder,” by suspense great Cornell Woolrich, all about a man temporarily laid up with a broken leg who has nothing better to do while he heals than look out the window and watch the lives of his neighbors. As it happens, one of those neighbors has a murderous secret involving the sudden disappearance of his wife. Our hero gradually pieces together the clues – all predicated on his neighbor’s odd behavior, all of which has other potentially innocent explanation — and ultimately brings the malefactor to justice.
There is no girlfriend in the story, no great emotional character arc linking the mystery to a pivotal crisis in the hero’s life. It’s just something that happens to him, something that makes his brief existence as an invalid a little more interesting than it might have been otherwise. (Other Woolrich stories are more emotionally fraught: the failure of SOME great moviemaker to adapt his horrific stunner, “Momentum,” remains a mystery.) The subsequent movies required more, and are in at least case significantly more satisfying.
The 1954 version written by John Michael Hayes and directed by Alfred Hitchcock presents us with the case of one L.B. (nickamed “Jeff”) Jefferies (James Stewart), an international action photographer who is laid up in his rarely-used Greenwich Village after getting a killer photo of a race car wreck, which he evidently got from standing in the road while the twisted wreckage spun ass-over-teakettle toward him. (In a sense: serves him right). We gather from much of the dialogue about his activities, taking photos in hot spots around the world, that getting the impossibly dangerous shot is his specialty. The man is a danger junkie, now confined to a wheelchair and about to go crazy as he waits the last few days for his cast to be taken off. He’s an action hero reduced to inaction hero. He has nothing better to do than to look out the rear window and watch the lives of his neighbors.
The courtyard his tiny apartment overlooks is one of the great indoor sets in the entire history of the movies. It is a complete, living neighborhood in and of itself, comprised of a number of different buildings of different design, overlooking a central area where the inhabitants have carved out flower beds and little patches of lawn. There’s even an alley, through which Jeff can see the street, and passing cars. For the 112 minutes of the movie, the action never moves from this place, except to pull deeper into Jeff’s apartment where he has conversations of varying import with his visiting nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), his old war buddy Tom Doyle (Wendell Corey), and his socialite girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), who is pressing him for further commitment.
The first thing to note here is that this is a guy who honestly cannot decide whether he wants to be married to Grace Kelly. This is a plot point that has appalled friends I’ve shown the film. But some men do flee domesticity, and one of the grand, subtle jokes of the vast multi-layered tableau that fes Jeff as he looks out his window and spies on the outside world is that every single life he spies upon presents him with another possible future, depending on whether he says yea or nay to Lisa. There’s the pair of ardent honeymooners, pulling down the shades and initiating an implied marathon love-making session that seems to go sour after only a couple of days; there’s “Miss Lonelyhearts,” the miserable woman stuck in a particularly miserable and increasingly despairing singlehood; there’s “Miss Torso,” the good-time party gal who always has men hanging around and represents the erotic opportunities Jeff might enjoy if he ever lets Lisa go; there’s the middle-aged couple with the little dog, who every night drag their mattresses out to the fire escape and snore away in relative comfort, all sense of passion gone; and finally, there’s the Thorvalds, whose marriage has turned toxic, and who have so little to say to one another that they’re almost always visibly in separate rooms, framed by different windows. It’s worth noting that nowhere in this slice of life are there any children. Children would fall outside the metaphor, which is like all great dramatic metaphors felt without any particular effort to underline it. What Jeff sees is very firmly the face of Jeff’s dilemma. The second thing to note here is that all of these spied-upon characters have an arc of sorts, played with perfect modulation as the drama in the Thorvald apartment – where the much put-upon husband (Raymond Burr) appears to have offed his wife – takes center stage. Almost all of them pay off. So does the drama in Jeff’s apartment, where in between banter with Stella and romantic complications with Lisa, he resists and then embraces his obsession with Thorvald’s apparent crime. It’s a marvelously layered film, with comedy and relationship drama and even questions over the creepiness of Jeff’s activities all braided together in a tapestry of remarkable design. These days, some viewers may find it requires patience. But it rewards that patience. I don’t think it has a single dull moment, and key among its best attributes is the way the clues to Mrs. Thorvald’s murder don’t just pile up in some facile way, but at times offer competing explanations, and reasons to turn away.
Nor is Jeff given a free ride on the moral issues. His voyeurism – hardly asexual, but certainly bored – is criticized by everybody in his circle, and the movie takes delight in using this to indict the audience. The moral issues are so nuanced that it is even possible to feel sorry for Thorvald, after everything Jeff has put him through in order to prove his case. Thorvald is not an evil man, per se; just a very unhappy, very weak, very trapped one who has done a horrendously evil thing, and when he confronts Jeff (who he presumes to be a blackmailer) with an anguished, “What do you want from me?”, that one line is likely the most empathetic moment of Raymond Burr’s career.
But then all the performances in the film work at an equal level. It is among the best films of James Stewart’s career and one of the best of Grace Kelly’s. Even the supporting players across the courtyard inhabit their roles with grace and a deep sense of humor. It’s very nearly a perfect film, and though it’s been imitated a dozen times, it’s hard to think of any wrinkle that would even stand a chance of improving on it.
Enter Christopher Reeve.
The sad but stirring twist in the life of Christopher Reeve is so well known that it need not be recapped here; suffice it to say that I concur with author Brad Meltzer’s take on the man, that he achieved fame by playing the indestructible Superman and greatness standing in the mortality of all of us Clark Kents.
I don’t hold with the popular wisdom that Reeve was never great on screen except as Superman; I would argue that he was pretty damn chilling as a sociopathic playwright in Deathtrap, and pretty damn good a couple of other times. He was certainly no liability in Remains Of The Day opposite Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. performed in front of the camera on several occasions following the terrible accident that made him a quadriplegic, and was therefore a natural when somebody hit upon the startling brainstorm of casting him as the lead in an updated Rear Window. Why wouldn’t it work? Jeff in the original is pretty damned vulnerable as a man of action who has been sidelined by a mere broken leg; how much more helpless will his character be, when he cannot move a muscle under his shoulders, and requires live-in help just to get a cup of water when he wants one? Wouldn’t that ramp up the scares even more?
This is not a unique idea. As it happens, there is an entire subgenre of what we’ll now call “handicap thrillers,” involving physically impaired characters who must overcome their limitations in order to overcome the evil intentions of various murderers and thugs. Among them: the terrifying Wait Until Dark, which starred Audrey Hepburn in the adaptation of the Broadway play about a “world champion blind woman” terrorized by gangsters searching for a cache of drugs in her apartment; See No Evil, which pit a blind Mia Farrow against another murderous plot; and Mute Witness, about a woman who…well, you can figure out the rest. There are even other thrillers featuring lead characters in wheelchairs. Hell, thriller writer Jeffery Deaver has written a pretty damn terrific series of novels about his quadriplegic forensic scientist Lincoln Rhyme, one of which was made into an unfortunately not-very-good movie with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
The inherent claustrophobia of Rear Window should have worked wonders with the predicament applied to a quadriplegic, and with a quadriplegic we all loved in the lead.
And this much needs to be said: in spurts, Reeve is terrific. He always excelled at the dazzling smile during an emotionally vulnerable moment, and has several opportunities to pull off that trick here. Throughout this film, he has scenes that play off the heartbreaking realities of life as a one-time vital person reduced to immobility, including one where he regards a closet teeming with clothes that he will likely never wear again. Early scenes, with him in the hospital bleakly wishing he was dead, are downright painful to watch, in light of our certain knowledge that Reeve lived those moments and felt those feelings.
But – and boy, do I feel like a heel for advancing this case – he also sabotaged this movie’s effectiveness as a thriller from the get-go.
The problem is that, by the time it was made, Reeve was quite rightly an advocate for spinal cord research, and for state-of-the-art medical treatments for people with spinal cord injury…and as such, acutely aware that this movie, by far his most substantial acting role after the accident, was the best place to advocate for his cause. So he made demands, and nobody involved with the production had the heart or the good sense to say no to him. So it begins with him in the hospital, features him declaring that he will walk again someday, and includes scenes of him undergoing arduous physical rehabilitation to triumphant music long before he even gets to the apartment where he will observe the murder across the way.
This is absolutely fine if you’re making an issues drama of the challenges faced by quadriplegics, less fine if you’re making a thriller – a short TV movie, no less – where all these scenes take time and bleed tension from the story you’re supposed to be here to tell. Another problem arising from this is that, as a result of all this can-do spirit, the character he plays is exactly the same at the beginning of the movie as he is at the end; he doesn’t rise to the occasion, and he doesn’t learn about himself. His character arc is a straight line.
The story might have worked better if Reeve had been a despairing recent quad who imagined he had little to live for, for most of the film, and was brought back to some interest in life by his engagement with the murder scene across the street…a natural plot development given how many quads attempt suicide in the early years of their disability – but such attention to emotional realities, or at least dramatic ones, would have interfered with his personal mission to make this a hidden advocacy film.
Reeve’s advocacy harmed the film in another way. At the time, he also said he wanted to show the kind of tech available, to aid quadriplegics in living fulfilled lives. So there’s a lot of that, in his character’s home: including voice-activated computers that control the lights, the elevator, the phones, and so on. His character has an attendant in residence at all times, a fulfilling career with partners who respect him, and a beautiful woman who by the end of the movie will fall in love with him. This is all nice stuff to have. It doesn’t replace a functioning body, but it makes the transition to a disabled life as easy as it can be. So what we have, here, is quadriplegia as Christopher Reeve lived it – which, while it functions as drama, is absolute death when it comes to a film of suspense. Imagine he was a quad of more modest resources, living on disability, in a cramped space with only limited assistance – and THEN suspected that a murder was taking place across the street. This guy can afford to set up surveillance equipment, just in case he misses anything – and, by the way, unlike the original film’s protagonist, whose voyeurism bothered his nurse, his girlfriend, and his cop buddy, this guy’s video cameras are treated as cool stuff by almost everybody concerned. The voyeuristic aspects never receive substantive criticism.
Time hasn’t been kind to the concept, either. In 1954, the rarity of air conditioning – a factor in other Hitchcock movies discussed here in the past– meant that it was perfectly reasonable for the residents of a middle-class apartment complex to live their lives in full view, playing out entire dramas in view of their windows. In 1998, it doesn’t make nearly as much sense…especially since the Hitchcock provided a far more spacious courtyard with apartments set at varying angles and not the direct-line-of-sight posited by this movie. Also – as any thriller writer will tell you – the invention of the cellular telephone has been absolute hell on plotting, and its inclusion in the remake is no exception. Too, the killer here is a one-dimensional designated asshole, not nearly as interesting or as oddly sympathetic as Raymond Burr was in the original.
Finally, there is no wonderfully complex courtyard across the way: just a single dull edifice that fills Reeve’s line of sight and offers him what amounts to a collection in television sets in the form of conveniently-placed windows. There is no comparison to what we were given in 1954. It’s flat, in every sense of the word. This was not Reeve’s worst remake of a notable film: his last movie as a fully-abled man was a terrible version of Village of The Damned, and we will someday cover his participation in a truly unfortunate version of The Front Page. (It was called Switching Channels, and he played opposite Burt Reynolds and Kathleen Turner.) All we can say of this one is that it just didn’t work.
The View From The Apartment
1954 version, an undisputed classic. 1998 version, a missed opportunity.
And now, I watch from cover as the wife engages in sinister activities…
Second Commentary by Judi B. Castro
Rear Window (1954). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by John Michael Hayes, from the story by Cornell Woolrich. Starring James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr, Thelma Ritter. 112 minutes. *** 1/2
Rear Window (1998). Directed by Jeff Bleckner. Screenplay by Larry Gross and Eric Overmyer, from the story by Cornell Woolrich. Starring Christopher Reeve, Darryl Hannah, Robert Forster. 89 minutes. **
Other Related Films: Too many ripoffs and hommages to count, among them Disturbia (2007), which is so similar to Woolrich’s story that the owners of the film had to go to court to get a ruling that they hadn’t violated Rear Window’s copyright.
I so wanted to like the 1998 rethink of Rear Window. I mean come on it had Superman starring and proving he just might really be. Besides, the original was really showing a few grey hairs (not just the one’s previously claimed by Jimmy Stewart). But, alas, it was not to be.
In 1954, and even up to the mid 70’s, it may have been commonplace for someone to become a temporary voyeur via injury or illness. Boredom had fewer releases than today, little television, no computers or video games. Books were limited at most libraries by budget and distance to said library. And most magazines came out monthly, so a long convalescence had a lot of downtime. So its believable that the Stewart character could easily start watching his summertime neighbors and playing mind games with himself. Its even possible that those same folks might not notice him watching, or could pass it off as just a friendly guy at his window. Creepy neighbor watching became the meme much later.
The things I find totally unbelievable for that time or EVER, is that any straight man, whether injured or not, rich or poor, or whatever, could have Grace Kelly in her most gorgeous state, throwing herself at him (and wantonly at that) and he can resist and actually ignore her! PUHLEEZE! Dude didn’t have a broken leg, They were feeding him large quantities of saltpeter. Next, the home nurse never insists he leave the apartment, just cleans him up and lets him hobble about his two rooms. Six to eight weeks in solitary confinement? Is that doctor recommended?
Now, how about that remake? I can believe that architect Christopher Reeve has enough cash reserve for all the wondrous toys both medical and electronic he buys after his accident. I’m sure he had much better access than the average newly paralyzed patient and just figured he could walk back into (so to speak) his job and most of his old life. Ummm… ??? How? Most of his firm’s partners would attempt to block him from anything to do with the job or the public and claim it was for his own sake.
Now, how about the crux of each thriller, the supposed murder of the neighbor’s wife.
In both films the murder is based on the supposition that a disappearing wife meant a murder had been committed. Neither is proven conclusively, but both disabled leads taunt the murderer into a full on attack. In the 1954 film, I honestly believe that Jimmy Stewart, hobbled or not, had a fighting chance against Raymond Burr. Not so with Chris Reeves. How could he? His ability to defend himself was purely run and hide. he couldn’t draw a gun or knife on his attacker, he could only call 911 if that. The suspense was only if he could breathe long enough for help to arrive. In other words, uhh, no really.
So, to sum up. 1998 had a good try at an update, but needed less disability to keep the suspense alive. 1954 needed a leading character who wasn’t wearing a giant “L” on his forehead for the whole film.