Essay Preview: American Splendor
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Imagining ones future being confined to filing medical reports in a local veterans hospital is not discouraging; but disturbing. Furthermore, would one be interested in reading a comic book about such a nightmare? Or even watching a movie?
American Splendor adapts to screen the life of a man who walks down the path no one else would dare to tread. Harvey Pekar, born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, is the creator of the comic and the subject of the film. Far from the Hollywood limelight, Pekar is a “genuine jerk” who “refuses to play it for laughs or sympathy” (Arnold 1). Nevertheless, the working class life he led as a file clerk became the subject of a praised comic and eventually worthy of an adapted screenplay.
“American Splendors tone never venture[s] too far toward triumph or tragedy: it [holds] steady at sour, fatalistic, and inconclusive-yet somehow affirming” (Edelstein 1). By presenting the film in such a way; free of special effects, explosions, and dramatic car chases, American Splendor reveals an aspect of filmmaking that is rare today in the realm of conventional media; reality. This, in addition to allowing the viewer to observe the life of Pekar in an autobiographical manner by combining documentary footage, animation, cartoons, and double-cast roles, creates a truly unique piece of art very different from any other example of film or TV.
In contrast to canned television drama, Pekars issues are not resolved in thirty minutes. In fact, they are not resolved by the end of the film. Though there are glimpses of hope, the grey cloud hovering above his head never seems to fade. The same overlaying tone of gloom is seen in the comic, for a day in the life of his American Splendor character would begin and end just as his own: “[Ending] with the hero shrugging, giving a little homily, living to mope another day” (Edelstein 1). Pekar did, however, want recognition and praise for his work.
An opportunity came when “Late Night” with David Letterman called asking Pekar to be a guest on the show. Although he was not the type of individual who would watch the show, Pekar figured that being a guest would help the success of his comic. However, he soon realizes how TV and the media were only interested in watching “[his] self-absorption [turn] drama into mere exposition,” and therefore, gain cheap laughs (Arnold 2). The audiences enjoy looking down on Pekars life and ignore the relevance of his comic. Their ignorance is most unfortunate, for American Splendor is truly innovative in both presentation and content. After several guest spots with little effect on his comic sales, Pekar has had enough. On his final appearance, Pekar candidly speaks out against NBC and their involvement with General Electric as well as how dead modern media has become. After watching the film several times, Pekars words spoken about the media and “yuppie” television seem to always be caught in the back of his throat, waiting to come out. Moreover, these are the words of many viewers and readers alike (Elliot 2).
Pekars voice is “the voice of consolation,” which reaches into every demographic and pulls out individuals who can relate to his daily life (Edelstein 1). In a pessimistic and straightforward tone, he documents his personal and professional growth in his comic, providing an outlet for his audience to connect with him. And as the comics progress, more and more of his “friends, colleagues, girlfriends and wives [became the] pain-in-the-ass characters” featured monthly in the comics (Edelstein 1). Pekars friends want to be featured in every issue, begging to know what he would write about next. However, there is no formula for American Splendor; no script. The candid creation and collaboration of his thoughts alone fill the comic books from cover to cover without any input from others. This same attribute is seen in the film. At only 101 minutes long, the viewer wants to see more. They need to see more. Yet the movie ends, the credits roll, and the curtains close. This feeling of disappointment and satisfaction all rolled into one is rare, yet the presence of the emotion is definite (HBO Films).
Before the film, modern media seems to only produce stories of great triumph and achievement, withholding nothing but one thing: reality. This is what all viewers care to escape from while watching a film such as The Matrix or listening to a trendy new hip-hop album by “50 Cent”.
Modern media, moreover, develops and evolves for the modern viewer and listener. With seemingly never-ending advancements in technology, permanent standards cannot be set for what can be loved, created, or blown up in a film. Yet the most popular examples of modern media are ones to which audiences can relate; not films with the most explosions or high-tech graphics. For example, The Passion directed