TRYING TO MAKE
HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES BECOME REAL
by John Topping
published January 22, 2008
Morgan Spurlock presents
Confessions of a
released by Arts Alliance America and Red Envelope Entertainment
produced and directed by Matt Ogens
Morgan Spurlock, the Academy-Award-nominated filmmaker for his brilliantly funny and influential documentary Supersize Me, has lent his name (and gives a lame introduction) to help promote another documentary,
Confessions of a Superhero, about Los Angeles actors who fill their spare time dressed as
superheroes or famous actors, roaming Hollywood Boulevard, working for tips from tourists who have their picture taken with them.
Technically they are panhandling (or "working for chump change," as one of them puts it), but the local police tolerate them as long as
they keep their behavior in line. If you’ve ever been to Hollywood and seen any of these people and have wondered about their private lives, as filmmaker Matt Ogens
did, then this is your big chance to have your curiosity sated.
Ogens has chosen four of them to follow: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Hulk. Although their real names are mentioned, they are most often referred to by the superhero they play, including the superimposed
titles when we are given background information (we're introduced to “Wonder Woman’s husband,” for example). The exception is Christopher Dennis, whose name is repeated often enough to memorize. He is the man who spends most of his waking life dressed as Superman, and has the most intriguing
personality. Indeed, the film revolves primarily around him.
Dennis looks enough like Christopher Reeve to be perpetually reminded of him in costume. He has been working the Boulevard longer than any other character. He takes his job very seriously and feels that he and all the characters have a responsibility to honor
who they are representing. A smoker himself, he gets incensed when he sees a superhero smoking
in public. But above all, what separates him from the other subjects is that, rather than having merely chosen a character to portray in an
effort to rake in a few extra bucks, he is thoroughly and eerily obsessed with Superman. He
has spent approximately $100,000 gathering Superman collectibles and turning his living space into a veritable Superman museum. He lives and breathes Superman. His girlfriend moved to LA
to be with him because she had a thing for Christopher Reeve. He additionally claims that his
mother was the actress Sandy Dennis, although Dennis’s relatives suspect that she would have told them about this son if that were
true. So even though he knows he’s a man in a Superman costume and not really Superman, he
seems to consciously push himself and others to believe that he is something or someone that he’s not.
As for the others, Batman is the most frightening, with a dark past
and a deep well of anger. He is the most prone to harass tourists who don’t give him a
tip. Previous jobs he’s held include being one of those guys that loan sharks send after
you if you haven’t repaid your debt; he has roughed up people more than a little in his time. Much more. The Hulk’s costume overwhelms him. He is an African American
who was homeless for a few years. During the course of shooting, he books a comedy film gig as an
extreme version of a prototypical 1970s blaxploitation character. When you see films full of
blatant, derogatory stereotypes and wonder why the ethnic actors perpetuate them, The Hulk is such a person so desperate for the job that it
wouldn’t weigh on his conscience an iota. Wonder Woman was a small town girl from Tennessee who
was suffocating there and flew to LA the first chance she got. She is both the most appealing as a
person and the most talented as an actor.
If this sounds like a documentary that you would enjoy watching, then by all means rent it. It’s very well made and is a fascinating window into an unfamiliar world. For me personally, however, it was devastatingly depressing.
Although the documentarian took great pains not to make fun of the subjects, what he has created is, in many ways, a meditation on failure
and delusion. For this reason – and not because of the quality of the filmmaking – it was
torturous to watch; the emotional equivalent of having my fingernails slowly pulled out. But
Morgan Spurlock, as well as one of the interviewers in the DVD extras, both described it as “beautiful.” And there are certainly moving moments, because, no matter how much any of them might hide behind the
persona of a superhero, they always end up being human.
johntopping @ stageandcinema.com