American Splendor by comic book author Harvey Pekar

“Ordinary life is quite a complex thing. “
-Harvey Pekar

One thing can be said about this film: it is completely original. It doesn’t refer to anything other than the two comic book series it’s based on, American Splendor and Our Cancer Year. American Splendor eschews most standard cinematic conventions, but invents new ones to suit the story and characters, mixing realism with imagery and comic book associations. It was written and directed by the husband / wife team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, and won Un Certain Regard at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, the first for a film adapted from a novel, among others. graphic.

It’s hard to say what American Splendor is about, other than its characters. Harvey Pekar, the author of the original stories, was a straightforward, angry, and socially inept record clerk from a working-class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio. He gained notoriety in some circles when portions of his diary-like writings were turned into a series of graphic novels, illustrated by underground comic book hero Robert Crumb. The film follows Pekar through the stages of his life, starting just before his collaboration with Crumb.

Pekar, despite his minimal education, was a natural, albeit unconventional, writer. His cranky reflections on mundane topics, his observations of ordinary situations such as checkout lines, conversations in the workplace, bus rides, and himself and his neighbors facing poverty had an impact. striking honesty and simplicity. However, they were also brief, scattered, and at times rude, and Pekar would never have had any real success without Robert Crumb’s illustrations bringing the stories and their many characters to life. Crumb’s naturalistic and often gleefully ugly cartoon illustrations were the perfect film for Pekar’s text, and the series – possibly illustrated by other artists as well – was a surprising success. The American Splendor series was followed by a second series, Our Cancer Year, which tells the story of Pekar’s personal life, including details of his writing success, marriage, and foster child. , and his fight against cancer.

Robert Crumb once remarked that Hervey Pekar was unlike anyone he had never met; Pekar is certainly unique in cinema too. Played to perfection by Paul Giamatti, Pekar challenges the categories of heroes, villains or even anti-heroes. There is simply, an ordinary man trying to make the most of a largely disappointing life, commenting on the strangeness of it all as he goes. The film follows Pekar’s lead in brutally honest writing and features Harvey Pekar’s character “warts and all”. No effort is made to make Pekar’s clothes, apartment, speech or manners better or nobler than they are. The level of grainy realism is rare outside of a documentary.

The opening credits place Giamatti, as Harvey Pekar, with the real Harvey Pekar and cartoon images of him, in panels of a comic book, featuring both Pekar (as a real person and as a as a character) and the source material of the film. Harvey Pekar himself is featured in a behind-the-camera clip, where he records the voiceover narration for some scenes and goes after the film crew in his usual fashion. Pekar’s storytelling is perfect for this particular film, as his voice is as far removed from that of a professional singer as his appearance is from that of a conventional movie star; and the tone of the film is given.

The plot is a loose mix of Pekar’s life (beginning with a whimsical scene of Pekar as a child, brooding and anti-social as in his adult years) and his writing career, and staging of some of his observations. written. The film sheds light on snippets of Harvey Pekar’s daily life, spending a lot of time courting and marrying Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a colorful character in his own right. Their relationship is portrayed in true Pekar style, showing a lot of intense awkwardness, suspicious patterns, shabby settings, and distinctly unromantic conversation, factors that even realist films carefully avoid. We’re challenged to respond sympathetically to the lifelike characters whose very existence is at odds with anything the movies have touted as romance.

The conclusion is sort of a happy ending: the release of the film itself, as well as the release of Pekar and Joyce Brabner’s graphic novel on making the film, American Splendor: Our Movie Year. At this point, the real Harvey Pekar, accompanied by the real Joyce Brabner and their adopted child, Danielle, take over as the main characters, in a bizarre overlay of documentary reality over reality-based fiction. The three are shown ridiculously but carefree in their place at the Cannes Film Festival, where American Splendor comes out, and eagerly interviewed and photographed by French media, a situation almost designed to be told and mocked, in a Harvey Pekar comic book. undress.

For a more in-depth visualization:

Ghost World (2001) is also based on a graphic novel of the same name. Director Terry Zwigoff, who also made a documentary on the life of Robert Crumb, brings this funny and poignant little comic to life. Enid (Thorah Birch) is about to graduate from high school. She and her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johannsen) are making plans for their future adult life. But Enid, a bright and creative but eccentric girl, has a hard time identifying with people, or accepting what she sees as the boring, unexamined existence that most of her classmates are content with. She takes refuge watching and cleverly ridiculing passers-by. A friendship with a lonely middle-aged record collector (Steve Buscemi) helps him examine his motivations and learn compassion.

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Grover Z. Barnes

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