Constance September 23rd, 2008
What do you think? Was the 1978 Superman the best movie made from a comic book, with all other attempts going downhill after that, with the exception of the first two Spidermans (2002 & 2004)? And maybe, Batman Begins (2005)? Oh, wait! There was also the excellent first X-Men (2000).
We shall not even mention the ludicrously exacrable awful X-Man ast Stand (2006) — which seems to be more generally the quality of comix-to-movies and / or video / computer games-to-movies, alas and alack-a-day!
Back to Superman, 1978, the past prophesizes the future. We begin not on the planet of Krypton, but in the Depression with voice over telling us specifically that this is the 1930’s and a world-wide economic disaster has taken place, while black-and-white comic book pages flip. One wonders why, since after that we get the credits, and then the movie properly begins and we’re on Krypton.
However, with the 1930’s global Depression invoked, the trial on Krypton of traitors to the state, and then the denial and rejection of brilliant Jor-El’s warning of coming planetary destruction by the same power elite that passed judgment of the traitors, it feels like today’s headlines.
It’s lovely how the director does not rush us through any of this. The film takes just the time it needs to set-up what needs to be set-up. It remains interesting to look at through this leisurely beginning, leisurely despite the tension and pressure of special effects planetary destruction. Partly this is because the Intro is mostly narrated by Marlon Brando as Jor-El, just the first on-screen member of this all-star cast.
Then we finally get to the best parts of the movie, Superman’s adoption by the Kents and his growing up in rural Kansas. The photography’s tenderness in recording the small details of that life provokes one to wonder whether the director or the cinematographer grew up there too. The glory of the wheat, gold and rose in the lingering sunset glow, sleeping with the bakelite radio tuned in to the local R’nR station, the paper window shades with circle string pulls, the vane windmills, the barns — I know all these details intimately also from my childhood. Then Clark must leave the warm, nurturing pastoral nest, to begin his adult super education via Jor-El’s technology, in the Fortress of Solitude, grown via that same technology out of the empty ice blades at the top of the world.
Next follows assuming a mask and courtship, simultaneously. Such cute bits: no phone booths into which he can change from Kent to Superman, the most extreme looking-up-a-girl’s-skirt scene ever, as Lois Lane dangles from the helicopter teetering at the edge of a skyscraper’s roof deck, x-raying Lois’s lungs through her clothes with his super vision when he advises her not to smoke.
It’s all foreplay and courtship from the moment Superman (not Kent, despite Superman’s Kent mask’s attraction to her) and Lois Lane set eyes on each other. Innuendo, double entendre, her interview of the man who saved her, giving him his name — Superman — gathering his vital stats, most importantly that he’s neither married nor has a girlfriend. She asks if he can, um, well, eat? Meaning, do you, can you fuck? Even better, there is no way that Margot Kidder can be described as anything but, well, homely. This is all lead-up to that marvelous overflight of New York City, which neither Vaquero nor I have ever forgotten. Seeing this movie again for the first time since 1978, seeing the Twin Towers — the flight is even more magical.
For us both this was the highlight of the movie, and it is the point of the movie too. For this is the goal of the courtship-foreplay’s ritual so far: that Lois will take that Flight of Trust with this unknown man, allow him to take entire control of her. First they merely hold hands. He lets her go, to make her frightened rescues her, reprising their first encounter as Super and Lois, so he can hold her in his arms — like a boy at the movies strategizing his move, to get his arm around his date for the first time. She’s already dressed in a blue and white flowing, semi-transparent thing that is essentially a negligee nightgown.
These are more innocent times, even as late as 1978 …. (as well, time is kind of funny in this world of Superman — though in 1978 I passed that lobby of the Daily News at least twice a week, the same lobby with the suspended globe of Clark Kent’s Daily Planet).
“Who are you?”
“I am here to fight for truth, justice and the American way.”
“I never lie.”
“I was sent to America because her people are the the best, to show the rest of the world how it should be.”
Counterpointing this otherworldly romance of erotic attraction, awe and masks, we have the two stooge comedy villains, Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther and Ned Beatty’s Otis, looked over by Bodacious Mama, Valerie Perrine’s Eve Teschmacher.
After these parts though, it becomes special effects: Big Crashing, Big Destruction, Big Noise, Big Repairs and Last Minute Rescue of the Screaming Skirt and isn’t so interesting.
What do you think is happening to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, now that the Arctic ice cap is melting?