Saturday, January 24, 2009

FotM: Really? It just sort of comes naturally to me.

Steven Spielberg often says he can remember the first movie he ever watched and how it affected him. I have been in love with the movies for as long as I can remember, so in a way it makes me sad that I cannot remember the first film of my life.

When I sat down to think about the films that have influenced me or changed me in some way an entire rolodex of films flashed through my head, these were all films that I remember watching for the first time and watched many more times after that, movies like The Princess Bride, Star Wars, Blazing Saddles, L.A. Confidential, The Fountain and a whole slew of movies in between. I was fully prepared to write about The Usual Suspects and how greatly that movie influenced my view on movies and filmmaking until I realized that sure, The Usual Suspects influenced me but it was not the first movie to influence me – there had to be movies that put a love of films in place long before I ever encountered the world of Verbal Kint as a high schooler. It was then that it struck me, one of the movies that has had the single most influence on me through my entire life is Superman.

From my earliest days I remember that my father had a hardbound copy of a collection of early Superman comics. He kept it on an immense bookshelf that was built into an entire wall of my brother’s room. More than once I remember (before I was tall enough to reach) climbing up this book shelf so that I could grab this book and haul it back down where I would sit and flip through the pages watching Clark Kent & Superman’s exploits. Superman fascinated me. You can imagine how much more I was fascinated when I was old enough to see and process Superman the movie.

To this day I remember the awe my childhood mind felt as I saw Superman stand on the side of a building and thwart a jewel thief, fly with Lois Lane and yes – even fly around the world backwards to reverse time and save the day. I didn’t think about the special effects involved, I just thought about Superman and that maybe Christopher Reeve really was him, he just hid it like Clark Kent did. I loved that movie and it increased my love of that hero. Superman was real to me because he had flown off the pages of my dad’s book and into a movie.

As I grew up I kept watching Superman and as I evolved as a film viewer and later a filmmaker how the movie influenced me evolved too. I saw Superman II and realized that Superman had other levels to him, I then watched Superman III and realized I wasn’t going to like every Superman film that was ever made. But I would still watch the first film and I would be happy, even as I realized that Christopher Reeve wasn’t Superman, and that the film itself was very flawed in regards to the story itself and the way it treated the main characters.

One of the saddest days of my life was the day that Christopher Reeve was thrown from his horse. I remember thinking that Superman couldn’t be hurt like that, even though I knew he wasn’t really Superman. It was after that accident that Superman and Christopher Reeve somehow separated and entwined even more for me because as Christopher Reeve came back into the public eye as a quadriplegic and became an activist for the paralyzed research into spinal cord injuries he showed me that it was possible to conquer even the most daunting odds, and somehow doing all of this in a broken body made him even closer to the Superman I always thought he was as a child. To this day I am a fan and supporter of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. I don’t admit this often but I actually cried the day that Christopher Reeve died.

Through my adolescence I became more interested in Superman the character and I continued to watch Superman the movie. At some point as I became what I call a Superman purist I realized that no matter how much I adore that movie when it boils down to is Superman has never been faithfully adapted to screen and Superman & Superman II were fatally flawed and cheesy, though not entirely the fault of the filmmakers (who didn’t have movies like Rami’s Spiderman to bolster them) as too few good versions of comic book movies existed until a few years ago. This has not made me hate Superman, it has simply made me realize that despite the talents that went into making the movie, a better version could still exist.

When God finally hit me over the head with the knowledge I wanted to direct Superman stayed with me, but again my interest in it kept evolving; I could see the flaws and the beauty of the film and when Superman Returns came out my love of Superman evolved yet again because I realized if I ever am going to get to see Superman and Clark Ken the way I see the characters in my head, I or someone like me needs to be the one that makes a Superman movie. The first real hard thoughts of a dream project were born. It’s a project that I may never get to make, but it’s a project that inspires me – all because I fell in love with Superman as a child.

When it boils down to it Superman is one of the many, many movies that influenced me as I grew up, but I think it is one of the few movies that is going to stay with me in some way my entire life. So as I work on my computer at my job and Superman stares at me, as the symbol hangs on my Christopher Reeve Foundation key tag, my Superman shirt stares out from my closet, or one of many images looks at me from my bedroom walls I can remember that it all started with my Dad’s book and Superman the movie.


Anonymous said...

Nice retrospective! Out of curiosity, how would you rank the Superman films that have been released?

Mine would be:

Superman II
Superman Returns
Superman IV
Superman III

The last two are really interchangeable with one another though.

I had high hopes for the last one because of the talent involved but it just didn't gel for me for a variety of reasons. I think II is one of the best sequels out there (comic book or otherwise) and I hope that the next Superman is as fun and coherent a film as that one was.

I guess I could have included the other media projects like the Doomsday direct to DVD film and the several TV series but I just wanted to focus on the films. I think the Fleischer show was probably the best on screen portrayl of Superman and I'd be very happy if they make the next one like that even if they have to set it in the past.

Chris W said...

I thought I had commented on this but apparently I didn't. First of all this was a great post because it wasn't what I was expecting yet it made perfect sense. It also reminded me that even though it's very flawed the original Tim Burton BATMAN had a huge effect on me. That movie made me lose my mind as a kid and I became obsessed with watching it over and over again unlike I had seen up until that time. This of course makes perfect sense if you know Megan and me, because I'm a Batman person and she's all about Superman. Batman's better but that's a discussion for another day.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about the SUPERMAN movies I don't think ANYONE thinks they're perfect and as a life long comic fan I assure you they are not. That will hopefully change one day, but honestly I'm hoping it's not too soon. There is a perfect SUPERMAN film out there and it's been gestating in Megan's head for years now. She's told it to me and one of these days I'm going to do everything in my power to get it to the big screen (I.e. I'm gonna write it though she likes to "tease" me that I'm not) because it will finally be the cinematic treatment the ultimate big blue boyscout deserves. So keep crossing your fingers that WB continues to screw up the franchise for a little while longer.

Megan said...

Christopher - :)

Senor - Sorry it took me so long to reply. If we're just talking about the big theatrical films of Supes it would go something liek this.

Superman I & II (II probably edges out I)
Superman Returns - this is by far the most beautiful Superman film thus far.
I don't think III & IV really deserve a ranking...

Anonymous said...

I'm the last person to get on your case about late replies seeing as how late this one now is.

Seems like our rankings are similar with the exception of the last two. As much as I love Pryor he had no place in the films and I don't like the campy version of Superman so I slightly gave it to IV.