Wednesday, September 10, 2008

#63: Confessions of a Superhero


Confessions of a Superhero
Directed by Matthew Ogens
Released November 2, 2007

Christopher Dennis is Superman. Well, he thinks he is Superman.

Matthew Ogens' enlightening documentary Confessions of a Superhero documents the lives of four misguided souls who spend their days dressed up as fictional characters who walk the streets of Hollywood greeting and posing for photos with tourists.

While the movie bounces back and forth between the lives of the faces behind Hollywood Boulevard's Batman, Wonder Woman and The Hulk, Dennis in the movie's central focus. True to the good nature of Superman, Dennis is probably the most pure of the people walking around in these costumes. He doesn't get angry when people don't tip him for the photos they take. Early on in the movie, Dennis is shown teaching a man in a Ghost Rider costume the ropes. He chastises the newcomer for smoking cigarettes in front of the public.

Superman: Just remember, superheroes don't smoke. It's an image.
Ghost Rider: Except for Ghost Rider.
Superman: Nope. Ghost Rider doesn't smoke.
Ghost Rider: He's made of fire.
Superman: But still, he doesn't smoke cigarettes. You can't make exceptions for something that doesn't exist.

This amazing conversation is soon interrupted by a woman who barrels out of a restaurant to get her photo taken with Dennis. Before the picture is snapped by her friend, she reaches down and grabs his crotch. To his credit, Dennis is unfazed (though he does offer "Thank you very much" at least one too many times).

Of course, Dennis displays a little bit of insanity here and there as well. For example, he claims that actress Sandy Dennis is his mother, and that she told him on her death bed that he should get into acting. Ogens interviews other members of the actual Dennis family, who all seem fairly certain their mother did not have a secret child. Dennis hints at some trouble in his past, especially when he says, "You know how if you do enough speed, you start getting delusional?"

While Dennis's Superman is the centerpiece, the real tragic character of the film (and that's a feat, especially after you meet everyone else) is Maxwell Allen, a shady character with a dark past who acts as Batman, circa George Clooney. Allen makes a number of dubious claims, including the fact that he learned Kung Fu during his "special forces" training, or that he became a gun nut after being a bodyguard and collector for the mafia (when he wasn't fighting for money as some sort of back alley gladiator). He has anger issues, which we eventually get to experience as he shows up for an appointment with his psychiatrist... in full Batman costume. While he tells the psychiatrist that he killed a man, his own wife later suggests about his wild imagination, "I would believe about 50% of what he says."

Rounding out the "cast" is Jennifer Gehrt (Wonder Woman) and Joe McQueen (The Hulk), two aspiring actors who should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone who believes that everyone can make it in Tinseltown. Both actors take their punches as they struggle to land parts, with Gehrt's marriage crumbling and McQueen's self-image in as many tatters as The Hulk's shredded clothes.

Gehrt gives off the vibe that she can't believe where her road has taken her. Visiting her family in Maynardville, Tennessee, we see home videos of her as a young girl is like watching similar footage on A&E's Intervention, where the junkies and addicts are shown in home movies before their lives became ruined by addiction.

McQueen goes so far as to say he feels like a loser and agrees with the assessment of one of the LAPD officers interviewed: these people, himself included, are essentially panhandlers.

I don't know if it's sad or impressive to watch Christopher Dennis's obsession with Superman, but it's definitely heartbreaking. If your jaw doesn't hit the floor when Dennis talks about the 18 movies he has acted in, followed immediately by a clip of him as an extra in a random movie in 2001 where he's blends into a crowd as they watch a little kid dance with a little person in genie costume, I don't know what to tell you.

Confessions of a Superhero is a complicated documentary in the vein of American Movie. It's one of those perfect "character study" films that piles on layer after layer of humor, tragedy and little nuggets of redemption that puts a smile on your face and then makes you feel a little guilty for laughing at such fragile, real people.

If you're like me, you'll be a little disappointed when it's all over. Make sure you check out some of the hilarious, touching and sometimes super creepy bonus footage, including scenes like the ones where Dennis and "Batman" alternately ask Margot Kidder out (and fail) and sit for Polaroid photos with adult film actresses. And don't miss the revealing scene where Dennis's wife explains her own fetishistic fascination with Christopher Reeve while Dennis sits next to her and smokes pot.

For more on Confessions of a Superhero:
- Movie information at IMDB and Wikipedia.
- The official movie site has bios and more clips to check out, along with a downloadable press kit.
- Buy the DVD.

The official trailer:

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