Right now, I’m in the confessional, kneeling down (or whatever Catholics do in those things) and softly uttering, “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. As of last week I was unaware of a man by the name of Harvey Pekar, and his creative outlet depicting run-of-the-mill events in his oh so dreary life. Father, it’s a comic book, which I have never read. EVER! The name of his work is ironically, “American Splendor.””
The Priest damn near had a heart attack. Not because I’d never heard of “American Splendor;” he was pushing 90 years of age.
Okay, enough of the sarcasm. To be honest, I had no idea why the film American Splendor was in my queue on Netflix (must have read about the movie on a blog), but I’m damn glad it was there.
American Splendor, released in 2003, is a biopic like none other. It’s definitely an independent film as: comic illustrations pop up as they please (letting the uninitiated in on what the comic book was about), the great Paul Giamatti plays Harvey, Harvey also plays Harvey, the film cuts in and out from reality to movie, and has interviews with Harvey intertwined throughout the entire film giving the viewer a glimpse into the depressive, “who gives a s**t” attitude that perpetuated his personality.
Harvey grew up in Cleveland obsessed with jazz and comic books. As an adult, he had a chance encounter with illustrator Robert Crum, and the two stuck up a friendship. Crum went on to fame in the independent comic book world, and Harvey went to his dead end job as a file clerk at the V.A Hospital. (A job he held until retirement).
After his second wife bailed on him, Harvey was fed up with life and depressed about his impending legacy. He necessitated a creative outlet, so he hunkered down and after drawing stick figures with catchy dialogue gave them to Crum, and to Harvy’s shock, Crum loved ‘em. Thus, the comic book “American Splendor” was born.
The catch is Harvey was disenchanted with the universal “Super Hero” personas of the day (late ‘60’s early ’70’s); Harvey wanted to write about “real” people. Subsequently, he shunned the conventional and wrote about his life.
The acting in this movie is excellent. Giamatti is nothing short of brilliant, and when one sees the real Harvey talking (with his raspy voice), and sulking around the streets of Cleveland, then the film fades to Giamatti doing the same– it’s almost indiscernible.
Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis) is Harvy’s third, and final, wife. Hope brings a quirky sense of humor, and self, that uplifts the films comedic aspects, and the two verbally bounce off each other like lottery balls, but one can sense the subtext that is going on, and that these two societal outcasts completely belong together. The two truly are one. This becomes obvious when Harvey develops cancer, and Joyce refuses to let Harvey wallow in his own self-pity. She demands that they chronicle the experience, which they did, and it became an award winning book, “Our Cancer Year.”
Also, there’s a scene where Joyce, a depressive herself, categorized Harvey as obsessive-compulsive, and then in subsequent, almost montage-like scenes, rattles off the psychological impairments of his co-worker/friends. This is very amusing and excellent writing.
Harvy’s existence was far from glamorous, as stated above, he never left his job at the V.A. But, this was actually advantageous in that he observed his kooky co-workers and gained much of his material from them – and all of the people that surrounded him.
Harvey Pekar lived a very strange, quasi famous, yet infamous life. He never gained huge monetary advantages from his work (David Letterman tried to help Harvey by offering many appearances on the show, but that, as one would expect, ended in disaster). If anything, Harvey was not a sellout. He just didn’t give a damn, but deep down in the depths of his soul, again, one gets the feeling that he actually did.
After I viewed American Splendor, I felt like I was introduced to a man of the people who wrote about them and the crap everyday human beings must endure on a day-to-day basis– and he parodied it. It’s as if he tapped into the collective unconscious and let his anger and sarcasm flow like brew from a keg. He made fun of being human. Hmmmm, sounds like a comedian who made millions on t.v. with a show “about nothing.”
Unfortunately, Harvey passed away this year of cancer. I’m sure he’ll be missed by millions, but, at least, his legacy is fully in tact.