Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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So I finally got a chance to watch American Splendor yesterday, and I have to say it was a pretty big dissapointment. This was a dissapointment of a profound type as well, since I had been anticipating it for well over a year, had read the source material and just loved it, and was getting a chance to watch it on DVD on a day where I had nothing else on my mind. The stars were all aligned for love, but I got burned nonetheless.

Usually I really like being familiar with the source material of a film before I see it. It helps me flesh out a lot of the detail that gets skimped over whenever a 5-6 hour book is turned into a 1.5-2.5 hour movie. It also helps me to appreciate choices that the adapters made, and sometimes even their reasons for making them. In this case, though, I think it was a mistake. One of the reasons is that the movie copies the source material very exactly, but imperfectly. It crammed in a bunch of vignettes that are in the comic but the soul of the work got lost in translation. I think the main problem was in the story that the film was trying to tell. The comics tell the story of Harvey Pekar, everyman artist at large. They were written as his life progressed and so they built upon each other but there was no foreshadowing or worries about including extraneous details that don't go anywhere. In many ways the comic is all ABOUT the 'extraneous' details of life. The movie was created after quite a bit of time had gone by and it was basically about the build up of Harvey's life to the creation of the film.

No no no no no no no.

That's boring. Been done before. American Splendor the comic is splendid because it takes the time to give you a seven page story about a pair of glasses that aren't really lost, or trying to save a squirrel that makes off into the bushes and never gets found again. It does occasionally delve into lengthy stories that show how Harvey's life is changing, but those come off as more character development than coherent narrative. In other words American Splendor isn't special because it tells the story of a flunky file clerk who becomes an underground comics hero. It's splendid because it tells the story of a flunky file clerk. The fact that he eventually becomes an underground comic hero may have been intended from the beginning, but it was not pre-determined and it isn't where the meat of the story lies.

The movie fails to grasp this. It tells a coherent story, and in doing so it fails. There are a few little vignette things, including one in a bakery that is the best scene of the film, but ultimately each of them serves a purpose. That's wrong wrong wrong. It degrades the story and misses the whole point of the exercise. There are other problems with the film, like the jarring use of the real people involved in uncharismatic uninformative segments that interupt the film, and the fact that the dialogue is sort the primary one is in the story structure. It's the aesthetics of American Splendor without the heart.

The Rob Schneider version would probably have been just as good.

I saw something on TV the other day that reinforced how fucked up journalism is these days. An anchorwoman said "The consumer price index, better known as the CPI..."

WHAT? Who knows the Consumer Price Index as the CPI? Maybe economics geeks or policy wonks, but they ALSO know what the Consumer Price Index is, and don't need the clarification. As for the rest of us, when we hear CPI we think "Hey, isn't that that TV franchise with David Caruso in it?" Not everything needs to be turned into an acronym for easy consumption, and when you use acronyms that are not widely known (using FBI is a non-issue) you actually REDUCE the amount of information that you are getting across and further stratify knowledge in this society. I don't think that viewers need to be babied and told what the Consumer Price Index is each time it's mentioned, but don't lie and say it's better known as the CPI to try and make your viewers feel like idiots. Don't do that.

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