Saturday, February 28, 2009

MOVIES- Confessions of a Superhero

Let’s say that you’re a young person who wants to be a star. You get out of high school, buy a bus or plane ticket, and head to Hollywood. But you don’t know anybody and you’re surrounded by literally thousands of other young people who have the same dreams and have done the same thing. Perhaps you are attractive, talented, and lucky enough that lightning strikes and you start getting roles. Perhaps you aren’t. Either way, you’ve got to find a way to make a living while things happen. What do you do?

You might find a job as a waiter, or in a McDonalds, or any one of the million other jobs young people do when they are starting out. But that isn’t going to help you. You need to be seen. You want to find some way to act. You want some way to get in front of the public.

Maybe you dress up like Superman, or Batman, or Wonder Woman, or the Hulk and go stand out on the Hollywood walk of fame and have your picture taken with tourists.

CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO is a relatively unknown (OK, I’d never heard of it) documentary about people who dress up like comic book character and hang out on Hollywood Blvd so tourists can take pictures with them for tips. Nobody hires them to do it. They aren’t licensed by the owners of the properties and legally they can’t even ask for money for what they do. They just make a costume and take off. CONFESSIONS shows you a snapshot of the lives of four of these people.

There’s Chris, a Superman who has been doing this for years and may have become a little too obsessed with the role. He does look sort of like Christopher Reeve, if somebody had left him in the oven too long. The film follows him to Metropolis, Illinois for the annual Superman Celebration that’s the little town’s only claim to fame. I don’t want to give too much away, but we get to know a lot about Chris during the movie and some things about him are strangely ambiguous.

Max is a self-professed “George Clooney lookalike” who dresses in a Batman Costume and has anger management issues. Max also has a colorful past, though, like Chris, there are questions about what that past might really be.

Max and Chris are pushing middle age, but Jennifer, who dresses up like Wonder Woman is in her mid-twenties. She came to California from a little town nobody has ever heard of in Tennessee and still has most of her dreams intact. But life is what happens while you make other plans and during the course of the movie she has some life happen.

And Joseph, the most un-Hulklike Hulk you could imagine. His transformation from a slightly built black man to a giant green monster is accomplished with the help of a full head mask and a head-to-toe green muscle suit. Joseph sold his Nintendo to buy the bus ticket that got him to California from the small Southern town he grew up in and landed in town the second day of the Rodney King riots. He’s probably had the hardest time of the four since he hit the coast, but things are looking up.

Sure, these people might be a little odder than most, but if you aren’t you don’t go to the coast and try to be an actor. But, then again, they might not be that different at all. During our 90 minute stay with these folks, director Matthew Ogens shows us one getting married, one divorced, one arrested and one landing a role. My immediate feelings about the strangeness of these people was replaced by understanding and sympathy. The movie is more affecting that I ever thought it would be. I found myself rooting for these strangers who spend their days standing in the California heat dressed up in silly costumes in the hope someone will give them a few dollars to have their picture made with them. And hope to become rich and famous actors someday. Like most superheroes, it’s the people behind the masks that make the story interesting.

The question of whether or not what they do is panhandling comes up a couple of times in the movie, but I don’t see how it could be. They render a service for the money they are given and it’s a far more honest way to make a living than attacking someone’s car at a redlight with a squeegee and a bottle of windex.

Ogen has made a half-dozen documentaries before this one, a couple of them for television, none of them which you’ve probably ever seen either. But perhaps that’s why he seems to have such compassion for these people. Like them, he obviously takes pride in his work and is looking for his big break. The movie is professionally shot and edited and doesn’t suffer from the bad lighting, poor sound, or shaky-cam problems that plague a lot of low budget documentaries. He never lets his direction and camera work get in the way of telling the story of these four people.

CONFESSIONS OF A SUPERHERO is available from Netflix on DVD or through their instant download service and is well worth seeing if you are a fan of superheroes, struggling actors, documentaries, or just getting a glimpse into the lives of four people trying to make a way in the world. It has several surprises and is well worth the time.

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