American Splendor

American Splendor (2003)

1. Analysis of the Book. American Splendor is a comic book series written by Harvey Pekar. Harvey Pekar is regarded by many as a kind of Mark Twain of the underground comic scene, and this is largely due to his work with American Splendor. The series is autobiographical, and dissimilar from most other works of the comic book genre. American Splendor is a story of the common man who fights the struggles of everyday life. There are no fantastic superheroes or fantastic powers. Instead there is only Pekar and Cleveland which serve as the center of the series.

2. Analysis of the Film. American Splendor was directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, and released in 2003. The film is based on the comic series, American Splendor, by Harvey Pekar. It was written by Berman, Pulcini, Pekar, and Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner. The film is a combination of many styles. Bette Gordon described the film as, “a hybrid, combining adaptation, biopic, animation, and documentary elements. . . . Interspersed among the scenes of his life are interviews and documentary footage offering glimpses of the real Harvey Pekar, as well as cameos by an animated version that invokes Pekar’s irreverent humor.”

3. Analysis of the Adaptation. The film is really only a partial adaptation of the comic book series. It is similar to the adaptation of Tristram Shandy (see previous review below) because it conveys the spirit of the original work, but is not a word for word transliteration from book to film. It is a very postmodernist film in that it breaks a number of the traditional concepts by incorporating the author, non-actors, etc. into the film, and by knowingly crossing back and forth between documentary and story. Additionally, the film uses a number of techniques such as thought bubbles, commentary, and comic book scene introductions to tie into the films comic book origin. Furthermore, the technique of adding thought bubbles and Pekar’s personal commentary made it possible to more fully understand Pekar’s feelings about the film. For example, when they (Pekar and his wife) watched the theatrical version of his life, he commented on the difficulty of watching other people portray aspects of his own life. This would have been difficult to convey otherwise. I doubt any other means of conveying that point would have carried the same weight, either. The commentary by Pekar gave the film an additional authenticity and endorsement that other films lack. It makes the film autobiographical instead of merely biographical.

 4. Online Research of the Film. The three online sources I found in relation to American Splendor include:

http://savageminds.org/2010/07/14/illustrated-man-1-american-splendor The website is a tribute to Harvey Pekar and American Splendor. The site does a fairly decent job of breaking down numerous elements of the film. For example, it offers a brief explanation of how the film is a tribute to the mundane. It also offers links to the various Letterman interviews.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2011/nov/07/my-favourite-film-american-splendorAmy Fleming describes the film and explains why it is her favorite film.

http://graphiccontent.org/2012/03/20/suzette-on-gilbert-bouchard-and-why-she-chose-american-splendor/Suzette Chan discusses the film and why it is a fitting tribute to Gilbert Bouchard.

5. Critical Analysis.

Compared to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation, how is American Splendor a postmodern, reflexive film?

Postmodernism was a reaction to the idea that any work should follow certain set dictates, and a reflexive film employs cinematic devices that make its audience aware of the fact that they are watching a film. In comparison to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation, the movie American Splendor is an excellent example of postmodern reflexive work.

As previously mentioned (see above), It is a very postmodernist film in that it breaks a number of the traditional conventions by incorporating the author, non-actors, etc. into the film, and by knowingly crossing back and forth between documentary and fiction. It is for these same reasons that it is reflexive. There are many different Pekars. Likewise, the comic book had many different illustrated Pekars. The American Splendor comic series deconstructed the workings of comic books as the movie deconstructed the workings of film. Pekar challenged these conventions, and Pekar challenged the conventions of comics. The film does the same. “As Pekar realized, form does not dictate content: artists can play with these elements to make any kind of story they want.” (Suzette Chan)

In comparison to Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and Adaptation it (American Splendor) is probably the best example of postmodern reflexive of the three. In the case of all three films there is a deconstruction of the boundary between film and reality. Yet, in the case of the first two films, where it is an attempt to analyze the creation of a film as an adaptation, there is no such premise in American Splendor. Rather, American Splendor reflects upon itself instead of the concept of adapting a film from book.

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1 Comment

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One response to “American Splendor

  1. Andrew, nothing to critique this time. It’s all good. You’ve got a good handle on what self-reflexive postmodern film is all about. I was impressed. I guess I didn’t realize how much postmodernism I was throwing at y’all in this class. 10/10. JB.

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