Truth, Justice — All That Stuff

21-Apr-07 9:19 PM by
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Whether it's my Superman dogtag or my Superman keychain or the contents of my bookshelf or the films I show in my classroom, it's not hard to discern my admiration for Superman and his embodiments. So it was inevitable, despite any lack of affection for Ben Affleck, that I see Hollywoodland.

I knew only that this film dramatized the death of actor George Reeves, who played Superman on the 1950s television show that I grew up watching. I did not know how Hollywoodland would do so, or if it would do so tastefully. As it turns out, the film is structured to parallel George Reeves' life with that of a fictional private detective, played by a famous actor I'd never heard of, Adrien Brody. The movie opens with Reeves' death and follows Brody's investigation into same, but also alternates with following Reeves' life from years before he was cast as Superman. The movie thus also ends with his death.

It's that past tense half of the film that the producers claim to be historically accurate, and while Brody is nonexistent, the facts he reveals and personalities he encounters are supposed to be true as well. Brody starts the show as a quiet mumbling type (which ironically is the kind of actor his character criticizes), but as the movie develops, so does Brody. We learn more about how he struggles with love, family, and self-identity, much as Reeves did. Though Superman may be the subject of the film, Brody is the star.

Affleck is not without his moments, too. I still can't see him as the muscular star Mr. Reeves appeared to be on television; nor can I accept him anymore than I can Nicolas Cage as the Man of Steel. Whenever I see Affleck acting, I see Affleck acting, not the character he's supposed to be. But for someone who obviously isn't George Reeves, he does a good job of getting the mannerisms and inflections. When Hollywoodland calls for actual film of George Reeves, the producers respectfully kept him in the opening credits for the Adventures of Superman television show — but they replaced him with Ben Affleck in From Here To Eternity. Boo!

Bob Hoskins (the titular star of the Super Mario Bros. film) plays the general manager of MGM, a movie mogul whose power isn't physical yet is threateningly palpable; and Diane Lane admirably plays an older woman holding onto whatever she can. Nick at Nite once told us that George Reeves had a rare 1953 Nash Healey car that "was given to him by a ladyfriend." Here her affections — and the strings attached — are revealed in full.

It was interesting to learn more about the man behind the costume — which is exactly what Mr. Reeves wishes the rest of Hollywood had done. The movie suggests he never much enjoyed the role of Krypton's Last Son, and appreciated even less Hollywood's unwillingness to let him break out of that role. It reminded me of a recent interview with Leonard Nimoy where he said that being stereotyped means directors know your strengths and how to use them. I think Mr. Reeves would disagree.

I was most touched by a scene that echoes Unbreakable. Superman makes a live appearance, stopping a pretend bank robbery as the kids in the audience go wild — except for one boy who stands still, mouth agape, completely stunned and in awe of the Man of Steel. That's me.

As an ardent fan of Superman, Christopher Reeve, and everything these two heroes stand for, I was challenged to see Ben Affleck wearing the red and blue. Nonetheless, Hollywoodland proved to be an intriguing film — though I more enthusiastically recommend Look! Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, a documentary that examines the various television and film incarnations of my favorite superhero.

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