Friday, May 3, 2013

American Splendor: Review

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) lived the life of a real working class hero.  Most know about his life and work through the 2003 film American Splendor. In 2005, he published his own account of how the film changed (and didn't) change his life.  The comic is totally honest as usual with Harvey finally getting some recognition for his work while he struggled through depression, anxiety, and cancer.  Since the 1980s, Hollywood had expressed interest in making a movie based on his comics.  Eventually in 2001 pre-production began on the film which starred Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis.  American Splendor proved a critical and commercial success with its innovative approach to a formulaic genre, the biographical film.  By blending comic book storytelling, cinematic recreations, documentary interviews, American Splendor stands as a classic.

Pekar produced groundbreaking comics while holding a day job at the VA hospital in Cleveland.  In the 1960s he befriended Robert Crumb, who brought a counter-cultural edge to underground comics, and encouraged Pekar to start writing on his own.  He believed the life of a flunkie (his words) file clerk still had the makings of great drama and possibilities for narrative storytelling.  He knew lots of interesting people, saw comical things happen everyday that rivaled anything in a Hollywood movie.

In "Our Movie Year" our man not only chronicles his year as a movie star, but also his influences as a comic writer: jazz music, realistic literature, and politically aware artists.  We also meet some of Harvey's close friends in comics Robert Crumb, Alan Moore, and many others.  In addition, Pekar provides a travelogue with his travels to Sundance, Cannes, Japan, and Australia.  

A recurring theme throughout Pekar's career is how comics remain a largely untapped resource.  Superhero films have ruled the box office for the past decade;  DC and Marvel still dominate the industry.  He believed the narrative power of comics had infinite possibility to inform people on important issues like political repression, censorship, issues of race and class, and the struggles of everyday people.  

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