Saturday, April 30, 2011

Confessions of a Superhero

Written by Joe the Revelator

In one of the strangest niches our society has created lies a sect of panhandlers who dress as their favorite superhero, stroll the Hollywood strip, and take pictures with tourists. Marilyn Monroe pretends to smooch with a pedestrian. Spiderman hops up on trash cans to shoot invisible web at people. And on the bad days, Elmo and Mr. Incredible get cuffed and jailed for getting pushy and breaking the rules.

They’re all waiting for their shot at the big screen. They have talent agents and coaches, they go out for casting calls. And when they’re not getting hassled by the cops for aggressive begging, they’re performing on the street, striking heroic poses.

Matt Ogen’s documentary follows four heroes who have seen better days. At a glance they look like Hulk, Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. But up close you can see where the spray-painted yellow bat symbol didn’t dry properly, or where Hulk’s mask is slit up the back, or how Superman’s narrow shoulders are slight under his cape. The costumes are all homemade and the actors wearing them are technically unemployed, working for ‘tips’, if the people flocking to them for a photo op are generous enough to pay out five bucks.

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The camera doesn’t stay on the street though. It follows them and captures a slice of their life, their history and relationships. Ever wonder what kind of woman would date a man who wears a cape 16 hours a day? We’re given a good look at their homes, grit and all, and their secret identities might just make you cringe.

There’s something infinitely surreal about watching Batman, still hidden by his leather cowl, explaining to a psychologist that he has anger issues. He even pauses a moment to wipe away the tears which have collected under his mask. Or to listen to Superman lament about the worst day of his life, which surprisingly wasn’t during his battle with speed addiction, but the day Christopher Reeve died. In fact the only hero whose life is on an upswing is Hulk, who has improved his condition from homeless to living in a small apartment without furniture.

Superman, who seems to be the focus of the film, claims to want to star in movies. But this is contradicted somewhat by his odd leadership of the street performers and commitment to the lifestyle. He lectures the new Ghostrider about morals and takes steps to calm Batman’s outbursts toward the public. His apartment is cluttered and stacked with Superman memorabilia. He even makes a trek to Metropolis Indiana for the annual Christopher Reeve day, to compete in a superhero look-alike contest he doesn’t even place in. The other heroes openly admit Superman is the “crazy” one of the group, possibly believing himself to be the man of steel.

After the cape stops fluttering:

By the end of the documentary I couldn’t decide which emotion the director was trying to evoke; sympathy, pity, or humor. Maybe all of the above. I laughed like a madman watching Batman get put in the back of a squad car (which he subsequently kicked out the back window) for picking fights over a port-o-potty urinal. Wonder Woman’s history felt the saddest, the classic failed actress who packed her bags after high school and came to Hollywood on a dollar. And Hulk’s optimism was so natural and sedate it was infectious.

Would I recommend Confessions of a Superhero? When I see these people the only sure word that comes to mind is Byproduct, of stardom, of media, and of economy. Having said that, I would heartily recommend this documentary. And be prepared to feel weirded-out for the next few days.

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